- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2022

PALM BEACH, Fla. — The 2024 presidential election was poised to launch on Tuesday from the chandelier-lit grand ballroom at Mar-a-Lago, where former President Donald Trump was expected to announce a third bid for the White House.

Mr. Trump, 76, will defy former campaign aides and even some in his inner circle who hoped the poor showing for midterm Republicans would dissuade him from an early 2024 announcement, at least until after a critical Dec. 6 Senate runoff in Georgia. 

Preparations for the event signaled that the former president is going full steam ahead after teasing his intentions for months at dozens of “Save America” rallies across the United States. 

Mr. Trump invited an army of media to cover the event and set them up in an ornate ballroom on the grounds of his luxury resort and residence. Large television screens displayed Mr. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan that fueled his improbable 2016 win, and dozens of television cameras were set up on risers waiting for what Mr. Trump previewed as a “special announcement.”

Steps away from his estate, some of Mr. Trump’s loyal base gathered along a bridge over the intercoastal waterway, They brought large signs and flags supporting the former president. They were thrilled that Mr. Trump planned to announce his 2024 bid.

“Even though we think he’s still our president, he’s running again,” said Debbie Macchia, 58, of Boynton Beach.

Mr. Trump’s announcement will put him slightly ahead of an ambitious field of Republican rivals. 

Vice President Mike Pence, who launched his book, “So Help Me God,” on Tuesday, the same day as Mr. Trump’s big announcement, said he is considering running and will participate in a town-hall-style event on CNN on Wednesday. He has begun to criticize his former boss and told ABC News that he predicts there will be “better choices” than Mr. Trump on the 2024 ballot.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may also get into the race, as well as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Conservative media have crowned Mr. DeSantis a rising Republican star after he won his reelection bid last week by a historic 20 percentage points.

Mr. Trump drew criticism even from his staunchest media allies for lashing out at Mr. DeSantis and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, another rising Republican.  

Floridians who love Mr. Trump also back Mr. DeSantis, 44, and his growing popularity could pose a serious threat to Mr. Trump’s grip on the Republican primary base. Mr. Trump launched a preemptive strike on Mr. DeSantis this month by labeling him “Ron DeSanctimonious.”

Ms. Macchia said if Mr. DeSantis runs for president, she would have a hard time choosing between the two.

“It’s a hard question,” Ms. Macchia said. “I guess I’ll have to wait and see.” She called Mr. DeSantis “the best governor the state has ever seen” and suggested that Mr. Trump should choose him as his running mate.

Janet Thomson, 59, who was also stationed on the bridge, said she wants Mr. Trump to run alongside a woman, perhaps Kari Lake, Arizona’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, or conservative media star Candace Owens.

“I believe Trump should have a female vice president,” Ms. Thomson said. 

A motorboat pulled up under the bridge, its topside decked out in U.S. and Trump flags, and dropped anchor in view of Mar-a-Lago. Mr. Trump’s detractors also made a showing. A small yellow plane flying back and forth over the estate dragged a banner with a stern message: “You lost again Donald! #DeSantis 2024.”

Mr. Trump launched his campaign amid polling that shows voters have mixed feelings. Pro-DeSantis groups are pushing polling that shows the Florida governor leading Mr. Trump in several of the states that will vote first in the 2024 Republican primary, including Iowa and New Hampshire.

His detractors are unlikely to dissuade Mr. Trump. In most hypothetical primary polling, he has come out ahead by double digits, even over Mr. DeSantis, while other Republican candidates barely register with Republican voters, at least for now.

Mr. Trump’s announcement could clash with possible criminal charges that the Justice Department is said to be weighing in connection with his actions to overturn President Biden’s 2020 victory. He is also under investigation for taking classified information from the White House when he left office. 

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

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