- The Washington Times
Wednesday, November 16, 2022

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Former President Donald Trump pivoted away from attacks on Republican rivals and claims about a stolen 2020 election when he announced his 2024 White House bid from his Mar-a-Lago estate on Tuesday.

His message instead harked back to his wildly successful 2016 campaign that wiped out a slate of high-profile Republican opposition and delivered him to the White House.

Will the same strategy work this time?

Mr. Trump’s inner circle of advisers is betting on it. They devised a plan that pits the former president squarely against his successor, President Biden.

Mr. Trump will define Mr. Biden as a feeble-minded octogenarian who has dragged the United States into a ditch and is too weak to lead the nation out of it. 

“President Trump outlines a very strong, clear vision to get the economy back on track,” said Jason Miller, a spokesman for Mr. Trump. “Then you have bumbling Joe.”

Much like the 2016 version, the new strategy faces strong headwinds within the Republican Party.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, said Mr. Trump is running from a position of weakness as he faces Republican grumbles and mounting legal woes.

“He’s doing it from a place of defensiveness, of his own self-opportunity and weakness,” Mr. Sununu told The Washington Post. “So he’s announcing he’s going to run for president at a low point in his political career. I don’t know how that’s going to work out, man.”

Mr. Trump’s hourlong speech Tuesday skipped any reference to a stolen election or his frequent claim that he won the 2020 race and not Mr. Biden, who turns 80 on Sunday. 

Mr. Trump also skipped over his list of grievances against conservative media that have soured on him. He held back from lashing out at 2024 Republican rivals, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who Mr. Trump believes owe him their loyalty and should stay out of the primary to give him a clear path to the nomination.

Mr. Trump, 76, mostly stuck to the bread-and-butter issues that attracted voters six years ago: the economy, illegal immigration, restoring the U.S. manufacturing base, and trade deals that benefit U.S. workers, farmers and businesses. His stump speech was updated with new voter concerns, including a pledge to halt transgender ideology in schools and increase parental rights in education.

The whole strategy sounds a lot like his rhetoric in 2016 and therefore should not be discounted, Republican Party strategist Doug Heye told The Washington Times.

“There’s an old Frank Sinatra song, ‘I’ve Heard That Song Before.’ Trump gives a bizarre speech, has no megadonors, the Murdoch media world is split, the chattering classes are laughing, all while the media covers Trump’s every move,” Mr. Heye said. “We’ve heard this song before and should take it seriously.”

Mr. Trump’s supporters applauded the speech and urged the former president to stick with it. 

“If President Trump continues this tone and delivers this message on a consistent basis, he will be hard to beat,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and longtime Trump ally, said in a post on Twitter. “His speech tonight, contrasting his policies and results against the Biden Administration, charts a winning path for him in the primaries and general election.”

Mr. Trump announced his campaign after disappointing midterm election results for Republicans that some blame on the former president. Nearly all of Mr. Trump’s endorsed candidates in the most pivotal Senate and gubernatorial races were defeated, as were many House Republican candidates he backed.

Political strategists said independent and Republican-leaning voters were turned off in part by the stolen election claims put forward by Mr. Trump and some of his endorsed candidates. Mr. Trump’s drag on electoral tickets was worsened by highly publicized congressional hearings blaming him for inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol and exposing his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. 

“His biggest impediment and roadblock is putting the whole Jan. 6 and ‘the election was stolen’ narrative behind him,” Stephen Stepanek, chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, told The Times. “He’s just got to say, ‘That’s no longer an issue. We’re focused on 2024.’ If he can say that and put all of that behind him, then I think he can build the momentum and be successful.”

In polls, voters have shown mixed feelings about another Trump White House bid and indicate that they may be favoring a new Republican star.

A YouGov nationwide poll of 1,500 adults released after the elections found Mr. DeSantis with a slight edge over Mr. Trump, including among Republicans. A month ago, the same poll showed Mr. Trump as the front-runner.

Polling analyst Ron Faucheux said Mr. Trump would be less hobbled as a presidential candidate if he steers clear of stolen election talk and swiping at popular Republican governors. 

“It helps remove an obstacle,” Mr. Faucheux said, “but it’s hard to believe he won’t return to it.”

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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