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

REUTERS/Gaelen Morse
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a rally to support Republican candidates ahead of midterm elections, in Dayton, Ohio, U.S. November 7, 2022.

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, prompting a chain of phone calls from party leaders who have tried for months to keep him 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.

It remained unclear Monday afternoon what he would do. 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 fear he 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.

Trump has already publicly said everything short of officially announcing, promising at a rally Saturday that he’d 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.

Among those determined for him not to announce before the midterms have been Republican National Committee 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.

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 privately said they feared his announcement could backfire by motivating Democratic turnout on Election Day. “It just boggles the mind why he would hand that to Democrats at this late hour,” said one Republican strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly. “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.”

At least some family members were expected to attend Monday night’s rally in Ohio, said two Trump advisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe confidential conversations. He is scheduled to appear in Dayton with Senate candidate J.D. Vance.

Vance’s chief strategist, Jai Chabria, said an announcement from Trump wouldn’t affect 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.”