The Corner

Elections

Why Trump’s 2023 Decision Could Come in 2021 or 2022

President Donald Trump holds a campaign rally at Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Mich., November 3, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Rich Lowry argues, on the homepage, that Donald Trump’s decision in 2023 to run again – or not – in 2024 will be momentous for the Republican future:

Sometime in 2023, Donald Trump will presumably make the most momentous decision by a single person affecting the fate of the Republican Party in decades. He will decide whether to run for president again, and that will determine who’s the front-runner (Trump, if he’s a go) and the contours of the race. If Trump runs, he will, one assumes, blot out the sun. Everything will be about him — his record, his pronouncements, his animosities. Much of the conservative mass media will get on board, while the mainstream media — inadvertently aiding him, yet again — will be even more intensely hostile.

I agree (though I question how “inadvertent” is the mainstream media’s tactic of elevating Trump against all Republican alternatives). One of the hopes of any strategy of denying Trump attention is to build consensus around an alternative, partly with the aim of convincing Trump that it is a better play to be kingmaker than try again to be king. But allow me to offer a more depressing suggestion: there is no particular reason to think that Trump will wait until then to announce a 2024 candidacy. Nothing bars Trump from launching a campaign much earlier.

There are a variety of legal issues with fundraising that put cross-pressures on prospective presidential candidates. As campaigns have de facto started earlier and earlier, they have tended to maintain legal ambiguity until a later, formal announcement of candidacy that is anticlimactic. But there is no hard rule against announcing three years early, and for Trump, doing so could be attractive. He could raise boatloads of money and spend it on rallies and campaign events and draw eyeballs. And he could always back out later on; it would hardly be the first time he left investors in a Trump endeavor in the lurch, or even the first time he bailed on a presidential campaign (as he did with his Reform Party run in 2000).

Declaring early could freeze the field, deterring many others from entering. It could maintain the ongoing threat to run third-party. Trump has used this sort of ambiguity to great effect before. Given that a number of possible 2024 contenders (including Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott, Tim Scott, and Marco Rubio) must first run for re-election in 2022, and others still have day jobs in office, it would give Trump a head start. I doubt Trump would launch something quite yet, but particularly if he feels that he is not drawing enough attention otherwise, a decision could come sooner than anyone expects.

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