WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump has started 2022 off on a good note. Primary candidates flocked to Florida to woo the former president for a coveted endorsement. His rallies drew thousands. A body of investigations against him did not attract much public attention.
A year later, Trump is facing a very different reality.
He is embroiled in criminal investigations that could lead to prosecutions. He has been blamed for the disappointing performance of the Republicans in the November elections. And though he is now a declared contender for the US presidency, the six weeks since he announced it have been marked by self-inflicted crises. Trump has not held a single campaign event and hardly leaves the confines of his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.
Instead of holding off potential 2024 rivals, they seem increasingly emboldened. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who recently won a landslide victory that landed him re-election, is increasingly seen as the most formidable competitor facing Trump.
Trump’s toned-down campaign ad has even his former supporters wondering if he’s serious about another run for the White House.
“There was a movie called ‘Failure to Launch’ (literally ‘Failure at launch’). I think that’s how the process of Donald Trump’s candidacy has been up until now. He made the announcement and hasn’t done anything to support it since,” said Michael Biundo, a Republican political operative who advised Trump’s campaign in 2016 but is now not involved.
“Which campaign?” asked Dan Eberhart, a longtime Republican donor who donated $100,000 to support Trump’s 2020 re-election bid but is now leaning toward DeSantis. “Trump’s early release seems more like a reaction to DeSantis’ better-than-expected performance and a legal ploy against prosecution than a political campaign.”
Trump campaign officials insist that weeks have passed since his Nov. 15 announcement methodically developing a political operation. The ex-president, they point out, made it known just before the Christmas season, when politicians tend to prefer to lie low, and he did so unusually early, giving him plenty of time to prepare.
“This is a marathon and our game plan is being implemented by design,” said Steven Cheung, a Trump spokesman.
“We are also assembling high-level teams in early voting states and expanding our massive data operation to ensure we dominate on all fronts,” he added. “We are not going to play the game of the media that tries to dictate how we campaign.”
Trump also defended himself against criticism about the slow start to his campaign. “The rallies will be bigger and better than ever (because our country is going to hell) but it’s a little early don’t you think?” he wrote on his social media site.
Despite the fact that he has not held campaign events, the former president has generated controversy nonetheless.
There are the cases of his dinner with a white nationalist and the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, who has made countless anti-Semitic comments and alleged conspiracies; his suggestions that parts of the Constitution be repealed so that he can return to power; and the “big announcement” that turned out to be the release of $99 digital trading cards that don’t benefit his campaign.
Since running for president again, he has also faced a series of legal defeats, including the appointment of a special prosecutor to oversee the Justice Department’s investigation into the presence of secret documents at Trump’s Florida mansion, as well as that key aspects of a separate investigation involving Trump’s attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Trump’s namesake company was found guilty of tax fraud last month for helping its executives evade taxes on extravagant privileges. In Georgia, a special grand jury appears to be nearing completion of its investigative work on Trump’s attempts to stay in power late in his presidency.
Trump’s potential rivals have spent months laying the groundwork for their own campaigns, visiting early voting states, speaking before conservative groups and developing the kind of relationships that could benefit them in the future.
Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of The Family Leader, an Iowa-based conservative group, cited Republicans such as former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, who have all visited the state. several times.
“They’ve done the legwork that’s needed to get in front of Iowans, and they’re very well received,” he said, noting that the period since Trump announced his candidacy has been “unusually quiet. In many ways, it feels like it’s the announcement that didn’t even happen, or it doesn’t happen, because there wasn’t an immediate expectation… I don’t hear people on the street saying, ‘I’m looking forward to Trump apply’. ‘Did you hear about the Trump ad?’”
He views the poor performance of some Trump-backed candidates in the 2022 midterms as a “cautionary note,” saying even Trump supporters are open to backing someone else in the 2024 race.
“For the president, I think he will definitely have to earn the nomination,” he added.
Despite his vulnerabilities, at this early stage Trump remains the leading Republican challenger. While he is seen as likely to be beaten in a matchup between just two contenders, he will probably benefit from a large field of candidates dividing the anti-Trump vote, just as he did when he ran and won in 2016.
But Biundo, the former Trump campaign adviser, said that after seeing potential candidates like Pence visit early-voting states, he also believes there is a very good chance that the party’s nominee will be either candidate.
“I don’t think Donald Trump has it secured. I don’t think Ron DeSantis has it insured. I don’t think anyone has it insured,” he said. “Right now, the primaries are for anyone.”