None of the US’s recent one-term presidents have run for another term after being defeated. Gerald Ford considered a run against his vanquisher Jimmy Carter in 1980 but ultimately stayed away, and neither Mr Carter nor George HW Bush were ever expected to make a serious play for another term. Donald Trump, though, sees things differently.
The Florida resident is clearly considering a run for president in 2024, and there have frequently been reports that an announcement may be imminent. These have so far come to nothing, but Mr Trump’s hold on the Republican Party means that until he decides one way or the other, his potential successors will have to wait it out.
Assuming the indications are accurate and Mr Trump does want to run for president again, the obvious question is when he will announce it and how. He has held multiple rallies this year (despite not having a campaign to rally people for) and keeps up a steady stream of statements via email, as well as giving occasional interviews to preferred right-wing outlets – but so far, none of these channels has yielded any concrete information about his 2024 plans.
So, what do we know so far?
Does he want to run again?
It’s clear that Mr Trump wants to avenge his defeat in 2020, which he still falsely insists was fraudulent. What is unclear is whether he thinks running for president is the best or only way to do that – but he certainly is hardly closed to the idea.
While some of his former staff insist he will not run again because he is so afraid of looking like a loser, he has repeatedly hinted at a run since he first resurfaced after Joe Biden’s inauguration; in April, he told Fox News’s Sean Hannity that he was “looking at it very seriously, beyond seriously” but that “from a legal standpoint, I don’t want to really talk about it yet, it’s a little too soon”.
It is unclear what specific legal obstacle he had in mind, if any, but he offered Hannity a similar quote later in the year: “As the campaign finance laws are extremely complicated and unbelievably stupid, I’m actually not allowed to answer that question, can you believe it? I’d love to answer it. But let me put it this way, I think you’ll be happy and I think a lot of our friends will be very happy. But I’m not actually allowed to answer it, it makes things very difficult if I do.”
In May, he gave a similar answer in an interview with talk show host Joe Pags, and in June, he told Newsmax that he would announce a decision “in the not too distant future”.
The drumbeat for Trump 2024 has grown ever louder since. At an Iowa rally in October, the ex-president suggested “Make America Great Again, Again” as a potential slogan – but again stopped short of actually declaring his candidacy.
What is true is that efforts are underway to gauge Mr Trump’s strengths in key states ahead of a potential rematch with Joe Biden (or a fight against a prospective Biden successor). Politico recently obtained a confidential memo from pollster Fabrizio Lee that showed the ex-president running strongly in most of the key states that he lost to Mr Biden in 2020.
For now, he is keeping shtum. In an interview with British right-wing populist Nigel Farage, Mr Trump simply predicted that “we’re going to have a very big ’22, and I think we’re going to have an even bigger ’24.”
Mr Trump reportedly came close to announcing a re-election campaign in the summer of 2021, seizing on the fraught withdrawal from Afghanistan as an opportunity to exploit Joe Biden’s falling popularity. However, he was reportedly talked out of entering the fray by insiders who pointed out to him that if he announces before the 2022 midterms he will “own” any Republican shortfall and potentially endanger his own chances.
Something else is at play here too: if Mr Trump launches full-throttle into candidate mode and ramps up his public appearances to their former high, his fixation on the 2020 result could scramble his party’s efforts to make the 2022 polls a referendum on Joe Biden and the Democrats’ agenda.
Whatever precise message he was given, Mr Trump seems to have heeded it, backing away from Glenn Youngkin’s Virginia gubernatorial campaign and allowing the candidate to stand on his own. And speaking to Fox News in early November, the former leader said that he will “probably” announce whether or not he’s running after the elections – though he didn’t exactly promise to wait.
“I think a lot of people will be very happy, frankly, with the decision, and probably will announce that after the midterms,” he said. “It doesn’t mean I will. It’s probably appropriate, but a lot of people are waiting for that decision to be made.”
Running mates and rivals
While their public relationship may not be at the nadir it hit on 6 January, Mr Trump and Mike Pence seem unlikely to share a presidential ticket again. Mr Pence remains popular with some of the GOP base, and is well-received when he speaks to audiences of loyal Republicans.
But he refuses to fully whitewash the 6 January attack on the Capitol (during which Trump supporters chanted “hang Mike Pence!” as they stalked the hallways), and has not appeared with his former boss in public since before the insurrection. Mr Pence has also pledged to support incumbent GOP governors running for re-election even when they face Trump-backed challengers. It is unclear if he will run for president in his own right if Mr Trump is for some reason not in the race.
Meanwhile, Mr Trump is openly entertaining suggestions of potential running mates. In his November Fox interview, he saluted other Republicans for biding their time until he announces a run and in particular mentioned Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his former UN ambassador Nikki Haley as ones to watch.
“Every once in a while [she] goes off the rails, and she comes back, which is nice,” he said of Ms Haley. “She said she’d never run if I ran, which I think is a good sign of respect.”
As things stand, Mr Trump is reportedly mulling over potential running mates as they come “begging” to see him at Mar-a-Lago in Florida. He is said to be looking in particualr for one quality: unquestioning loyalty.