The Memo: Trump’s 2024 campaign stumbles out of the gate

Former President Trump’s campaign to win back the White House in 2024 has stumbled right out of the gate.

Trump launched his campaign with a Nov. 15 speech at Mar-a-Lago. Nothing has gone right for him, then or since.

Instead, the setbacks — in less than three weeks — have been numerous.

Trump has spent much of the last week defending himself over his dinner at his Florida resort with two notorious antisemites: Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, and Nick Fuentes.

Even figures who are supportive of Trump express horror at the episode as well as more general discontent.

A 2020 Trump campaign adviser who asked for anonymity to speak candidly lamented “a disaster of a dinner” and expressed exasperation with an “inept” and “lazy” campaign launch overall.

The former adviser noted not only the missteps but also a curious lack of urgency or excitement. Trump has not held a single rally or public event since his Mar-a-Lago speech, for example.

There are plenty of other problems too.

The GOP’s disappointing midterm results deprived Trump of the tailwind he otherwise hoped to enjoy.

His launch speech itself was widely panned as lacking energy and focus, with even Fox News pulling away from live coverage in favor of in-studio analysis.

The failure of a “red wave” to materialize has emboldened Trump’s internal critics in the GOP to argue more forcefully that he is an electoral liability.

Meanwhile, his legal problems have deepened.

On Thursday, a federal appellate court delivered an adverse ruling for the former president in a case pertaining to the sensitive documents seized by the FBI from Mar-a-Lago in August.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit undid an earlier judge’s decision to appoint a special master to evaluate Trump’s claims of privilege. In plain terms, the new verdict lifts a roadblock for prosecutors, allowing them to use any of the 13,000 documents seized rather than wait for them to be reviewed.

Separately, Attorney General Merrick Garland last month appointed a special counsel, Jack Smith, to lead the investigation into Mar-a-Lago and the separate probe into the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol.

Trump also appears to be losing his ability to intimidate would-be political rivals.

Any hope that his announcement would dissuade other candidates from entering the race was misplaced.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have all made clear they are mulling White House runs.

The specter of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) stalks Trump more ominously than anyone else.

To the chagrin of Trump and his closest allies, DeSantis came out of the midterms greatly strengthened, winning reelection in the Sunshine State by almost 20 points.

Trump critics, who had become accustomed to thinking of the former president as a prohibitive favorite for the GOP nomination even a few months ago, are very happy with how things have played out since then.

“I just think that the act is worn out,” said Rick Tyler, a GOP strategist who has long been critical of Trump. “There is a reason that a circus moves from town to town. It’s because after a while everybody has seen the acts.”

Tyler also took comfort from the willingness of other candidates to publicly entertain the nation of entering the race.

“I don’t think anybody is intimidated,” he said. “I think it is an open field.”

Still, Trump loyalists — even those who acknowledge the early days of the 2024 campaign have not gone well — think predictions of the former president’s imminent demise are far overblown.

One source in Trump’s orbit contended that there was never any intention to freeze the field by announcing so early, given that the former president would likely be aided rather than hindered by a multicandidate field.

“I want more people in this race, not less,” the source said. “If he has three opponents, he wins. If he has seven, he walks right in. If it’s one-on-one and it’s Ron DeSantis, I get a little worried.”

Even that source acknowledged, however, that Trump, along with GOP congressional leaders, has “questions to answer” about the party’s midterm performance.

The person also expressed concern about how a two-year primary campaign might work, even if the most recent controversies soon fade.

“This too will pass, just like the midterms will pass. But because we are in a two-year campaign, it is hard to predict what is best to do. These guys [on the Trump campaign] are trying to write new chapters of the campaign manual that have never been written before.”

Trump’s circle of official advisers, unofficial aides and longtime friends is still as turbulent and factional as ever, too. Criticisms are already being aimed at top campaign aides like Susie Wiles, Chris LaCivita and Brian Jack, even as allies spring to their defense.

For all that, Trump still leads most polls of likely 2024 Republican candidates, often by a wide margin. He has an enormous fundraising base. And a significant share of the GOP electorate will be with him whatever happens.

But Trump no longer looks close to inevitable as the 2024 GOP nominee.

Critics, even in conservative circles, wonder if his early campaign declaration may come to be seen as a grave tactical error in itself.

“It allows him to blow himself up before the others would even have to announce,” said one such Republican critic, strategist Susan Del Percio.

“If you’re another candidate, even getting in by March or April of 2023 would be deemed early. The amount of trouble Trump can get himself in by then is immeasurable.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage

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