The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump hasn’t announced a 2024 bid. But he’s acting like he’s running.

The former president is holding a rally in Iowa and taking swipes at likely primary rivals, while his super PAC is running ads attacking Biden

Former president Donald Trump speaks in Mesa, Ariz., on Oct. 9. (Joshua Lott/The Washington Post)

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Former president Donald Trump’s advisers have spent much of this year talking him out of announcing a third White House bid before the midterms, arguing that it could get drowned out by the ongoing campaigns, invite the Democrats to focus the races on him and complicate compliance with campaign finance rules.

So Trump has stopped short of a formal announcement, but in many ways, he is already acting like a 2024 candidate.

He held a rally Thursday in Iowa — home to the first-in-the-nation caucus that makes it a magnet for presidential hopefuls, but not among the top battlegrounds in this year’s midterms. Trump is holding events in coming days in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, critical states in the midterm elections for any Republican presidential contender.

Trump also has repeatedly winked at his supporters in public remarks, strongly hinting that his own mind was made up. “Under these ridiculous rules and regulations you’re not allowed to talk about it,” he said at a rally last month in Michigan. “We’ll be making a decision very soon,” he added in Arizona. “I think everyone’s going to be happy, I really do.”

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Democrats will keep Senate majority after winning eight out of the nine seats rated competitive by Cook Political Report. The only remaining race will be decided in Georgia in a Dec. 6 runoff — here’s how it will work.
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Republicans narrowly won back control of the House, creating a split Congress and dealing a blow to President Biden and his agenda.
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A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign on Tuesday, ignoring the advice of longtime allies who encouraged him to delay the announcement.

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“Very soon” could come within days of Election Day on Nov. 8, with Trump hoping to take credit for what’s expected to be a strong Republican showing. Advisers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal plans, said announcing soon would pressure Republicans to line up behind Trump before potential rivals get into the race. Trump expects to face Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former vice president Mike Pence and former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, advisers said.

“The election was rigged and stolen — I ran twice, I won twice,” Trump said, falsely, in Sioux City, Iowa, on Thursday. “Now, in order to make our country successful and safe and glorious, I’ll very, very, very probably do it again.” “Very, very, very,” he repeated, as the crowd started chanting his name. “Get ready, that’s all I’m telling you.”

Some Trump advisers also cited the importance of declaring Trump’s candidacy before a potential indictment from the Justice Department. Investigators have been closing in on Trump and his inner circle in separate probes into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and the mishandling of classified documents recovered from his private Mar-a-Lago Club and residence in Florida. Some advisers said announcing Trump’s candidacy before any potential charges would help him by making the prosecution look more political.

Is former president Donald Trump still the undisputed leader of the GOP, or is the party moving on? (Video: Michael Cadenhead/The Washington Post)

Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich provided an earlier statement, saying, “President Trump continues to be the leading voice in growing and energizing the Republican Party by introducing millions of new voters to his endorsed candidates and energizing voters who usually sit-out midterms.”

In the meantime, Trump has begun discussing personnel picks for a campaign and asking people to help in various states, according to people familiar with the conversations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal details. He has floated Mar-a-Lago as the site of an announcement, but some advisers would like him to choose a venue in a swing state.

Trump has been tracking which donors meet with other candidates, advisers say, and has hosted state officials and Republican National Committee members at Mar-a-Lago ahead of an announcement.

The Iowa rally was scheduled to help Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R), who some polls show is in a tight race, after an earlier event in the state did not come together, according to a person involved in the planning. The state also has a competitive race for attorney general, and the Republican candidate is slated to speak.

The rally location, in Sioux City, isn’t in a competitive congressional district. The state’s GOP chair, Jeff Kaufmann, said he advocated for bringing Trump there to help turn out the vote for statewide races. “When you have no contested election, there is a tendency for voter enthusiasm to decline,” Kaufmann said. “We need something in this 4th District to put things into overdrive.”

Still, Trump clearly has his own interests in Iowa, where he narrowly lost the 2016 caucus to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). A recent Des Moines Register poll found that most Iowans view Trump unfavorably, a marked turn from last fall. Trump won the state by eight points in 2020. Even some of Trump’s supporters have started admitting to reservations about voting for him a third time.

“A lot of people who attend his rally want to thank him for what he did, but that doesn’t mean everybody at the rally believes he should run for president again,” said Bob Vander Plaats, head of the Family Leader, an Iowa-based social conservative group. “A lot of people are going to think, ‘We need somebody new, somebody fresh, in 2024 to make sure we win.’ ”

At 44 degrees, it was much colder in Sioux City than was forecast, and the Secret Service estimated the crowd at the rally at about 5,500.

Lynette Thies, who came to the rally from Ute, Iowa, said she would support Trump in 2024 and would also consider DeSantis but not Pence. Sara Breuning from Humboldt, Iowa, said Trump was the best president of her lifetime and she’d definitely vote for him again. “He should still be president,” she said.

Trump is divisive, viewed favorable by 42 percent of Americans but 81 percent of Republicans, according to a recent New York Times-Siena College national poll. Multiple polls have shown that a majority of Americans believe he should be prosecuted for his role in encouraging his supporters to march to the Capitol on Jan. 6, leading to a riot that disrupted the formal certification of the election results.

Trump has spent the almost two years since leaving office cementing his grip on the party. His endorsements proved decisive in many primaries, and he has held rallies to promote the “Trump ticket,” rather than using the party’s name. Eight of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the insurrection have since retired or lost their primaries, and a ninth, Rep. David G. Valadao (R-Calif.), is in a close race for reelection. Candidates emphasizing Trump’s false claims about fraud in the 2020 election are now within striking distance of winning the power to oversee or certify future elections, including in Arizona, Nevada and Wisconsin — states that were crucial to President Biden’s electoral college victory.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump confidant, said he expected the former president to join the race soon but cautioned against centering the campaign on settling scores.

“If it’s a campaign of grievance — people are not being loyal, that kind of stuff — I think that’s not the best hand for him to play,” Graham said. “What he’s going to have to do is when he announces, talk about how he would take on the Biden agenda and the case he would make to take the White House back.”

Graham said he often hears concerns about electability and said Trump needed to try to alleviate those.

“This is still Trump’s primary to lose, but I’m hearing from people who say, ‘I liked him. I think he was a good president. I think he shakes things up, but I don’t know if he can win,’ ” Graham said. “His challenge is going to be take that admiration for his presidency and prove to people he can also win.”

Trump has already started making his case against Biden by proxy in some super PAC ads airing in the midterms. The Make America Great Again super PAC has spent more than $16 million helping Trump-endorsed Senate and gubernatorial candidates on the ballot on Nov. 8, according to data from the media-tracking firm AdImpact. The ads in Nevada and Pennsylvania take special aim at Biden.

“Send Biden a message. Defeat Catherine Cortez Masto,” the voice-over in the Nevada spot says, citing the Democratic Senate incumbent.

“Joe Biden and John Fetterman aren’t up to these challenges,” an ad in Pennsylvania says, referring to the Democratic Senate candidate there.

Two people involved in the ads said the attacks on Biden were supported by the PAC’s research because the president is unpopular in those states. The super PAC is being advised by Chris LaCivita, a veteran Republican ad maker who is also being considered for a senior campaign role, according to people familiar with the matter.

Trump has also begun dunking on his potential opponents in the Republican primary. He criticized DeSantis for endorsing Colorado Senate candidate Joe O’Dea after Trump lashed out at O’Dea for distancing himself from Trump. DeSantis, who is running for reelection, will not appear at Trump’s rally in Miami on Sunday, instead holding his own competing event.

The Florida rally arose from a conversation between Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio (R), who is also on the ballot, according to people familiar with the planning. Trump is also planning homestretch rallies in Pennsylvania on Saturday and Ohio on Monday.

Trump’s PAC now routinely blasts out state poll results showing Trump leading likely primary rivals and beating Biden in a hypothetical 2024 rematch.

“We’re leading by numbers that nobody’s ever seen before, that includes Republicans,” Trump said at last month’s Arizona rally. “We got some Republicans that say, ‘Oh, we want to run.’ Let them run. Who the hell cares? We’re leading by so much.”

The 2022 Midterm Elections

Georgia runoff election: Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) won re-election in the Georgia Senate runoff, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker and giving Democrats a 51st seat in the Senate for the 118th Congress. Get live updates here and runoff results by county.

Divided government: Republicans narrowly won back control of the House, while Democrats will keep control of the Senate, creating a split Congress.

What the results mean for 2024: A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign shortly after the midterms. Here are the top 10 2024 presidential candidates for the Republicans and Democrats.

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