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US politics

Was Trump’s announcement a sign of weakness?

The former president at his campaign launch yesterday. Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg/Getty

Donald Trump’s announcement that he is running for president in 2024 was meant to be a “show of strength”, says Ross Douthat in The New York Times. By entering the race early, he is trying to “cow potential rivals”, seize the media spotlight, and start running up endorsements and fundraising totals. He may also see it as a “pre-emptive political strike” against potential legal action – to convince Republicans that Biden’s Justice Department is coming after him “only because they want to keep him from the White House”. Really, though, his campaign launch is an “admission of weakness”. Were he in a position of strength, he could have sat back in Mar-a-Lago as rivals “exhausted themselves with futile campaigning” and the people “clamoured for their once and future king”.

The simple fact is that with the rise of Florida governor Ron DeSantis – and after Republican failures in last week’s midterms – Trump is no longer the clear favourite to win the GOP nomination. Polls already suggest DeSantis is level or ahead. And unlike in 2016, Trump cannot claim he is offering Republican voters something different: he has been too successful at remaking the party in his own image. That’s not to say he can’t win: he could easily rally the base with some extreme gesture “that even a practised culture warrior like DeSantis might be loath to imitate”. But are Trump’s political instincts still sharp enough to seize those opportunities? Lucky us – we get to “spend the next year and more finding out”.