Trump teases 2024 race as GOP rivals emerge, 1/6 audiences hit

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — As religious conservatives rallied this week at a sprawling compound near the Grand Ole Opry home, Nikki Haley urged the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” crowd to look to the future.

“It’s up to us to give a new birth to patriotism,” said Haley, the former governor of South Carolina who served as an ambassador to the United Nations under President Donald Trump. “And with you, and with trust in God, I pledge to answer that call and inspire our country again,” she said, sounding like a White House candidate herself.

Such comments are typical of a party that is no longer in power and in search of its next leader. What is unusual: the last leader of the party is preparing his own return.

Trump spoke from the same scene on Friday, making his first public appearance since the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 uprising began uncovering his desperate attempts to stay in power. It featured harrowing video footage and harrowing testimony, including testimonies from close Trump aides and family members,

He spent much of his speech criticizing the committee’s efforts as politically motivated and insisting he had done nothing wrong.

In the face of the video and the accounts of the allies, he still said: “What you see is a complete and total lie. It is a complete and utter fraud. He claimed the footage was selectively edited and downplayed the insurgency as “just a protest that got out of hand”.

And he made sure to tease his own plans.

“One of the most pressing tasks facing the next Republican president – I wonder who it will be,” Trump said at one point, prompting a standing ovation and chants of “USA!”

“Would anyone like me to run for president?” he asked the crowd, sparking more cheers.

Trump’s return to the public conversation comes as he has been actively weighing when he might officially launch a third presidential race, according to people familiar with the discussions. The debate, according to aides and allies who insist he has yet to make a final decision, centers on whether to announce a campaign in the coming months or, in keeping with tradition, to expect after the midterm elections in November.

Trump has spent the past year and a half holding rallies, giving speeches and using his endorsements to exact revenge and further shape the party in his image. But some fans say the former president, who decamped from his Florida club Mar-a-Lago in Bedminster, New Jersey, for the summer, is also growing impatient.

Although he relished his role as the party’s kingmaker – with candidates asking only for his approval and racking up big tabs at fundraisers in his ballrooms – Trump also misses the days when he was actually king. , especially when watching Democratic President Joe Biden grapple with low approval ratings and runaway inflation.

“I think a lot of Trump’s future plans are directly based on Biden, and I think the more Biden continues to stumble on the world stage and on the national stage, people forget the downsides, the dark side of Trump’s presidency.” , Bryan said. Lanza, GOP strategist and former Trump campaign official.

An announcement in the near future could complicate the efforts of other ambitious Republicans to mount campaigns. Haley, for example, said she would not run against Trump.

And there are also fears that a short-term announcement could hurt Republicans in the home stretch of a midterm congressional campaign that looks increasingly pro-party. A Trump candidacy could unite otherwise dispirited Democratic voters, rekindling the energy that lifted the party during the 2018 and 2020 campaigns.

Republicans want the November election framed as a referendum on the first two years of Biden’s presidency. They want nothing, including Trump, to divert them from this trajectory.

Regardless of his decision, the aura of inevitability that Trump sought to create from the moment he left the White House was pierced. Some Republicans have tried to make it clear that a Trump candidacy would have little sway over their own decisions.

They include its vice chairman, Mike Pence, who was hailed by the January 6 committee as someone who put the national interest ahead of his own political considerations. Trump continued Friday to criticize Pence, who repeatedly spoke at the conference.

Considering a bid for the White House, Pence maintains a busy political calendar aimed at drawing attention to Democratic vulnerabilities.

Other possible candidates, including Texas senator Ted Cruz and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, also indicated that their decisions were not based on those of Trump. And they and others have grown increasingly brazen in their drive to thwart the former president, including backing candidates running against his.

Some of those potential candidates, including former Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Florida Senator Rick Scott and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, appeared alongside the former president at the Faith and Freedom Coalition in Nashville.

The field could include a long list of others, including Rep. Liz Cheney, the Jan. 6 panel’s top Republican, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan — both of whom are Trump critics. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is seen by many loyal Trump supporters as the future of his movement.

Indeed, many of those attending the conference in Nashville — the resort is near the Opry House, home of the long-running “Grand Ole Opry” country music radio show — weren’t sold in a third Trump race.

“I don’t know. The jury is still out with me,” said Jonathan Goodwin, a minister who works as a Faith and Freedom organizer in South Carolina. shot in the foot too many times”

Goodwin said he “certainly” had his own concerns about the 2020 election, but did not support Trump’s handling of the situation. “I think he should have gracefully retired,” he said, “whether it was rigged or not.”

Illinois conservative Pam Roehl, who arrived at the conference on Friday wearing a red Trump baseball cap and “Trump 2020” necklace, said she still supports the former president, but finds herself increasingly in the minority among friends who have moved on, throwing away their bumper stickers. and kiss DeSantis.

“They’re like kind of ‘Get with the program. Why don’t you support DeSantis? “, Did she say.

While it’s increasingly clear that Trump won’t go unchallenged to the GOP nomination, a wide range of candidates could still work to his advantage. The dynamic is beginning to resemble the 2016 campaign, when Trump faced a large and unwieldy field of candidates that split the anti-Trump vote.

Some in his orbit, like former campaign adviser Jason Miller, have urged him to step in as soon as possible, to get a head start on campaign building, freeze competition and keep attention on himself.

A first strategy would also allow Trump to frame his growing legal vulnerabilities as mere political attacks. An Atlanta district attorney has appointed a special grand jury to investigate his interference in the 2020 presidential election. And in New York, Trump and two of his children have agreed to sit for depositions next month as part of of the state attorney general’s civil investigation into his business practices.

Others are urging Trump to wait until after midterms so he can run on Republican wins in November. They also warn that formally declaring his candidacy would trigger campaign finance laws that would set limits on how much donors can donate. It would also change his relationship with his Save America PAC, which has more than $100 million in the bank — more than the party’s two national organizations combined — and currently funds his campaign travel.

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