In one of the most predictable moves in American political history, Donald Trump announced the America First Vengeance Tour 2024 at his Mar-a-Lago beach club last night. Although commentators have been saying it's the earliest notification of a presidential run in history, it actually isn't. Trump himself announced his intention to run for re-election the day he took office in 2017. He has been champing at the bit to make it official this time, and only held back in order to collect as much unaccountable money as possible through his various PACs, which will now be subject to more stringent campaign finance rules.
It's pretty obvious that one of Trump's prime motivations for going into campaign mode now (aside from his bottomless thirst for revenge) is so he can claim that the various criminal and civil cases against him are all political hit jobs. He seems to be under the impression that running for president conveys magical powers, as if the Justice Department rule against indicting a sitting president somehow applies to a candidate. It does not, although there is little doubt that even a criminal indictment will not stop him from running. In fact, he knows he can capitalize on any legal troubles by claiming he is being persecuted, and knows his followers will eat it up with a spoon. Last night's speech even featured this rather pitiful lament:
Trump's speech itself was remarkably boring and perfunctory. He tried to follow through on the promise to be dignified and "buttoned up," but couldn't sustain it. The first 20 minutes or so were prepared remarks about how he turned over a country that was gloriously successful with a great economy and Joe Biden has turned it all into a barren hellscape. It was filled with lies, of course. When he finally slunk out of town in January 2021, unemployment was more than twice what it is now. America lost 87,222 people to COVID that month, the peak of the entire pandemic. The country has rarely been in such horrible shape, and the American people held him responsible for much of it.
But the speech soon devolved into Trump's normal shtick: He did some whining and complaining, while also taking credit for everything from the sun coming up in the morning to the Republicans' midterm "victory" in the House, which hasn't been called yet and is likely to leave them with a devilishly narrow margin. He insulted Joe Biden, calling him mentally incompetent even as he said things like this:
The hand-picked Mar-a-Lago crowd was straining to stay engaged as Trump rambled on. First CNN cut away and then Fox News followed suit — MSNBC didn't cover it at all — switching to their pundit panels even as he was still talking. That was when we finally got a glimpse of how this pseudo-event was going to be received by the media.
Trump is the "pre-eminent fighter for freedom of his generation," pronounced Pete Hegseth. "There are others who will leverage their relationship with Trump but there is only one original." Who could he possibly mean?
I had expected that he'd do at least a little better, and that mainstream media talking heads would feel free to pronounce that just maybe he had finally seen the light and become a serious politician. But after that stale and lifeless performance, most of them just sat there numbly, repeating their talking points from earlier in the day. On Fox News it was a different story, of course. On one side of the screen Trump droned on, while on the other Sean Hannity and his guests gushed like a bunch of tweens at their first Taylor Swift concert.
Pete Hegseth exclaimed, "There is nothing like the original!" According to him, it was a "forward-looking speech that recognizes the disaster of the last two years." He continued, "Trump is the best I've ever seen him. He is the standard-bearer!"
Hegseth was just getting warmed up, calling Trump the "pre-eminent fighter for freedom of his generation" and asserting that "he delivered on every prerogative that any conservative Republican or America First supporter would have wanted." Trump was "at the top of his game," he announced, "the original is a flavor in and of itself. There are others who will leverage their relationship with Trump but there is only one original."
Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.
Hannity chimed in, saying it was "a very serious, powerful speech. This is Donald Trump. It's game time for him." Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee — who had criticized the timing of Trump's announcement less than a day earlier — said that "the construct of the speech is pitch perfect. He has made it about the American people. He is fighting for us. This was an absolutely brilliant speech. ... If he stays on this, he is unbeatable." Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of Trump's most loyal acolytes in Congress, joined the chorus: "I think Pete and the governor have this exactly right. This is our campaign. I think of the great coaches. Something that athletes know [is] that their coach puts their athletes first. That's something Americans know about Donald Trump. They know he puts their family's interests first."
It went on like that as a muted Trump blathered on about God only knows what, while Joe Concha declaring that this flat, monotonous diatribe "felt more like a State of the Union address than a rally speech."
Rupert Murdoch has supposedly said he won't support Trump this time and is all-in on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, but his celebrity talkers apparently didn't get the memo. (Furthermore, Murdoch has said that before and lost his nerve.) They were ecstatic, and one can only assume that ecstasy was transferred to their viewers. As Amanda Marcotte wrote for Salon, "while Republicans love to play-act the independent-minded freedom lovers, invariably they cannot wait to kneel before the biggest, loudest bully in the room. " Nobody is louder than Donald Trump.
Will this speech knock the Republicans' Great White Hope of the midterms down a peg? Maybe. Last night Trump plopped himself right in front of DeSantis' big victory lap and invited his faithful to join him. Fox dutifully complied as if the GOP's midterm debacle had changed nothing.
The mainstream media is no doubt still high on DeSantis. They seem very excited by his prospects. But Fox News hasn't made that transition, at least not yet. Their star performers are still in thrall to Trump despite his dismal record of failure and a performance that could put a room full of colicky babies to sleep. So DeSantis has his work cut out for him. Without the right-wing media, all he's got is the hollowed-out Republican establishment — and they are about as popular with the GOP grassroots as man-buns and vegan hot dogs. Good luck with that.
about Donald Trump's post-midterm predicament