Donald Trump declared his candidacy for president—like, for the term that would start in January 2025—on Tuesday night at his Mar-a-Lago resort/home/country club thing in West Palm Beach, Florida.
The affair has been widely described as not the most exciting event that Trump has ever held; Fox News actually cut away from him while he was still talking. Held in a ballroom and largely read from a teleprompter, his speech had the grocery-list structure and tone of a normal campaign announcement or State of the Union–style address.
This made for some incongruity, as the conventions of the form required that Trump contrast his presidential term with Joe Biden’s, and do so by describing his time in charge as a distant golden age that was followed by a long Biden-dominated darkness. In fact, however, Trump was still president basically five minutes ago, Biden just got done signing the last few elements of his first-term agenda into law, and the Democratic Party was largely returned to power in the midterms—in part, arguably, because the most noteworthy and backlash-causing political news events of the past two years were the Jan. 6 riot and the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade, for which voters generally blame Republicans rather than Democrats.
The speech also simply did not “meet the moment” in that Trump did not mention the ongoing discussion as to whether he is toast, a lost cause, and/or dead meat in the Republican 2024 primary. Nor did Trump lambaste any popular Republican politicians who have been floated as presidential contenders, which is to say that he did not call Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis any names, such as “Stupid Ron” or “The Big Boots Man,” which some observers (me) had been expecting (a little bit hoping for).
But let’s review that Trump-DeSantis debate anyway, since we’re here.
Reasons to believe Donald Trump is toast:
• Midterm candidates that he supported—and particularly those who echoed his claims about the “stolen” 2020 election—lost several key races and generally did worse than Republican candidates who did not associate themselves with the MAGA movement.
• DeSantis, who has passively tried to avoid associating himself with Trump since Jan. 6 despite having been a huge, over-the-top Trump hanger-on previously, won his own election by 19 points.
• Conservative outlets including Fox News and the National Review have been citing bullet points one and two while hyping DeSantis up as a 2024 candidate.
• The conservative Club for Growth organization released polls which purport to show DeSantis leading Trump in hypothetical primary matchups in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Georgia.
• Several Republican donors—ranging from a guy CNBC found who gave $120,000 to Trump’s last campaign and should not at all be considered an important guy, to billionaire Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, who is an important guy—have said they won’t give money to him anymore.
• Trump could, legitimately, and not just in the fantasies of liberals on Facebook, be indicted soon on charges related to Jan. 6 or to his alleged mishandling of classified documents.
• The press and public have become habituated over the course of the last seven years to Trump’s shock-jock method of seizing the news cycle, and he may as a result no longer have the same resonance as the subject of headlines. As Semafor’s Benjy Sarlin observed, in his Tuesday announcement Trump called for the execution of convicted drug dealers—a classic “Can he say that???” move—and few outlets registered it as notable.
However! There are still many …
Reasons to believe Donald Trump is not toast:
• Fox News anchors and the National Review et al. have made stern, harrumphing noises about moving on from Trump before. In the past, he has then gone on to rally his supporters via social media, Fox News prime-time hosts, even-less-mainstream outlets like Newsmax (whose analyst, Mike Huckabee, responded to Tuesday night’s speech by describing Trump as “unbeatable”), and actual rallies.
• These core supporters have heretofore proven impervious to “elite signaling” about Trump’s undesirability or unelectability, even after Jan. 6 when those signals were being emitted by relatively MAGA-friendly Republicans like House minority leader Kevin McCarthy and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. The entire purpose of the movement is to irritate, confront, purge, and otherwise “own” corrupt elites who think they can boss real Americans around!
• Another poll issued Tuesday, one which was not conducted by an activist group that has a history of feuding with Trump, showed Trump leading DeSantis among potential GOP primary voters by a margin of 47–33.
• The most critical events during presidential primaries are debates, during which Ron DeSantis has been described as having the charisma of a middle manager.
Your author’s belief is that we will only really know how real the DeSantis surge is when Trump stands in front of a hooting audience at a rally and calls him “Wrong DeSantis,” “the little boot boy,” “Ron DeSanturd,” or “Schindler’s DeSantList” 14 times. And your author’s suspicion is that it will turn out, then, that the DeSantis surge is not made of much at all. If you disagree, sound off in the comments! (I’ve asked our site moderators to turn comments off.)