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Did Donald Trump Already Forget He’s Running for President?

The Daily Beast 12/9/2022 Jake Lahut, Zachary Petrizzo
Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast © Provided by The Daily Beast Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

More than three weeks after announcing his candidacy for president, Donald Trump has yet to hold a rally or even leave his adoptive home state of Florida. In fact, according to recent reports, Trump has barely left his home.

“The former president announced his 2024 run against the wishes of most of the GOP and his close advisers, largely out of frustration with momentum shifting to Ron DeSantis,” said Alyssa Farah Griffin, the former White House communications director for Trump and current co-host on The View. “Now he’s several weeks into a presidential run with no real apparatus, zero message, and no events. So far, it’s a spite-run and it’s being received as poorly as one could expect.”

Trump advisers and confidants are split on whether this is all part of the plan—more eight-dimensional chess from a man constantly credited with grand master moves—or actually another unforced error, launching a presidential campaign without state leadership in place. The static campaign is also an indication of where the MAGA movement stands within the GOP after disappointing midterm losses: intact and influential, but also rudderless and out of steam.

The 2024 campaign, thus far, has largely been a campaign in name only.

Indeed, the former president hasn’t hit the trail in a meaningful way. He’s opted instead to hunker down at his Mar-a-Lago estate. That, of course, hasn’t stopped the former president from making news—just not the news a nascent presidential campaign would want.

Trump garnered international attention when he hosted an avowed white nationalist and a disgraced antisemitic rapper on the Mar-a-Lago patio for dinner. And he made more news over the weekend when he suggested tossing out the Constitution so he could be reinstated as president.

Those haven’t been the headlines Trump needed or wanted. But he also hasn’t attempted to do anything about it.

“So far, he has gone down from his bedroom, made an announcement, gone back up to his bedroom and hasn’t been seen since except to have dinner with a white supremacist,” a 2020 adviser recently told CNN.

It was more than a month ago when Trump held his last MAGA rally—on the eve of the midterm elections, outside of Dayton, Ohio, on behalf of then-Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance. While Vance won his election, many other Trump-backed candidates did not. The Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake—a candidate who was rumored to be a potential pick for Trump—lost. So, too, did another Trump-backed candidate: GOP Pennsylvania Senate candidate Mehmet Oz. And on Tuesday night, the 2022 blue tide got stronger, in a year that was supposed to be a red wave, when Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker lost to Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock.

Three weeks after his campaign announcements in 2020 and 2016, Trump was already on the road, hitting early states like South Carolina and New Hampshire. In the 2020 perma-campaign, he held a rally on Feb. 1, 2017, less than two weeks after he was inaugurated.

While the COVID-19 pandemic hampered his campaign schedule later in 2020, Trump held 323 rallies through the 2016 crusade—186 in the primary and another 137 for the general election—running at a clip of a rally every one-and-a-half days.

Among select Trump advisers, frustrations have begun to accumulate over the ex-president embracing MAGA world’s darker theories, including the debunked ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy and QAnon fever dreams.

“Since the announcement for his re-elect, I don’t think that by any measurable standard you can say it’s been going well,” former adviser David Urban told Politico. “You’ve had unforced error after unforced error.”

One Trump adviser who spoke to The Daily Beast blamed recent snafus on younger, “inexperienced” staffers who surround the former president on a daily basis. But the blame doesn’t just fall on the shoulders of junior aides. To this day, Trump spends countless hours on the phone with advisers and confidants. And that’s to say nothing of the blame Trump shares for his own campaign’s inertia.

As the campaign moves forward, tensions have begun to spill into public view.

On Wednesday afternoon, former Trump White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow ripped into the ex-president during his Fox Business program, with equal parts consternation and concern.

“I don’t understand what our former boss is doing,” Kudlow said. “I love the guy,” he continued, taking issue with the former president, “hanging out with white nationalists, hanging out with antisemitic people, talking about ending the Constitution or postponing the Constitution.”

Trump’s proposal to suspend the Constitution seems to have further exacerbated tensions in the GOP, even among his former staff.

Still, the lack of main events has brought into question the value of declaring early in the first place.

A source close to Trump explained the hiatus as all part of the plan, with recruiting staff currently taking precedence over rallies.

“Wiles. LaCivita. Fabrizio. These are very experienced people,” the Trump confidant told The Daily Beast, referring to longtime Florida GOP operative Susie Wiles, former Swift Vets lead operator Chris LaCivita, and pollster Tony Fabrizio—serving in a position in an adjacent pro-Trump Super PAC—as the core of the 2024 campaign team.

“They’re being methodical, looking at the numbers, planning the campaign, and recruiting the right team to execute the plan. Why would an announced candidate travel to a state where there is no leadership in place? Selecting and publicizing a cadre of key leaders in vital early primary states would be a significant accomplishment before Christmas.”

Another source within Trumpworld told The Daily Beast that the former president has begun looking at holding 2024 campaign events early next year. The ex-president is also expected to attend holiday events later this month at his Mar-a-Lago club.

When asked by The Daily Beast about the lack of campaign events, a spokesperson asserted that while it may not be visible to the public eye, the wheels are already in motion for Trump’s 2024 campaign.

“This is a marathon and our game plan is being implemented even though the presidential primary calendar hasn’t been set yet and the 2022 midterm cycle just ended,” Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung told The Daily Beast.

“Our strategy is by design. We’re focused on building out a robust operation that has already been tested on every political level and putting in place a foundation to wage an overwhelming campaign that’s never been seen before.”

A Trumpworld source told The Daily Beast: “Seems like a waste of money to do anything during the holidays for a campaign where the election is more than 18 months away.”

As for Trump’s post-holiday campaign approach, another source familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast that the 2024 campaign would be tailored and potentially fast-tracked depending on what rivals jump into the fold over the holidays, specifically Republican challengers.

That could be difficult given Trump’s other campaign challenge: staffing.

Many of the younger Trump aides that did the grunt work for the Trump White House—and have the ability to lead field offices around the country—have lost interest in jumping back into helping the 2024 Trump campaign. Two former Trump White House alumni made the case to The Daily Beast that it’s not because they don’t believe in Trump—they just, like many other Trump alumni, have moved on with their lives.

“I don’t think anyone is purposely not joining the team because they don’t support him anymore. I think the young people that joined in 2015 and 2016 were at a very different point in their lives,” one of the individuals told The Daily Beast. That same source further said the current campaign lies in an uncertain state, which has left former co-workers not “making a huge move down to Florida or anywhere else.”

Cheung further added: “We are not going to play into the media’s game where they are trying to dictate how we campaign. We’re also building out teams in early-voting states and expanding our massive data operation to ensure we dominate on all fronts.”

Without any hires in early primary states yet, the Trump campaign is also testing the patience of GOP power brokers he largely ignored in 2016.

In New Hampshire, Trump’s stubbornness on only holding rallies has worn thin among the GOP intelligentsia of lawmakers and wealthy retirees behind the scenes, a group accustomed to more intimate events and extended facetime with the candidates.

The rallies have never fit with the Granite State’s political culture, but they’ve lost their magic following a series of defeats for Trump-endorsed candidates in congressional races, a Republican National Committee member told The Daily Beast.

“It will hurt him,” the RNC member said, “because people aren’t gonna wanna be one in 10,000 people.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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