Republicans are bracing for Donald J. Trump to announce an unusually early bid for the White House, a move designed in part to shield the former president from a series of damaging revelations stemming from investigations into his attempts to cling to power after losing. the 2020 elections.
While many Republicans would welcome Trump’s entry into the race, his move would also exacerbate lingering divisions over whether the former president is the party’s best hope of winning back the White House. The party is also divided on whether his candidacy would be an unnecessary distraction from the midterm elections or even a direct threat to democracy.
Trump has long hinted at a third consecutive run for the White House and has campaigned for much of the past year. He has stepped up planning for him in recent weeks just as a couple of investigations have intensified and congressional testimony has revealed new details about Trump’s indifference to the January 6 threat of violence and his refusal to act. to stop an insurrection.
Trump has also seen some of his favored candidates lose recent primaries, raising hopes among his would-be Republican contenders that voters are turning away from a politician long thought to have an iron grip on the party. .
Instead of humiliating Trump, events have emboldened him to try to reassert himself as the party’s leader, overshadow damaging headlines and steal the spotlight from potential rivals, including Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, a rising favorite of donors and voters. Republicans close to Trump have said he believes a formal announcement would bolster his claims that the investigations are politically motivated.
Trump would enter the race as the clear favorite, with an approval rating among Republicans hovering around 80 percent, but there are signs that a growing number of party voters are exploring other options.
“I don’t think anyone is inevitable,” said Haley Barbour, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee who was also Mississippi’s governor for eight years.
The timing of a formal Trump announcement remains uncertain. But recently he surprised some aides by saying he could declare his candidacy on social media without even warning his own team, and aides are scrambling to build basic campaign infrastructure in time for an announcement this week. month.
That timing would be extraordinary — presidential candidates typically announce their candidacies the year before an election — and could have immediate implications for Republicans seeking to seize control of Congress in November. Trump’s presence as an active candidate would make it easier for Democrats to turn the midterm elections into a referendum on the former president, who since he lost in 2020 has relentlessly spread lies about the legitimacy of the election. Some Republicans fear that it will distract them from the pocketbook problems that have given their party a big advantage in congressional races.
“Republicans really want to win in 2022, and many of them are realizing that re-litigating the 2020 election with daily conspiratorial tirades from Trump are sure losers,” said Dick Wadhams, a Republican strategist and former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party.
The former president’s team remains divided on whether he should run again. Those opposed to a third White House bid have raised concerns ranging from doubts about Trump’s remaining political power to questions about whether he can articulate a clear rationale for running and avoid a repeat of 2020.
Others are urging Trump to take his time. Donald Trump Jr., his eldest child, has taken a more central role in Trump’s inner circle of political advisers and has told others he wants his father to set up a larger campaign team around her. of him in preparation for a candidacy.
One of the most compelling arguments against an early announcement was federal campaign finance laws. If and when Mr. Trump announces it, he would not be eligible to use any of the $100 million he has parked in his political action committee to directly support his presidential bid. His campaign would also be restricted by a strict $2,900 per person donation limit for the primaries, meaning he would be able to turn to his major donors only once over the next roughly two-year period to directly fund a campaign. candidacy.
But Trump’s stranglehold on small donors has remained firm, leaving some members of his team unconcerned about fundraising limits.
The timing debate comes as investigations into the behavior of Trump and his associates gather steam. The Justice Department is investigating efforts to keep Trump in office after his defeat. Prosecutors in Fulton County, Georgia, have convened a grand jury as part of an investigation into whether the former president and his team tried to influence the vote count there. Each is separate from the House committee examining his conduct in the run-up to the Jan. 6 riots on Capitol Hill.
Among those urging Trump to announce soon is Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Graham said the former president would be blamed or credited for whatever happens in the November election and suggested an early announcement would focus Trump’s attention on politics.
“It’s up to him whether he runs or not,” Graham said in an interview. “But the key for him to be successful is to compare his political agenda and his political successes with what is happening today.”
Other Republican leaders have tried to talk Trump out of an early announcement.
Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, had urged Trump to wait until after the midterm elections, worried news about his campaign could derail party messaging. An RNC official noted that when Mr. Trump opened a campaign, the party would stop paying his legal bills related to an investigation by the New York attorney general. Still, Ms. McDaniel has recently resigned herself to the idea that she will announce before the election, according to people familiar with the talks.
But even Trump advisers who support another campaign worry that the former president’s path to a third nomination has become more difficult than he is willing to admit.
Some people close to Trump have worried about the potential legal and political fallout from congressional hearings on the unrest on Capitol Hill. Cassidy Hutchinson, a former White House aide, testified this week that Trump knew some of his supporters were carrying guns that day and still encouraged his staff to let them through security checkpoints. Rep. Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming who is on the committee, said the panel had evidence of witness tampering.
Mr. Trump signaled his concern about the potential political fallout from the testimony, reacting in real time to the audience by posting a dozen messages on his Truth Social website attacking Ms. Hutchinson and denying her most explosive testimony.
Few Republican officials have spoken publicly about the hearings, and most have either said nothing about the congressional investigation or dismissed it as a partisan farce. But there have been signs that Republicans recognize his potential power.
“Millisecond. Hutchinson would be the star member of a Republican women’s club: a committed conservative with no reason to tell anything but the truth,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who voted to convict in the second impeachment trial against Trump and has been targeted by Trump ever since. He was one of the few lawmakers to speak officially. “It empowers a testimony that allows Americans to judge for themselves.”
Key revelations from the January 6 hearings
Mick Mulvaney, one of four Trump White House chiefs of staff, told CBS News that he could no longer defend Trump after hearing Hutchison’s claims. In a later interview, he said he heard from two dozen Trump administration appointees who had thanked him for his comments and said they agreed.
Mulvaney declined to say whether he would vote for Trump if he were the 2024 nominee. Nonetheless, people close to Trump took note of the televised remarks and made calls this week looking for someone who might attack and thereby undermine Mulvaney in South Carolina, the former adviser’s home state, said a political operative with knowledge of the calls.
The last two months of weekly primary contests have shown that Trump’s policies have reshaped the Republican Party. But the red cap electorate has also repeatedly demonstrated its independence from the patriarch of the Make America Great Again movement. While Republican primary voters backed some of Trump’s favorite candidates, particularly in the Senate primary, they rejected his picks in Georgia, Idaho, Nebraska and elsewhere.
“There is some evidence that some Republican voters are trying to slowly move away from Donald Trump,” said Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist. Jennings said he was not surprised by Trump’s enthusiasm to jump into the presidential race. “If you’re in his shoes, you have to try to put out that fire. Because the more it burns, the more it burns.”
In interviews with two dozen Republican voters, party activists and elected officials, few said the Jan. 6 hearings were influencing their interest in other candidates. But several noted that they were looking for a candidate who would be less divisive.
“There will be a number of Republicans that many Republicans feel they can not only unite the party, but would govern with strong, conservative policies,” said Jason Shepherd, a former adviser to Newt Gingrich who is a member of the Georgia Republican Party state committee. If Trump wins the nomination, Shepherd said, Republicans will not hesitate to back him in the general election.
Nicole Wolter, CEO of a suburban Chicago manufacturing company and a board member of the National Association of Manufacturers, has an office decorated with photos of her visiting the White House during Trump’s years as president.
But, Wolter said in an interview last month at his office in Wauconda, Illinois, Trump has become too toxic to suburban voters for the Republicans to win the general election.
“There are too many people who really don’t like it,” Wolter said. “We want everyone to join him and be able to get the independents, and I think if he did show up, he wouldn’t be able to get that.”
Post-presidency polls have consistently shown Trump remains the most powerful figure within his party. But potential competitors haven’t been scared off.
Last week, a poll of Republicans in New Hampshire, an early presidential primary state, showed a statistical tie between Trump and DeSantis.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who told Trump last year that he would not run against him for the presidential nomination, has continued to lay the groundwork for the 2024 bid.
Pompeo has told others he can beat Trump in the Iowa caucuses, according to people familiar with the conversations.
Jonathan Martin Y Shane Goldmacher reports