Donald Trump launches 2020 re-election campaign by slamming 'fake news media' and 'illegal witch hunt'

Sean Morrison

Donald Trump has officially kicked off his re-election campaign with a grievance-filled rally in Florida as he jabbed and the press and the political establishment he ran against in 2016.

The US leader complained he had been "under assault from the very first day" of his presidency by a "fake news media" and "illegal witch hunt" that had tried to keep him and his supporters down.

Addressing thousands of supporters in Orlando, he accused his critics of "un-American conduct" and telling the crowd that Democrats "want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it".

"A vote for any Democrat in 2020 is a vote for the rise of radical socialism and the destruction of the American dream," he said.

Mr Trump ripped "radical" and "unhinged" Democrats even as he made only passing mention of any of the men and women running to replace him.

The apocalyptic language and finger-pointing made clear that Mr Trump's 2020 campaign will probably look a lot like his successful run three years ago.

Trump speaks at the campaign kick-off rally at the Amway Center in Orlando (REUTERS)

Mr Trump remained focused on energising his base and offering himself as a political outsider running against Washington.

And he appeared eager for a rerun of 2016, spending considerably more time focused on former Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, whose name elicited "Lock her up!" chants, than on his current 2020 challengers, even though she is not on the ballot.

Thousands of supporters gathered at the rally (REUTERS)

Mr Trump's aides scheduled the kick-off near the four-year anniversary of the day when the bombastic reality television star and New York tabloid fixture launched his longshot campaign for president - with a famous escalator ride in front of a crowd that included paid actors.

The president spoke fondly of his 2016 run, calling it "a defining moment in American history".

And he said that, in the years since, he had fundamentally upended Washington, staring down "a corrupt and broken political establishment" and restoring a government "of, for and by the people".

He asked the crowd whether he should stick with "Make America Great Again" or change to a new campaign slogan - "Keep America Great". The latter was greeted with boisterous cheers.

Trump complained that he had been

Mr Trump is hoping to replicate the dynamics that allowed him to capture the Republican Party and then the presidency in 2016 as an insurgent intent on disrupting the status quo.

Back then, he successfully appealed to disaffected voters who felt left behind by economic dislocation and demographic shifts. And he has no intention of abandoning that mantle, even if he is the face of the institutions he looks to disrupt.

He underscored that on the eve of the rally in the must-win swing state of Florida, returning to the hard-line immigration themes of his first campaign by tweeting that next week Immigration and Customs Enforcement "will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States".

That promise, which sparked Democratic condemnation, seemed to offer a peek into a campaign that will largely be fought along the same lines as his first bid, with very few new policy proposals for a second term.

Early Democratic front-runner Joe Biden said on Tuesday that Mr Trump's politics are "all about dividing us" in ways that are "dangerous - truly, truly dangerous".

Another leading Democratic contender, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, said Mr Trump had delivered "an hour-and-a-half speech of lies, distortions and total, absolute nonsense".

Florida is considered a near-must-win state for Mr Trump to hold onto the White House, and both parties have been mobilising for a fierce and expensive battle in a state that Mr Trump has visited as president more often than any other.

While Mr Trump beat Ms Clinton there in 2016, a Quinnipiac University poll released on Tuesday found Mr Biden leading the president 50 per cent to 41 per cent, and Mr Sanders beating him 48 per cent 42 per cent.

Agencies contributed to this report