The signs of Donald Trump’s next White House run are there. He has hosted wannabe campaign managers at Mar-a-Lago and quizzed golf partners between shots on who he should put in charge, though no formal interviews have been conducted.
His interest in 2024 polls – especially how he stacks up against Florida’s Ron DeSantis, his home-state governor – has piqued in recent months, but Trump has yet to formally launch an exploratory committee. And he’s made a series of midterm endorsements meant to impress Republican voters, proving that he has the magic touch – though recent losses in Idaho, Georgia and North Carolina have begun to tell a different story.
With virtually no formal campaign apparatus in place, mounting questions about the strength of his influence over GOP primary voters and high-profile congressional hearings that are reinjecting Trump’s 2020 election claims into the national conversation, sources close to the former President told CNN he is nevertheless closer than ever to announcing another run for office. As more and more Republicans add Iowa and New Hampshire to their schedules and work to gauge the party’s appetite for fresh leadership, Trump has been telling friends and advisers he wants to put his potential rivals on notice – and soon.
“Announcing before the midterms allows him to clear the field, shore up the donor base and take a victory lap after the midterms,” one former Trump campaign official said.
But the prospect of Trump launching a third bid for the White House as an end-of-summer or October surprise has worried many of these allies, who think the timing is premature. More than 10 Trump confidants, advisers and aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity said they have personally advised the 45th President to hold off on a formal campaign launch until next year. They noted the careful planning it would take to pull off an announcement that commands deference from other Republican hopefuls and injects excitement into corners of the GOP that crave a new standard-bearer and have quietly debated whether someone like DeSantis, whom Republicans widely consider a new-dand-improved version of Trump, might be more competitive in a general election.
“I don’t think the lack of planning means he’s not actually serious about running. It just means it’s going to be another fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants sh– show if he does,” said one person close to Trump.
Trump has, of course, taken some steps that are customary for would-be candidates. He has stuck his neck out with high-profile endorsements in key Senate and gubernatorial contests, winning some and losing others. He has built a thriving post-presidential fundraising operation with around $110 million currently in its war chest – topping what both national parties have in the bank. And he has worked to maintain a close relationship with key supporters through periodic campaign rallies and appearances at conservative events. Later this week, he will deliver remarks at the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s annual conference for religious conservatives in Nashville, Tennessee – joining other possible 2024 GOP hopefuls on the speaking roster.
Still, those around Trump who say he is keen on announcing a campaign this year admit that his overall infrastructure is still lacking. One longtime Trump pal also said the former President needs to spend more time beta-testing different messages before throwing his hat in the ring because his false claim that the 2020 election was stolen “is not enough on its own to justify running again.”
“A red wave in November would give him the perfect opportunity to adopt a forward-looking message. He can talk about what Republicans will do to turn the country around now that they have more control and what he would do in a second term to boost those efforts,” this person said.
Questions about staffing
A key question for allies of the former President is who, exactly, would be involved in his campaign if he announces before the November midterms. That timing would come on the heels of public hearings by the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol that have featured damning testimony from both Trump’s family members and former aides and advisers.