For nearly a year, a kitchen cabinet of Donald Trump confidants has told the former president not to announce his 2024 comeback candidacy before the midterms, arguing that he could be a drag on 2022 candidates and would be blamed if Republicans underperformed.
The former president is now eyeing a September announcement, according to two Trump advisers, who like some others interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. One confidant put the odds at “70-30 he announces before the midterms.” And others said he may still decide to announce sooner than September.
Trump has begun talking with advisers about who should run a campaign, and his team has instructed others to have an online apparatus ready for a campaign should he announce soon, two people familiar with the matter said. He also has begun meeting with top donors to talk about the 2024 race, one of these people said, while on trips to various places across the country.
“If Trump is going to run, the sooner he gets in and talks about winning the next election, the better,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who recently golfed with Trump in New Jersey. “It will refocus his attention — less grievance, more about the future.”
Graham has embraced an argument once dismissed inside much of the party, contending that Democrats are going to use Trump’s unpopularity among some voter groups to try to drive turnout no matter what he does. If he gets in the race soon, they argue, he will be better positioned to drive turnout on the Republican side in the midterms.
“You might as well get the benefit if you’re going to take the lashes too,” said Tony Fabrizio, a Trump pollster working for multiple Senate candidates this cycle. “If you want to energize the base and get the base out, no one does it better than Trump.”
Others have argued that Trump’s direct insertion into the midterm campaign will only play into Democratic plans to make the election a referendum on the extremism of Trump’s “Make America Great Again,” or MAGA, movement. Republicans believe they are on track for a banner midterm year, a result of massive dissatisfaction with inflation, President Biden’s job performance and the direction of the country.
A Trump spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Public and internal party polls in several key states show that Trump rates behind even Biden, who has suffered a historic collapse in public support since taking office. Trump lost a recent hypothetical head-to-head poll against Biden in New Hampshire and trails Biden in favorability in Wisconsin, both sites of marquee Senate contests this fall.
A May presentation for donors to Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign in Georgia, obtained by The Washington Post, showed Biden and Trump with similar favorability ratings in the low 40s, about a half-dozen points below those of Walker and his opponent, Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D). In early 2021, the Battleground Survey by the National Republican Congressional Committee found that Trump’s unfavorable ratings were 15 points higher than his favorable ratings in core districts.
Trump has also slipped some among GOP voters, though he remains easily the most formidable Republican candidate in a primary, according to public polls.
Trump’s decision to enter the race, some in the party fear, could scramble the dynamics in the final months of the House and Senate campaigns.
“Of all the selfish things he does every minute of every day, it would probably be the most,” said one prominent Republican strategist, speaking on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment. “Everything we are doing that is not talking about the economy is going to be a disaster.”
After earlier threatening to kick off his campaign in July, Trump has decided in recent weeks to stage a series of what aides dub policy speeches as he continues to plan the structure of his next campaign. He gave a speech on crime Friday in Las Vegas, where he resurfaced his old idea that drug dealers should be given the death penalty. Further speeches are being planned.
He plans to return to Washington for the first time since leaving office on July 26 to deliver a speech at a conference by the America First Policy Institute, a think tank founded by his former advisers that he has helped to fund. The event will mark a reunion of sorts for the Trump administration, bringing together eight former Trump Cabinet-level officials and multiple former senior White House officials for panel discussions on topics like voting, immigration, national security and health care.
“With Republican victories in 2022 and 2024 we can restore tough-on-crime policies and much more,” Trump said in Las Vegas. “Leave our police alone. Let them do their job. They know what to do. Let them do it.”
Trump began talking privately about an imminent presidential campaign announcement last August, in response to Biden’s chaotic withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan. Several advisers told Trump not to act, since an early 2024 campaign announcement would limit his ability to access funds in his Save America PAC, which has been paying for his staff and events, trigger equal time rules on television and allow Democrats to reframe the election away from Biden’s unpopular presidency.
The private discussions succeeded in delaying an announcement, but they did not dissuade Trump from continuing to push forward. In recent months, rivals also considering 2024 campaigns have received more attention and the investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol has raised awareness of his attempts to subvert the 2020 election result. Trump has also faced other investigations, particularly in New York and Georgia, that have only accelerated his desire to run, advisers said.
Democrats, in the meantime, have developed a party-wide strategy aimed at tagging Republican candidates in close elections as “MAGA Republicans,” a phrase they have poll-tested as off-putting for swing voters. In recent weeks, they have argued that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the nationwide right to abortion, the continued GOP resistance to some gun regulations despite mass shootings and the ongoing investigation into the Capitol riot all show a broader extremism across the Republican Party.
“The Jan. 6 hearings have disturbed America. It is real we see movement in these numbers,” said John Anzalone, a Biden pollster. “If Donald Trump gets in before the midterms, every Republican congressman and candidate is going to have to answer these questions.”
Democrats are hopeful, for instance, that Republican candidates in competitive contests will be forced to say whether they support Trump in the 2024 presidential primaries — a choice that could alienate either the former president’s supporters or otherwise persuadable voters who have voted in two consecutive elections against Trump’s brand of politics.
“Senators as well as Senate candidates have told me recently that voters are ready to turn the page on Trump, and that he’s more of a head wind than a tail wind these days,” said Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor who has met with a number of GOP senators.
Several Republican House strategists remain hopeful that a Trump announcement would not undermine the party in November. Republicans won a net gain of 14 seats in the 2020 congressional elections, despite Trump appearing on the same ballot and losing the national popular vote by about 7 million votes. Polls have shown economic concerns and inflationary pressures dominate the electoral landscape to the detriment of Democratic candidates.
Some people around Trump have warned that he could make a mistake if he does not try to insert himself more forcefully into the midterm campaigns. National polls over the past year, including surveys by the Pew Research Center, CNN and the New York Times, have found that only about half of Republican and Republican-leaning voters want Trump to be the party’s 2024 nominee.
“When Republicans have these massive wins in the midterms, if President Trump has not yet announced for 2024, the haters and the establishment Republicans and their allies in the media will say they can win in 2024 without him, and that the party should go and find somebody else,” said Jason Miller, a longtime spokesman and adviser, who now runs the Gettr social media network. “They will try to get that narrative to hold, and the Democrats will gladly amplify it.”
But others, such as Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and longtime adviser Kellyanne Conway, have repeatedly cautioned Trump against announcing a bid now. Both have argued that he doesn’t want to be responsible for any losses in the Senate, and McDaniel has told others that the party will stop paying his legal bills if he becomes the nominee.
“Some like to deny him credit when candidates win and blame him when candidates lose, but President Trump knows he can’t control the quality and energy of a candidate or his or her campaign,” Conway said.
Trump continues to dominate early polling for the 2024 Republican primary, though potential rivals such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have received encouraging signs at Republican events by winning informal straw polls. A growing group of candidates, including his former vice president, Mike Pence, Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, have been making advanced plans for a campaign. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) has also left open the possibility of a 2024 presidential campaign, recently telling others he is “humbled” by the attention paid to him.
A group affiliated with Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), an oft-discussed presidential or vice-presidential candidate, has launched about $2 million in television ads in key states such as Georgia and Nevada that show him speaking directly to the camera about local Republican Senate candidates, with more reservations expected over the coming months.
For Trump, an early announcement, well ahead of the traditional post-midterm window for a presidential campaign, could come with significant risk inside the party.
“It’s a big jump ball if we win the Senate. If we lose by one Senate seat, which is a very strong possibility, he’s just giving people an excuse to blame him,” said another longtime adviser, pointing to the GOP’s loss of Georgia’s two Senate seats in an early 2021 runoff. “If we lose Georgia again, he’ll get blamed. He’ll get none of the credit and he’ll get all of the blame. He knows that.”
Other advisers have warned that Trump still may upend even the planning of his own team by announcing for president with little warning. These same people said they believe an announcement in August, when many Americans are on vacation and tuned out of the news, is unlikely. Several advisers said Trump spent hours in recent weeks, particularly on the weekend, just polling advisers about what he should do.
“You can only hold him off so long,” the adviser said. “One day he’ll wake up and say, ‘Put it out.’”