Column: Trump announces presidential bid with more lies and bombast. As always, he puts himself first
We’ve seen, and heard, this before.
The lavish backdrop. The yeasty mix of hyperbole, lies and grievance.
Just four minutes into his presidential announcement Tuesday night, Donald Trump floated a new — and bizarre and fantastical — theory that meddling by the Chinese government cost him reelection.
Some things never, and won’t ever, change.
What’s striking about Trump’s early and abrupt entry in the 2024 race is how familiar it seemed. Not just in its sulfurous tone and gold-plated trappings. But also the position the former president finds himself in as he tries, for an umpteenth time, to defy expectation and demolish the rules most politicians live by.
When Trump glided down the gilded escalator in Trump Tower in June 2015, he was generally regarded as a novelty act, a self-inflated hot air balloon who stood virtually no chance of winning the Republican nomination, much less the presidency.
All this time later — after four years in the White House, three losing election cycles, two impeachments and one attempted coup — Trump is politically back where he started, trying once more to convince voters he has a serious shot at winning the presidency.
Even before the midterm’s red mirage, there were signs Trump was losing his grip on the Republican Party.
More than 6 in 10 partisans surveyed in a preelection NBC News poll said they considered themselves more supporters of the GOP than Trump, the highest percentage since the question was first asked in January 2019.
There have been countless times when the overwhelming majority of Republicans were believed ready to disown Trump. Choose your adventure: the sliming of John McCain and Gold Star families; the “Access Hollywood” tape; the Charlottesville, Va., white power riot; the failed 2020 reelection bid; the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Perhaps this time really is different.
“It’s three elections in a row where he has led the party to defeat,” said Rob Stutzman, a Sacramento-based GOP strategist who has long been a Trump critic. “He has finally become antithetical to his promise, which was, ‘You’re going to get tired of winning.’ I think Republicans may be getting tired of losing.”
Of course, the number of GOP faithful who pledge their allegiance to Trump is not insignificant. The NBC poll put that backing at 30%; others suggest it is somewhat larger. If, as happened in 2016, Republican support is splintered among a large field of primary candidates, that base could be enough for the former president to again prevail and win the nomination.
The first time he ran, Trump was vastly underestimated, which proved crucial to his success.
Republican rivals assumed Trump would inevitably fall by the wayside. So they were reluctant to attack, or even mildly criticize him, lest they antagonize Trump supporters and lose their backing once he quit the race. By the time they realized their mistake, it was too late. Trump was unstoppable.
Will he be treated with the same deference this time?
The early signs suggest not. A passel of GOP prospects are planning to appear in Las Vegas on Friday — among them the political flavor du jour, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — for an audition at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual meeting.
Some are only too pleased to deliver their midterm postmortems, declare their divorce from Trump, or both.
“There were ... a lot of disappointments,” DeSantis told reporters Tuesday at a Florida event ahead of Trump’s announcement. “That’s just the reality. It was a hugely underwhelming, disappointing performance, especially given that [President] Biden’s policies are overwhelmingly unpopular.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence, promoting a new book, was cuttingly curt. Asked in an ABC interview about Trump and his 2024 plans, Pence — once the model of unswerving subservience — replied crisply, “I think we will have better choices in the future.”
It’s one thing, though, to offer commentary and take potshots from the confines of a TV studio or, in DeSantis’ case, to wage a thinly veiled shadow campaign for the GOP nomination. It remains to be seen how many actually declare their candidacies and step into Trump’s line of fire.
Experience has shown the folly of dismissing the former president or writing him off, tempting though it may be.
He is, at this moment, the front-runner to claim the GOP nomination.
“Do I expect a cakewalk? No, not at this point,” political analyst Stu Rothenberg said. “But I do think he starts with a substantial advantage. He’s a former president of the United States and has a big chunk of the party behind him.”
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Whether Trump’s candidacy is good for the Republican Party, not to mention a country so acutely polarized, is a whole other question.
Much of the tension and hostility can be ascribed to four relentless years of Trump’s bombast and belligerence; Tuesday’s announcement served as a reminder of just how shameful and toxic he is.
In more than an hour of Sturm und Drang, Trump offered little that was forward-looking beyond a clutch of vague promises. Instead, Trump flattered himself, dwelled on old gripes and jabbed at old nemeses like Biden, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and the FBI.
There are plenty of self-serving reasons why Trump would run again.
Attention is his oxygen. A presidential campaign is a marketing opportunity to sell even more MAGA paraphernalia and Trump-branded doodads. In his mind, it may keep prosecutors at bay, or at least color any possible criminal charges Trump faces as being politically motivated.
Never mind what’s good for the GOP, or America. With the former president, it’s always Trump first.
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