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Trump Returns, Too Weak Not to Run Again

The low-energy, disgraced former president wasn’t even happy to be at his announcement.
November 15, 2022
Trump Returns, Too Weak Not to Run Again
PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 15: Former U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the stage after speaking during an event at his Mar-a-Lago home on November 15, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida. Trump announced that he was seeking another term in office and officially launched his 2024 presidential campaign. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Usually when politicians declare their candidacy for office, they seem happy about it. Or they at least try to give the impression of eagerness to take on the challenges ahead. But when Donald Trump announced Tuesday night that he was running for president for the third time in three consecutive election cycles, he seemed positively disgusted.

Trump—who dragged his party to midterm losses in 2018, lost the White House in 2020 to the oldest man ever to have the job, incited an insurrectionist mob into attacking the U.S. Capitol, was impeached twice, and contributed to yet another GOP midterm flop last week—sneered and grimaced through his announcement. He slow-read prepared remarks in a monotone, digressing to riff on whatever non sequitur popped into his mind. Maybe Trump’s spirits were low because he read the terrible press coverage running up to his announcement and could see the faces in the crowd, which were nothing close to the assembly of GOP elite he commanded in rallies past. The biggest bold-faced names spotted in the crowd were a grifter’s row of deplorables and has-beens: Roger Stone, Madison Cawthorn, Mike Lindell, and Dick Morris.

Bored, people tried to leave before Trump was even finished speaking. Others simply turned their back to him and talked through his remarks. Keep in mind, these attendees were ostensibly among his most dedicated and connected aides and supporters.

If Trump were president today and the national media were still trying to suck up to him,  they would probably laud him after this speech for adopting a “new tone.” But just as it wasn’t true then, it isn’t true now. People are just less afraid to talk about Trump’s obvious flaws, either because they are less politically afraid of him, are legitimately afraid of his politics, or both.

Regardless, the figure who appeared on the Mar-a-Lago dais on Tuesday night was the temporary teleprompter Trump who resorts to soft, low tones when he’s trying to make nice. For example, instead of going on about how the 2020 election was, supposedly, stolen from him, Trump talked about the need for paper ballots and counting all votes on Election Day. It was a flashback to the post-Access Hollywood version of Trump who was backed into a corner and needed to prove to his benefactors that he wouldn’t embarrass them anymore. Which is how he ended up making this rushed announcement that no one, not even his closest advisers, really wanted in the first place.

Another sign his team isn’t totally hot on the idea?

Trump’s announcement was exactly what it looked like: a desperate, low-energy attempt to head off 2024 GOP primary challengers; possibly ward off ongoing investigations into his seizure of classified documents, January 6th, and attempts to overturn 2020 vote results in Georgia; and consolidate his wavering support. He is too weak not to run; his dwindling political assets are still worth too much to abandon.

If Trump understands anything, it’s how to bully the GOP into falling in line behind him. He did it after Charlottesville, Helsinki, Impeachment 1.0, and Impeachment 2.0. He’s been here before; making bold, inadvisable, destabilizing moves amid personal turmoil is part of his standard operating procedure.

By declaring his candidacy so early, Trump is once again daring Republicans to oppose him. Whether anyone chooses to engage is the question. St. Ron DeSantis seems to think he can stay out of the ring, “watch Trump punch himself out,” and, somehow, be miraculously anointed the Republican nominee. Wishful thinking. Because as weak as Trump may be right now, he’s definitely not taking himself out.

Amanda Carpenter

Bulwark political columnist Amanda Carpenter is a CNN contributor, author, and former communications director to Sen. Ted Cruz and speechwriter to Sen. Jim DeMint.