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What will Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential bid mean for American democracy?

The former president’s attempted comeback may embolden Americans to pull back further from the brink or deepen the country’s woes.

By Emily Tamkin

In June 2015 Donald Trump descended the escalator in Trump Tower in New York City and announced before a crowd of waiting journalists that he was running to be president of the United States. That address – his first formal campaign speech – included calling Mexican immigrants to the US rapists and criminals, and introduced Trump’s catchphrase: Make America Great Again.

Seven years, one presidential term, two impeachments, and one Maga mob storming of the Capitol later, Trump announced on Tuesday 15 November, this time in Palm Beach, Florida, in his Mar-a-Lago resort, that he will once again be running for president.

“The United States has been embarrassed, humiliated and weakened for all to see”, Trump said. “Two years ago, we were a great nation and soon we will be a great nation again”.

Trump teased this announcement by saying on 7 November that he would make a big announcement the following week. That, however, was before the Republicans’ disastrous performance in the midterm elections on 8 November, for which many have blamed Trump, who continues to deny that he lost the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden (he did) and who endorsed dozens of extremist candidates who insisted the same.

Following the midterm elections, some commentators rushed to pronounce Trump’s political future dead and cast the Florida governor Ron DeSantis as the future of the party. After all, candidates who made election denial a central part of their campaigns, like the Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, were defeated. This speculation prompted a furious statement from Trump, posted on the evening of 10 November, in which he denounced DeSantis for not displaying “loyalty and class”. One YouGov survey conducted after the midterms showed Republican voters would narrowly prefer DeSantis to Trump as the presidential nominee in 2024 (41 to 39 per cent, respectively), although, as I wrote this week, Trump has bested seemingly more competent challengers before (one of them, Jeb Bush, was even a former Florida governor). Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, meanwhile, appeared on Fox News to say that DeSantis should run not in 2024, but in 2028, and some Republican politicians have suggested that they will stick with the former president despite everything. Asked by reporters on 9 November for his thoughts on the matchup, Biden said he thought watching the two of them fight would be amusing. 

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Trump, during his announcement, blamed the Republicans’ poor performance on the fact that voters don’t yet appreciate how ruinous President Joe Biden’s policies are. “The total extent of the suffering is just starting to take hold.”, he offered ominously. “They don’t quite feel it yet, but they will very soon”.

Trump’s announcement also comes at a time when his legal troubles are mounting. Prosecutors looking into Trump’s efforts to subvert the 2020 election in the state of Georgia and, separately, into his handling of classified materials while president may have been waiting until after the midterms to take certain steps in their investigations so as not to be seen as influencing politics. It’s not clear whether Trump’s announcement will similarly deter them, but the 6 January Committee, which is looking into Trump’s role in the events around the storming of the Capitol to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election results, is expected to reveal more evidence and will not be stopped just because he decided to announce.

Despite the unexpected good showing for Democrats at the midterms, American democracy remains at a precipice. It is in a slightly healthier place than it was a week ago with Trump-endorsed candidates like Lake, who denied the legitimacy of the 2020 election and promised to change elections in the future, failing to sway voters. It is not clear whether a second Trump run will embolden Americans to pull back further from the brink, or to continue the descent.

[See also: Has the plot to subvert American democracy backfired?]

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