Democrats aren’t just eager for Donald Trump to cannonball into the 2024 presidential race before the fall midterms. Across the country, they are actively plotting ways to immediately capitalize on a pre-November announcement.
Campaigns and officials at major Democratic outfits are planning to capture the anticipated cash windfall that would come their way should Trump announce he’s making another run at the White House. Candidates also are exploring ways to exploit Trump’s premature entry to energize despondent base voters and coalesce independents and suburb-dwellers who have soured on the party over stubbornly high inflation.
Since leaving office, Trump’s lies about a stolen election and grievance-filled tirades against disloyal “RINOS” have continued unabated. While he’s never fully receded from the national stage, a formal declaration that he’s running would dominate the media landscape and — many Democrats expect — serve as a major distraction for down-ballot Republicans.
“It puts in perspective what’s at stake, shows that the Republican Party is still extreme and helps set up the contrast,” said Cedric Richmond, a former White House senior adviser now at the Democratic National Committee. “Democrats need to home in on what they stand for — from their agenda to their values and contrast it with how extreme the other side is and what they want to do.”
Having Trump out of the wings as the GOP’s frontrunner and formal standard-bearer will sharpen the stakes “and it will help Democrats,” Richmond added.
Few singular political factors could still upend the midterm landscape like Trump. Inside the White House and among close allies, there’s a sense that the former president would alter voters’ views of Biden and Democrats and help calm intraparty disappointment and turmoil they view as misplaced and unproductive.
Recent polls show considerable doubts among Democrats over Biden’s own political future, but administration officials are confident the president won’t face a serious challenge from within his own party in 2024. Just this week, a number of next-generation Democratic governors who have been outspoken on issues, and even critical of their own party, came to the White House. The visits may have been coincidental. But they provided the president’s team with helpful imagery — supporting him as the leader of the party — and led one prominent governor, Gavin Newsom of California, to say he thinks Biden should seek reelection, with his full support. Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker made similar pronouncements, before extolling Biden’s “passion” for addressing gun violence.
The president himself has been clear he views Trump as an existential threat. In a TV interview in Israel, Biden said he wasn’t predicting a rematch, but “I would not be disappointed.”
“I think he runs and I think he wins,” Richmond said of Biden. “And I am not sure anyone else can win.”
Trump’s calculations for a pre-midterm announcement are multifaceted, spanning from legal pressure bearing down from the Justice Department to his declining standing in the GOP and footsteps from younger would-be rivals with far less baggage.
In interviews, more than two dozen Democratic officials including Biden advisers, party committees, members of Congress and the consulting class described a Trump announcement before the midterms as, at a minimum, a positive development for the party, if not a game-changer. Republicans who have tried to manage their ties to Trump will have new reasons to be asked about him. Some may have to decide whether to attend events or rallies alongside him.
It would also strain the party’s desire to keep the focus on economic issues as questions would naturally arise about the very controversies that continue to surround the former president: from his election denialism, to his efforts to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s win, to the intersection of his business dealings and politics. Asked if they knew of a single 2022 campaign or GOP consultant that wanted Trump to declare before November, a top Republican operative replied, “Lol. No.”
Democratic campaigns are pre-drafting fundraising pitches that center on the danger Trump’s return represents and using him to target suburban voters who are considering lashing out at Biden over the economy but weary of emboldening GOP election lies and conspiracies.
“It’s bad for them because he takes so much oxygen out of the room,” said John Anzalone, a longtime Biden pollster. Already, the dynamic for fall campaigns has been reshaped by the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade and the Jan. 6 committee hearings into the insurrection. “More people think he should be charged with a crime. Individual things about his actions and comments have come out. All that stuff has hurt him. In general, he will want to be front and center and that’s not good for Republicans because the public is against him.
“So come on in,” Anzalone prodded. “Jump in the pool.”
Democrats stressed that their desire to see Trump declare his run is predicated on the belief that it’s only a matter of time before he does and that it would benefit them more if the announcement came before a likely tough midterm. Trump told New York Magazine that he has made up his mind about whether to run and that the only question is whether he will do it before the fall election. He’s said to be eyeing a September announcement, the Washington Post reported Thursday, the latest in a series of recent stories focused on his timing and preparations.
“Everyone I talk to is desperately hoping for it — desperately. I don’t know anybody who is not hoping for it,” said a Democratic operative in frequent touch with the White House. “While it has been good for my mental health that Trump is off Twitter, it also has put him to the side a little bit.”
Not every Democrat is openly rooting for an early Trump announcement — or plans to do much with it should it come. Some candidates in close House districts or down ballot statewide races maintain they don’t want to talk about the former president or even the MAGA movement, choosing instead to focus on the economy, affordability and other local concerns. Their feelings are echoed by some Republicans who view an early declaration as a wash.
“I think if people were going to try to use him in a positive or negative way in November that would already happen based off of his endorsements in the primary,” said Josh Novotney, a Republican lobbyist and former adviser to Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. And Trump himself, Novotney added, “is not on the ballot.”
Yet Democrats don’t need to invoke Trump on their own to benefit from him politically. And the idea that GOP candidates will be able to evade Trump’s long shadow strikes others as wishful thinking. Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, characterized the impact on Republican candidates up and down the midterm ballot as “seismic” — whether they are trying to distance themselves from Trump or not.
“Every candidate now running as a Republican in 2022 has to decide whether they embrace the MAGA movement and all the lies, deceit and efforts to overturn the election or not. That’s going to make it more difficult for Republicans,” Casey said.
Still, Trump formally filing papers to run can’t be viewed by Democrats as a saving grace. Casey said he thinks his party needs to lean harder into attempts to rein in high prices.
“We have to hold Republicans accountable for stopping our efforts to help families in an inflationary economy,” he said. “Over and over again, they had a chance to do something to help families get through this difficult time with prices and inflation. They’ve done nothing.”
Indeed, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere there have been an early efforts not to lean solely on Trump and the specter of his reemergence. An adviser to Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who is facing off against Republican celebrity TV doctor Mehmet Oz, contended that “Trump isn’t the scariest part. Everything that comes after Trump is even scarier.”
“We are very focused on our own race and explaining to people what we need to do for them,” said Rebecca Katz, the Fetterman consultant. “It’s not enough to just be against something. You have to give people something to vote for.”
In other races — such as the Nevada contest between Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and GOP challenger Adam Laxalt — Republican contenders are so closely linked to Trump that it may prove immaterial whether or not he announces before the midterms.
Instead, Democrats anticipate Trump’s presence to be felt more acutely in the House where candidates typically aren’t as well known.
“He’s a real anchor around the ankles for Republicans with the exact type of suburban, independent voters, especially women, that they’re trying to win back,” said Jesse Ferguson, a veteran Democratic strategist.
He argued not every Republican will be able to pull off the high wire act that Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin did last year when both Trump and abortion were used against him — and Trump wasn’t so present. “The more that Trump is front and center, the harder it is for the GOP to replicate what they did in Virginia in 2021.”