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Trump spooks GOP with abandoned talk of presidential launch on eve of vote

After top Republicans spent Monday trying to talk Trump out of declaring his candidacy before the midterms, he made no announcement

Former president Donald Trump speaks to the crowd at Monday's rally at the Dayton International Airport in Vandalia, Ohio. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Former president Donald Trump set off a scramble Monday in the Republican Party after he threatened to upend the midterm elections by announcing his 2024 presidential bid on the eve of voting.

Trump told people close to him Monday that he might announce his candidacy at a rally scheduled for Monday night in Ohio, according to three people familiar with the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe confidential conversations.

The remarks prompted a chain of phone calls from party leaders who have tried for months to keep Trump from announcing until after the midterms. Some of his advisers began communicating to others Monday that efforts needed to be made to talk him out of announcing, two of these people said, while other advisers were egging him on to jump in.

In the end, Trump didn’t announce on Monday night, but he went a step closer, promising “a very big announcement” on Nov. 15 at his Mar-a-Lago estate. The crowd erupted in cheers, and Trump added, “We want nothing to detract from the importance of tomorrow.”

Democratic and Republican candidates across the country make their final push on the campaign trail Nov. 7, the day before Election Day. (Video: The Washington Post)

Republican leaders succeeded in talking Trump out of announcing by telling him it would get buried under election news and he’d get more attention later, people familiar with the discussions said. Trump is scheduled to interview staff later this week for the nascent campaign.

Trump is known for attempts to build suspense, and he often vacillates on decisions after taking significant input from advisers. He also likes to float different theories and different plans to different advisers. Party leaders feared announcing Monday would gin up Democratic turnout, particularly in razor-thin Senate races where the control of the chamber is in the balance.

But Trump has been determined in recent weeks to get credit for the midterm results should Republicans do well, and according to advisers, he has grown frustrated watching the large crowds and energy for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whom he views as a threat for the 2024 nomination. He has also watched as some would-be rivals have grown increasingly aggressive about running in 2024, and wants to force people to support him, advisers say.

A Trump spokesman did not return calls seeking comment.

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Trump had already publicly said everything short of officially announcing, promising at a rally Saturday that he would announce “very, very, very soon.”

He is expected to throw a large party at Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday night as the results come in, said multiple advisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe confidential conversations, and wants to make a public appearance.

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

Among those determined for him not to announce before the midterms have been RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Republicans were optimistic about the results Tuesday night, believing they will win the House by a large margin and have a good chance to win the Senate. McDaniel has told people that she has repeatedly talked to Trump when he told others he was on the verge of announcing, and has argued that he should make the midterms a referendum on President Biden.

Paul S. Ryan, a campaign finance lawyer at the Funder’s Committee for Civic Participation, said that politicians are required to file a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission within 15 days of spending or raising more than $5,000 to further a campaign after deciding to be a candidate. After that, candidates have 10 days to file a statement of organization for their campaign.

The FEC website says examples of campaigning, and not just testing the waters, can include when candidates make or authorize statements that refer to themselves as candidates or inform the media that they will announce their candidacy “on a certain date.” Trump arguably did that on Monday night by referring to an announcement on Nov. 15.

A separate question, which could be the subject of a future FEC complaint, is whether Trump would receive an in-kind donation of more than $5,000 from his own leadership PAC, Save America — which organized Ohio’s rally — for giving him a platform to make what amounts to a campaign expenditure. To calculate the value of the platform Trump receives, the FEC may choose to consider the total cost of the event and the share of time at the event used to discuss the campaign activity, Ryan said.

Part of Trump’s urgency comes from wanting to get ahead of a potential indictment, the logic being that a declared candidacy makes a prosecution look more political. He is under investigation in two federal probes: one into the efforts to block certification of the 2020 electoral college results and another into the mishandling of classified documents brought to Mar-a-Lago. The Justice Department’s customary freeze on overt steps that could be seen as influencing an election expires when the polls close Tuesday.

Trump also faces an ongoing investigation from a prosecutor in Atlanta into his pressure on Georgia officials to override the state’s popular vote for president in 2020.

Republicans said they feared his announcement could backfire by motivating Democratic turnout on Election Day.

“It’s very obvious he can’t wait to announce,” retiring Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) said in an interview. “It’s a very bad idea for him to do that [tonight] because Republican prospects are best if this election is about the failing presidency of Joe Biden … to the extent he makes it about himself then that makes it a little harder.”

One Republican strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly, said: “It just boggles the mind why he would hand that to Democrats at this late hour. Making the conversation about himself and risking losses across the map that otherwise might have been wins would be a bad way to two-step into a presidential race.”

Several family members accompanied Trump to Monday’s Ohio rally with Senate GOP candidate J.D. Vance. Before the rally, Vance’s chief strategist, Jai Chabria, said an announcement from Trump would not have affected the race. “The night before the election, the fact that he’s here is already a turnout mechanism for our voters,” Chabria said. “We’re going to win comfortably regardless.”

A Democratic aide said Republican voters are already energized, so Trump’s announcement would help mobilize Democrats and be a sign of weakness.

“I’d like to do it, but you know what, and I really mean this, I want to have the focus tonight be on Dr. [Mehmet] Oz and on Doug Mastriano,” Trump said Saturday at a rally in Latrobe, Pa., referring to the GOP candidates for Senate and governor in that state. “I’m not going to say it right now, but I’m telling you … I promise you, in the very next, very, very, very short period of time, you’re going to be so happy.”

The crowd of about 8,000 gave him a standing ovation. When he finally told them they could sit, Trump added: “Very, very soon. You’re going to be surprised at how soon. But first, we have to win a historic victory for Republicans in November.”

Cara McGoogan in Vandalia, Ohio, and Colby Itkowitz in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

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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