This week, religious conservatives got together at a big resort near the Grand Ole Opry House. Nikki Haley told the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” group to look to the future.
“It’s up to us to give a new birth to patriotism,” said Haley, who used to be the governor of South Carolina and was President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations. “And with your help and God’s help, I promise to answer that call and get our country going again.”
These kinds of comments are typical of a party that has lost power and is looking for a new leader. But what’s strange is that the last leader of the party is planning his own comeback.
Trump will be on the same stage on Friday. This will be his first public appearance since the House committee looking into the Jan. 6 uprising started to show how he was trying to stay in power by trying to change the way American democracy works. But, at least for now, it doesn’t look like the scary videos and harsh testimony from Trump’s close friends and family members in the panel’s hearings have stopped him from wanting to run for office again.
People who know about the talks say that Trump is actively thinking about when he might officially run for president for the third time. Aides and allies say that Trump hasn’t made a final decision yet, so the debate is about whether to announce a campaign in the coming months or, as is customary, wait until after the midterm elections in November.
In the past year and a half, Trump has been holding rallies, giving speeches, and using his endorsements to get back at people and make the party more like him. But some people say that the former president, who has left his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida for the summer and moved to Bedminster, New Jersey, is also getting tired of waiting.
Trump has enjoyed his role as a party kingmaker, where candidates practically beg for his support and run up big bills at fundraisers in his ballrooms. However, he misses being king, especially as he watches Democratic President Joe Biden struggle with low approval ratings and rising inflation.
“I think a lot of Trump’s future plans are directly based on Biden,” said Bryan Lanza, a GOP strategist and former Trump campaign worker. “The more Biden stumbles on the world stage and in the U.S., the more people forget about the bad things about Trump’s presidency.”
If the news comes out soon, it could make it harder for other ambitious Republicans to run for office. Haley has said she wouldn’t run against Trump, for example.
But there are also worries that a soon-to-be-made announcement could hurt Republicans as the midterm congressional campaign, which seems to be getting better for the party, heads into its final stretch. A Trump candidacy could bring together Democratic voters who were otherwise down, giving the party the energy it needed to win in 2018 and 2020.
And no matter what he does, the air of certainty that Trump has been trying to create since he left the White House has been broken. In the past few months, some Republicans and their staff have tried to make it clear that if Trump ran for office, it wouldn’t change much about how they would vote or act.
One of them is Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence. The Jan. 6 committee praised Pence for putting the national interest ahead of his own political goals. Pence keeps a busy political schedule because he wants to run for president and wants to draw attention to the weaknesses of the Democrats.
Others, like Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas, and Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, have also said that their decisions do not depend on Trump’s. And they and others have become more and more willing to go against the former president. They have backed candidates who are running against his, and some have even campaigned with Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, who Trump tried to beat in the state’s GOP primary last month but failed.
Some of these possible candidates, like Trump’s former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Florida Sen. Rick Scott, and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, were at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s meeting in Nashville with the former president.
There could be a long list of other people in the field, like Rep. Liz Cheney, the top Republican on the Jan. 6 panel, and Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, who both dislike Trump. On the other hand, many loyal Trump supporters see Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as the future of his movement.
In fact, many of the people who went to the Nashville conference — the resort is close to the Opry House, where the long-running “Grand Ole Opry” radio show is broadcast — didn’t think Trump should run again.
“I’m not sure. “I’m still undecided,” said Jonathan Goodwin, a minister in South Carolina who works as an organizer for Faith and Freedom. “I like him, but I think he has repeatedly shot himself in the foot.”
Goodwin said he “definitely” had his own worries about the 2020 election, but he didn’t agree with how Trump had handled the situation. “Whether it was rigged or not, I think he should have left on good terms,” he said.
Pam Roehl, a conservative from Illinois, came to the conference on Friday wearing a red Trump baseball cap and a “Trump 2020” necklace. She said she still supports the former president, but that her like-minded friends have moved on, gotten rid of their Trump bumper stickers, and are now supporting Ron DeSantis.
“It’s kind of like, ‘Get with the program. Why don’t you support DeSantis?'” she asked him.
Even though it’s becoming more clear that Trump won’t get the GOP nomination without competition, having a lot of other candidates could still help him. The situation is starting to look a lot like the 2016 election, when Trump had to deal with a large group of unwieldy candidates who split the vote against him.
Even if Trump only won about 30% of GOP primary voters, as his backed candidates have done in several races, he would win the Republican nomination easily.
Aides say that Trump has been asking everyone around him what they think a lot.
Some people in his circle, like his former campaign adviser Jason Miller, have told him to jump in sooner rather than later to get a head start on building a campaign, try to shut out the competition, and keep the focus on himself.
A quick plan would also give Trump the chance to say that his growing legal problems are just political attacks. A special grand jury has been put together by a district attorney in Atlanta to look into whether he tried to influence the 2020 presidential election. And in New York, Trump and two of his children have agreed to be deposed next month as part of a civil investigation of his business practices by the state attorney general.
Others are telling Trump to wait until after the midterm elections so he can run on the Republican victories in November. They point out that Trump’s frequent hints about his plans (he often says, “I’ll do it again”) get him applause and attention from the media. They also warn that if he officially ran for president, it would trigger campaign finance laws that limit how much donors can give. It would also change how he works with his Save America PAC, which has more money in the bank than both national parties put together and pays for his campaign travel.
Many voters say that he will have to win them over either way.
Jake Thomson, who is 19 and goes to school in Alabama and will be old enough to vote for the first time in 2024, said he thought Trump was a great president but was also interested in other options.
He said, “It kind of depends on how things go.”
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