Trump’s 2024 candidacy is motivated by what has always been his primary motivator: the need to get attention
Even Donald Trump seemed worn out SUNDAY. As he announced his latest White House bid to groans from Republicans worried he’ll spoil the Georgia run-off and moans from a public that has now rejected him in three straight elections, the former president appeared to be going through motion.
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Sure, he tried out all his hits—overheated boasts about his alleged accomplishments with bluster about the supposed ruin his foes have wrought—but without much verve. He played the victim but didn’t seem to relish the role as he normally does.
Trump even played to a home crowd, basking in the applause of Madison Cawthorn and the other sycophants who gathered at Mar-a-Lago for his address. But the whole affair still lacked energy. It was, as Trump himself might say, “SAD!”
The former president delivered a rambling, low-energy speech that few people, including himself, seemed to be jazzed about.
Top allies like Lindsey Graham suggested, hilariously, that this desultory display was just a new, more mature “tone” from Trump. “His speech tonight, contrasting his policies and results against the Biden Administration, charts a winning path for him in the primaries and general election,” the South Carolina Republican wrote. But Trump wasn’t so much subdued as he was mechanical, running in no small part to stymie challenges from Republican rivals and investigations into his conduct.
And such concerns did seem top of mind Tuesday. Not only was his early announcement an obvious attempt to clear the field of Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, and any other emboldened Republican who might challenge him; it’s also clear that he believes his formal candidacy will make it harder on the Justice Department to charge him over the classified White House documents he took with him to Mar-a-Lago. “I’m a victim,” Trump whined at one point. “I will tell you, I’m a victim.”
But to view this run through a pragmatic lens—to ward off rivals and prosecutors—is to miss much of the point. He had, after all, been itching to announce for at least a year, long before his Palm Beach club was raided by the FBI and before some Republicans began openly describing DeSantis as their party leader.
Trump’s 2024 candidacy is motivated by what has always been his primary motivator: the need for attention. He got some of that Tuesday, both from his Palm Beach audience and from the national media. But unlike in 2016, outlets didn’t treat him as a shiny new toy, but a dented, damaged old thing: The papers of record put his impeachments and insurrections in their ledes; the broadcast news didn’t interrupt their regularly scheduled programming, and the cable outlets didn’t even air his speech in full.
Even the conservative media gave him the has-been treatment: The National Review’s headline was a blunt “No,” while the New York Post mocked him with the front-page teaser “Florida Man Makes Announcement,” burying the story on page 26.
Though Trump bashed President Joe Biden throughout his speech, he failed to get a rise out of his successor. Asked by a reporter at the G20 summit if he had a reaction to Trump’s announcement, Biden smiled: “Not really,” he said.
There is, of course, a nice hit of schadenfreude in all this; here’s a demagogue who can’t even seem to get members of his own family, let alone some of his own hangers-on, interested in another round of this. But it’s worth noting how dangerous Trump still is. He was panned as a sideshow and rejected by many in the Republican establishment throughout his first campaign before ascending to the presidency, having tapped into some of the ugliest elements of American culture.
Those elements are still present and will probably not be chastened just because of the GOP’s lackluster midterm performance. Most Americans clearly know the Essence of Trump is poison. But there is still a market for it, even if the sales pitch has gotten old—even to the huckster himself.