Seven years after he rode a golden escalator down the atrium of New York’s Trump Tower and declared he was running for US president, Donald Trump launched another presidential bid on Tuesday night.
Trump filed the paperwork required to run for president for the third time just minutes before entering the gilded “grand ballroom” of his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, with his wife Melania at his side. “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from the musical Les Misérables blared over the loudspeakers, before the soundtrack abruptly cut to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA”.
In an ornate room adorned with 15 crystal chandeliers, Trump was introduced as the next US president before taking to a stage decorated with more than a dozen American flags alongside signs with his original campaign slogan “Make America Great Again”.
Addressing hundreds of his supporters and hundreds more members of the national and international media, Trump, 76, said he was running for office once more “in order to make America great and glorious again”.
He described the event as a “very elegant night” in “a very elegant place”.
The marble-lined room was a who’s who of Trump’s most vocal allies, including former advisers such as Roger Stone, who was pardoned by Trump at the end of his presidency for his convictions relating to the Mueller investigation, Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka.
Also present were Devin Nunes, the former congressman who is now chief executive of Trump’s struggling media company, Trump Media & Technology Group; Richard Grenell, Trump’s one-time ambassador to Germany; and Mike Lindell, the MyPillow chief executive who rose to prominence after supporting Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged” and “stolen” from him.
But equally notable was who was not there. Madison Cawthorn, the outgoing North Carolina congressman who lost his bid for re-election earlier this year after being ousted in the Republican primary, appeared to be the only member of Congress present. Matt Gaetz, the Florida congressman, had been expected to attend but pulled out on Tuesday afternoon, blaming the weather, despite clear skies in Palm Beach and mild temperatures reaching the mid-80s Fahrenheit.
Also absent were key members of the president’s family, including his younger daughter, Tiffany, who got married at Mar-a-Lago just two days earlier; his son, Donald Jr, who was reportedly on a hunting trip out of state; and his eldest daughter, Ivanka, who held a senior advisory role in her father’s White House but has sought to distance herself from politics since the January 6 2021 attack on the US Capitol.
Ivanka, whose husband Jared Kushner attended, issued a statement after her father’s speech, saying that while she “love[d]” him “very much”, she did “not plan to be involved in politics”, including his forthcoming presidential campaign.
“This time around, I am choosing to prioritise my young children and the private life we are creating as a family,” she said in a statement posted on her social media channels. “While I will always support my father, going forward I will do so outside the political arena.”
Her absence underscored how many in Trump’s inner circle are wary of his third bid for the White House, as he faces mounting legal challenges while Republicans line up to blame him for the party’s disappointing performance in last week’s midterm elections.
In a rambling hour-long speech on Tuesday night, Trump sought to downplay the results of the midterm elections, which saw the Democrats keep control of the Senate, and Republicans handpicked by Trump lose their bids up and down the ballot. As of Tuesday night, with votes still being counted, Republicans were on course to win control of the House of Representatives, but by a much slimmer margin than originally anticipated.
Roughly 180 miles away, in Orlando, Florida, several Republican governors were on Tuesday raising concerns about Trump’s enduring influence over the party and questioning his decision to run for the presidency once again.
“He’s doing it from a place of defensiveness, of his own self-opportunity and weakness. He’s not at a high point right now. He’s at a low point,” New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu told the Washington Post on the sidelines of a meeting of the Republican Governors Association. “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.”
Following last week’s midterms, many national Republicans and high-profile donors have urged Trump to step aside in favour of a newer, younger candidate: Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor who won re-election this month by a 19-point margin in a state that Trump won by just 3.4 points two years earlier.
Several polls conducted since the midterms have shown that while Trump still enjoys the support of a critical share of Republican voters, DeSantis’s stock has risen among the party’s grassroots.
Trump has not held back in trashing DeSantis, who he has now nicknamed “Ron DeSanctimonious”. But DeSantis, who has yet to declare his own candidacy, has so far demurred when asked to respond to the former president’s attacks.
“One of the things I’ve learned in this job is when you’re leading, when you’re getting things done, you take incoming fire. That’s just the nature of it,” DeSantis told reporters in Fort Walton Beach, on Florida’s panhandle, on Tuesday, shortly before Trump’s announcement.
“We’ve focused on results and leadership,” he added. “At the end of the day, I would just tell people to go check out the scoreboard from last Tuesday night.”