Inside President Trump's subdued campaign launch
Shelby is a Political Reporter for Semafor, joining us from the Daily Caller. Sign up for the daily Principals newsletter to get our insider’s guide to American power.
MAR-A-LAGO, Florida — “In order to make America great and glorious again, I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States,” Donald Trump officially declared roughly twenty minutes into what would turn into an hour-long speech Tuesday.
The announcement came as Trump’s failed efforts to overturn the 2020 election, which ended in a deadly riot at the Capitol, were back in the spotlight — this time, because top Republicans blamed Trump-backed candidates running on a January 6th-inspired message for losing critical midterm races around the country. He also faces his biggest internal threat in the party since his second impeachment in Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who many conservatives have rallied around after a blowout win on Tuesday.
Some advisors had pushed him to delay his presidential announcement until after a runoff in Georgia, which features yet another Trump-backed candidate who underperformed on Tuesday, retired football star Herschel Walker. Trump was already widely blamed for costing Republicans two runoffs in the state in early 2021 by baselessly casting doubt on whether their votes would be counted. The losses handed Democrats a Senate majority.
Trump has threatened to make a presidential announcement since last year, though, and would not be deterred a moment longer. After “Do You Hear The People Sing?” from Les Miserables warmed up the crowd, he strode out promptly at 9 P.M. to a friendly crowd at the resort he owns.
A Trump advisor previewed the speech as a forward-looking contrast between his record and vision and an unpopular Biden administration. It was a mix of Greatest Hits — he touted the economy under his administration, a strong border with Mexico, moves toward energy independence, and even claimed he went “decades” without a war during his four years in office — and meandering riffs on the news, including a discussion of a missile that landed in Poland that morning. “People are going absolutely wild and crazy and they’re not happy,” Trump said.
He repeated his now-familiar call to execute drug dealers, citing China as a model, and defended himself from a federal investigation into his possession of highly classified records stored at the same compound where he delivered his speech. “Obama took a lot of things with him,” he said, sending fact checkers spinning into action.
While Trump did largely focus on comparing his time in office to America under President Joe Biden, his “very big announcement” largely fell flat. Trump, many noted during and after the speech, appeared subdued at times — a point that the DNC War Room quickly jumped on, dubbing him “Low Energy Trump” just after the evening wrapped up.
What’s more, Trump’s speech wandered as it dragged on, to the point that even Fox News cut away from its live broadcast. (Trump has chafed this week at critical coverage from Rupert Murdoch’s news empire.) It’s hard not to see the differences between Tuesday’s announcement and that of his very first presidential bid back in 2015, when he descended down the golden escalator at Trump Tower to deliver a speech that was forceful, passionate, and at the time, extremely transgressive.
Room for Disagreement
While the muted tone was what stood out for many viewers, to some Republicans it was the kind of Trump they preferred — one who seemed more in control, and less prone to wild outbursts that they worried distracted from his core policy message.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. a Trump ally, tweeted that “he will be hard to beat” if he “continues this tone and delivers this message on a consistent basis.” Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee wrote that Trump is “unbeatable” so long as he continues to focus “on the American ppl and the future, not the past.”
Trump being ridiculed by his critics is also a familiar position, although the reasons are different than in 2015, when few elites in either party took his run seriously. He has a tendency to force them to take him seriously, whether they want to or not.