A week ago Donald Trump found himself in a box of his own making.
Predicting there would be a big red wave in last week’s midterm elections, the former president was particularly concerned with inserting himself into the national conversation and getting credit for all the winning.
Trump’s first idea was to announce a 2024 presidential run at an election night eve rally. That way, he could say that voters didn’t just choose his candidates, but, in a way, did so with him on the ballot.
Some aides reportedly urged him not to declare before the midterms, and he compromised by telling the world he would make a major announcement on Nov. 15.
But the election didn’t go the way Republicans hoped. There wasn’t a Republican wave. Trump’s candidates did especially poorly. Of the 15 candidates for governor, Senate, and secretary of state he endorsed in swing states, only two won.
And yet, Nov. 15 was still on the books. What would he do now?
Granted, Trump has been in a box before, especially the half dozen times he’s stared down corporate bankruptcy of one form or another.
Each time he chose the same path — to plow forward and put others in awkward positions. The banks that circled him to make his loan payments backed down figuring they needed Trump to be successful to ever be paid back.
And then there was the “Access Hollywood” tape. Sure, some Republicans distanced themselves after the story broke, but most shrugged and said if Trump wasn’t quitting the campaign, they weren’t quitting him.
Even at the nadir of his political career, following the Jan. 6 insurrection and his second impeachment, Trump didn’t go away. He made Republicans come to Florida to kiss his ring.
So why he’s running again could be as simple as: This is the only play he knows. But further, there are three key areas that back up the decision.
No one can get into another person’s brain, much less inside the brain of someone as unpredictable as Trump’s. And no one here is attempting to do that.
But Trump’s own words can explain his mindset. He has essentially lost three elections in a row. He has members of Congress — who have previously been supportive — stating publicly that it’s time for the Republican Party to move on. Heck, a poll just released by the conservative Club For Growth (which is often aligned with Trump) found Florida Governor Ron DeSantis ahead of Trump among Republican voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida, and Georgia in a 2024 head-to-head matchup. On Tuesday, another poll found DeSantis up 11 points over Trump in Texas.
For Trump, this has to be maddening. And the only way to get his political power back is to run again and win.
Trump currently faces numerous legal battles. There’s the Trump Organization criminal trial. There is a grand jury considering whether Trump tampered with the 2020 election in Georgia. And, of course, the investigations into his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, and his possession of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
On that last one, Trump may think his announcement will make it harder for Attorney General Merrick Garland to charge him in the probe. After all, a sitting attorney general has never charged the main opponent in a presidential election with a crime.
Now that Trump is a candidate, the first step, from the legal angle, will likely be instituting a special counsel to work independently of Garland to remove political influence. But here’s the thing: The decision to charge the former president will still be Garland’s to make.
Politics determines the timing of this announcement more than anything else. Fox News already appears to be on the DeSantis train. At least, they’re blaming Trump for the less-than-stellar midterm results.
But the only way that Trump can make a political comeback is to dig in early and frame the race. Trump is now asking, in November 2022, for Republicans to choose teams: with him or against him.
That binary choice is better than what he had in 2016 when he was happy just getting 30 percent of the vote in Republican primaries. If he can force 50 percent of the party to back him, and he can use his $70 million in campaign money to establish himself as a front-runner, that’s something that no other rival can match.
Remember, there’s only one person in American history who has attempted what Trump is doing. Grover Cleveland lost reelection in 1888 and then came back to win in 1892. If Trump’s announcement now feels unusual, that’s because it is.