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Don’t be fooled by Donald Trump’s low-key campaign: he’s not gone away, you know

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Donald Trump

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

From the moment he left the White House in defeat last year, Donald Trump had teased the prospect of a third presidential campaign. But in the week since he officially declared his candidacy, he has been very low key.

There has been no massive stadium kickoff rally. His newly reinstated Twitter account sits silent with its 87 million or so followers.

He hasn’t announced plans to visit the early voting states that will shape the contest for the Republican nomination, nor has he done interviews. Indeed, since his announcement speech, Trump hasn’t held a public event.

“His lack of a schedule makes you wonder if he’s really running, or if this is just a business development opportunity, or a diversion from the DOJ activity,” said one veteran US political strategist, referring to Department of Justice probes into Trump’s handling of classified documents and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Trump, who never held public office before winning the presidency in 2016, has never valued the cadence and organization associated with traditional campaigns.

And several aides noted that Trump, who made his announcement unusually early, is wary to draw attention away from the December 6 Senate runoff in Georgia, which will end this year’s mid-term elections. 

But the light-touch start to the campaign reflects the rushed and chaotic nature of his announcement. It also comes at a moment of political vulnerability for Trump.

The ex-president, who has spent his post-White House years as the undisputed leader of the GOP, is now facing criticism inside the party for contributing to a disappointing showing in this month’s midterms.

And other Republicans are openly teasing presidential runs of their own, making clear they won’t stand aside for Trump’s nomination.

The legal pressure on Trump is also intensifying around the classified documents recovered from his home, and the outrages at the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021. And on Tuesday, the Supreme Court cleared the way for the imminent handover of Trump’s tax returns to the US Congress after a three-year legal fight.

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Still, Trump begins the race with an obvious headstart. The former president had been acting like a candidate for months and has a political operation in place. And after four years in office, he also has longstanding relationships with state and local party leaders. Many remain loyal to him.

In the meantime, Trump has been appearing at a series of private events.

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Last week, he hosted the America First Policy Institute’s two-day ‘Gala and Experience’ at Mar-a-Lago, which included policy sessions, a Thursday evening concert with country star Lee Greenwood, a golf tournament and a Friday evening black-tie gala, where Trump delivered remarks in which he railed against legal decisions made against him.

Trump also appeared by video at a Conservative Political Action Conference in Mexico and answered questions via live video feed at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting in Las Vegas, where a long list of other potential 2020 hopefuls, appearing in person, courted donors.

Some made the case it was time to move on from Trump.

“As you know, our country is in grave, grave trouble — it’s in big problemville, I will tell you that,” Trump said.

Trump has also rolled out a slew of endorsements, including from allies in the US Congress.

And his campaign team, which has yet to fill a long list of key senior roles, has been working to hire staff and build out the nitty-gritty of a modern campaign organization, including integrating databases and donor lists and negotiating with vendors.

The limp rollout is a stark contrast from June 2015, when Trump launched his winning campaign for the White House at Trump Tower with a speech that drew waves of attention with its shocking statements and tongue-in-cheek proclamations.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” Trump said then. “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.”

Trump’s approach this time stands in contrast to many of his potential rivals, who have spent the last months frequently visiting early voting states and trying to raise their profiles with media appearances.

His former VP Mike Pence, for instance, has given more than 40 interviews while promoting a new book.

Dan Eberhart, a former Trump donor, said the last week has “confirmed some things we suspected all along”.

“We now know a lot of candidates plan to run for the nomination,” Eberhart said.

“We also know that a lot of people in the party are ready to move on from Trump. Right now, DeSantis is the heir apparent. We’ll have to see if he can hold on to that position, but I don’t see a lot of possible candidates who can challenge him – other than Trump himself.”


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