Donald Trump is officially running for president in 2024
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Former President Trump announced another campaign last night. He played up his actions during his last time in the White House, and he made only a passing reference to the way he left the White House.
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DONALD TRUMP: Three years ago, when I left office, the United States stood ready for its golden age.
INSKEEP: Those four words - when I left office - were as close as Trump came to mentioning his rejection of his election defeat, the January 6 attack on the Capitol and his departure afterward with many documents marked classified. Our colleague Danielle Kurtzleben was watching the event. Danielle, good morning.
DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: What was the setting?
KURTZLEBEN: Well, he gave the speech at the club he owns, at Mar-a-Lago, and it was a very Trumpy (ph) event in a pretty Trumpy setting, right? It was a big, glitzy ballroom with a lot of American flags and, of course, "Proud To Be An American" playing as Trump took the stage. And furthermore, the speech would be familiar to anyone who has seen a Trump rally over the last few years. He did a lot of touting/exaggerating his accomplishments as president. But then again, compared to his usual rallies, it was quite a bit lower energy. Here's one clip.
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TRUMP: Our victory will be built upon big ideas, bold ambitions and daring dreams for America's future. We need daring dreams. It is not enough merely to complain or oppose. We don't want to be critics. We don't want to be complainers. I never wanted to be a critic. I never respected critics. They tell people what's wrong, but they can't do it themselves.
KURTZLEBEN: Now, you might be scratching your head because, of course, Trump is a critic. That's what a lot of his fans like about him. And he did a lot of criticizing Joe Biden in that speech, for example. But with lines like that one, there was just an odd sense of him at least pretending he was pulling his punches. It was quite subdued.
INSKEEP: Well, did that subdued tone in the room reflect the subdued moment for his party?
KURTZLEBEN: You know, it's hard to say. I mean, when he scheduled the speech, many people were predicting big Republican wins last week. Now, instead, as you reference there, Republicans had a disappointing midterm. For example, they failed to capture the Senate. And in the speech, Trump said that Republicans had won the House, which still isn't true, though the party is expected to win the House narrowly. That call just hasn't been made yet. But one thing he did in the speech was downplay just how disappointing the midterm was for the GOP, particularly for candidates he boosted. I'm thinking here, like, Arizona governor candidate Kari Lake or Pennsylvania Senate candidate Mehmet Oz. And, of course, some of those high-profile losses contributed toward the GOP failing to win the Senate. So given all of that, part of his challenge in the speech was just to give a reason why he thinks he could win.
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TRUMP: The total effect of the suffering is just starting to take hold. They don't quite feel it yet, but they will very soon. I have no doubt that by 2024, it will sadly be much worse, and they will see much more clearly what happened and what is happening to our country. And the voting will be much different.
KURTZLEBEN: So he had a pretty dark message there, that bad times are ahead, and when they come, I will be ready to swoop in.
INSKEEP: Did he mention prosecutors who, for all we know, might be ready to swoop in?
KURTZLEBEN: Sort of. He referenced the raid on his home at Mar-a-Lago this summer where the Department of Justice uncovered classified documents in his possession post-presidency. And Trump said that that raid shows he was unfairly targeted. Now, a Trump presidential run certainly wouldn't end those investigations, but it would very much complicate them.
INSKEEP: OK. So he makes himself the first person in the 2024 race. But is he likely to be the only person on the Republican side?
KURTZLEBEN: Oh, of course not. There are plenty of people who are making the typical pre-campaign moves. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is seen as the biggest threat. But then you have Mike Pence. He has a book coming out. And in Iowa, I recently saw former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former White House press secretary and now Arkansas Governor-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders both speak. Now, it's easy to overestimate Trump's weakness right now in the immediate aftermath of the midterm elections. I mean, think about how many times people have counted Trump out, said he's cooked and he has stuck around because let's also just think about how much he has changed the Republican Party. I mean, keep in mind that for all of the GOP's losses in the midterms, there were people who are a lot like Trump who have embraced his politics, like Ron Johnson in Wisconsin or J.D. Vance in Ohio, who did win.
INSKEEP: Well, we've been hearing, of course, you and I, from a lot of voters in Trump's party during this election season that just passed. We spoke with them in many places and heard a lot of opinions of Trump. I want to hear some of them. This is from Roman Kozak, a Republican in Beaver Falls, Pa., who has an open mind, it seems, in the primary.
ROMAN KOZAK: But if President Trump is the general election nominee, then yeah, I'd vote for him.
INSKEEP: We also heard an Ohio woman who asked us to use only her first name, Glenda (ph). She said Trump made her a Republican. When you say Trump changed the Republican Party, she's part of that, but she can't vote for him again.
GLENDA: I don't - after the January 6, I just don't trust him. I don't. I do not trust him now.
INSKEEP: What else do you hear out there?
KURTZLEBEN: You know, I have asked a lot of Republican and conservative-leaning voters over the last year or so, who do you want to run for president in 2024? And I'm going to play one woman for you who's emblematic of what I've heard a lot. Her name is Ruth Streck. I spoke to her on her front porch in Neenah, Wis., this summer. You're going to hear a little bit of traffic in the background. Here's what she said about Trump.
RUTH STRECK: I think Trump did so much for this country, and no one can take that from him.
KURTZLEBEN: So she, like a lot of Republicans, really, really likes Trump. But she also said Ron DeSantis would be her first choice because she just doesn't know if Trump would be able to win.
STRECK: People couldn't get beyond his personality and his tweeting. And, you know, just what can I say? I don't know how to defend that. I thought he did wonderful, but I don't think that he could be elected again without the support of the entire Republican Party. That's my strong feeling.
KURTZLEBEN: And I have heard that kind of a response over and over. There are these Republican voters who very much liked Trump as president, would support him if he were the nominee, maybe even, you know, happily support him. But they aren't necessarily enthusiastic about him being the nominee. There's a sort of respectful thank you, but maybe someone else tone.
INSKEEP: NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben, thanks as always.
KURTZLEBEN: Yes, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.