Trump kicks off White House run with no sign of top Republicans

Mr Donald Trump shakes hands with son-in-law, Mr Jared Kushner, after announcing that he will once again run for US president. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON – The patriotic music, fiery rhetoric and adoring crowd were all there, as Mr Donald Trump announced another White House bid, but – in a sign his star has dimmed – top Republican officials and even family members were no-shows.

Mr Trump’s announcement that he is running again in 2024 came exactly a week after a poor Republican showing in the midterm elections, a performance some members of the party have blamed on questionable candidates backed by the former president.

The lacklustre attendance may reflect a desire among some party leaders to turn the page on the divisive and legally challenged Mr Trump and pick another candidate to carry the Republican banner two years from now.

Only a single Republican member of Congress was spotted in the crowd of several hundred people who attended Mr Trump’s kickoff event in a gilded ballroom at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

And that lawmaker, Mr Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, lost his Republican primary in May.

Another diehard Trump supporter, Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, said he planned to attend, but bad weather prevented him from flying to Palm Beach.

Mr Trump’s son Donald Jr was reportedly on a hunting trip out west and gave the same excuse.

As for Mr Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka, who played a prominent role in her father’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns and his administration, she said she does “not plan to be involved in politics”.

“I love my father very much,” Ms Trump told Fox News Digital. “This time around, I am choosing to prioritise my young children and the private life we are creating as a family.”

Her husband, Mr Jared Kushner, did show up along with Mr Trump’s sons Eric and Barron.

Prominent Republicans who did attend were members of the far-right fringe of the party such as Roger Stone, a political consultant who was pardoned by Mr Trump, and conspiracy theorists who voiced support for Mr Trump’s baseless claims that he won the 2020 election over Democrat Joe Biden.

‘Unfit for office’

Two former members of Mr Trump’s Cabinet, Mr Mike Pompeo, who served as secretary of state, and Mr Mark Esper, the defence secretary, made it clear on Wednesday they believe it is time to move on.

“We need more seriousness, less noise, and leaders who are looking forward, not staring in the rearview mirror claiming victimhood,” tweeted Mr Pompeo, a potential 2024 Republican nomination hopeful.

While Mr Pompeo did not mention Mr Trump by name, Mr Esper did not mince words in an interview with CNN.

“I think he’s unfit for office,” he said of Mr Trump. “His actions are all about him and not about the country.”

“I don’t think he’s an honest person,” he added. “We saw the falsehoods in the remarks that came out of his mouth last night.”

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Mr Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said there is clearly a “lack of enthusiasm for Trump’s third consecutive presidential campaign”.

“Trump has cost them three elections and they’d prefer not to let him ruin a fourth in 2024,” Mr Sabato said.

Mr Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News cut off its live coverage of Mr Trump mid-speech and the conservative billionaire’s tabloid, the New York Post, carried a mocking headline on its front page: “Florida Man Makes Announcement”.

While ridiculing Mr Trump, the Post has been promoting his leading rival for the 2024 Republican nomination, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who emerged as the big winner from the otherwise disastrous midterms.

‘Hard to beat’

Mr Trump did draw support from long-time ally Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, who praised his speech.

“If President Trump continues this tone and delivers this message on a consistent basis, he will be hard to beat,” Mr Graham tweeted.

And analysts cautioned that Mr Trump, who has defied the odds before, should not be counted out.

“The hard-core grassroots that have stood by Trump for six years will stand by him, for the most part,” Mr Sabato said. “The party leadership is mainly in another place entirely.”

Most polls show Mr Trump leading Mr DeSantis and other potential rivals for the Republican nomination, and his rallies continue to attract large crowds.

In his speech, Mr Trump made it clear he will rely again on grassroots support.

“This will not be my campaign,” he said. “This will be our campaign all together.

“Because the only force strong enough to defeat the massive corruption we are up against is you, the American people,” he said. AFP

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