The Memo: Trump tries to turn the page, on social media and campaign trail

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Jan. 12, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Former President Trump faces a challenge and an opportunity Saturday when he heads to New Hampshire and, a few hours later, South Carolina.

On one hand, Trump is trying to shake off the sense that his campaign has gotten off to a slow start; that his political standing has declined through a series of missteps that began at the midterm elections; and that the GOP’s appetite to move on from him has grown sharper.

On the other hand, Trump is still the front-runner in the race and has a chance to build new momentum: He has recently been told that he will be reinstated to Facebook and Instagram after his Jan. 6-related bans, and he is now beginning to dip back into the public events from which he seems to draw energy.

Trump’s 2024 campaign has already had one notable failure right off the bat. It failed to establish his dominance or intimidate other possible contenders from coming forward, despite getting into the race at such an unusually early stage.

Trump declared his candidacy on Nov 15, exactly one week after the midterms, in a meandering speech at Mar-a-Lago.

But Former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley are all obviously mulling making their own White House runs. 

Pompeo earlier this week told Gayle King of CBS News that Trump’s decision would have no impact on his own choice at all. 

Haley has plainly reversed her earlier pledge not to run if Trump did so, and has taken some thinly veiled shots at the former president. At a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition soon after the midterms, she lamented GOP infighting — often sparked by Trump — and added that voters “don’t want chaos. They want strength and stability and unity.”

Following those remarks, it is notable that Trump has chosen Haley’s native South Carolina for his first major event of the year. Trump will be joined in the Palmetto State by Gov. Henry McMaster (R) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a clear example that he still enjoys strong institutional support.

In the big picture, however, Trump’s return to major social media platforms may be more important than any of these early moves in public campaigning.

His reinstatement to Meta’s main platforms, Facebook and Instagram, was announced on Wednesday. Nick Clegg, the president of global affairs at the internet giant, said that there would be “new guardrails in place” to prevent offenses “related to civil unrest,” among other things.

Trump’s reinstatement is not immediate, but Clegg said it would happen “in the coming weeks.”

The decision was, of course, instantly controversial. A firestorm erupted on the left when the ACLU backed the move as the “right call,” and angered liberals hit back.

Whatever the moral rights and wrongs, Facebook is a crucial organizing and fundraising tool for modern campaigns, including Trump’s. The former president’s ability to utilize it once again is a significant gain.

Trump had already been reinstated to Twitter after Elon Musk took ownership of the social media platform. The former president has not yet sent any new tweets, but his full return is surely only a matter of time. 

When that happens, it will allow Trump to reinsert himself into the daily political conversation in a way that is not the case with his current posts on the much smaller Truth Social platform.

Taken together, Trump’s upcoming public events and his potential return to major social platforms now offer him the opportunity to reverse the dynamic of recent months, where the defeats suffered by some of Trump’s most high-profile endorsees in the midterms — figures such as TV personalities Mehmet Oz and Kari Lake, and former football star Herschel Walker — sapped his relevance and emboldened critics within the GOP.

One such critic, former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), told CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper” earlier this month that Trump was “fading fast.” 

“He is a proven loser,” Ryan added. “He cost us the House in ’18, he cost us the White House in ’20, he cost us the Senate again and again.”

Among major donors — and a significant swath of the GOP grassroots — there is new ardor for Trump’s most serious Republican rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Citadel CEO Ken Griffin told Politico late last year that he would support DeSantis if he ran. Griffin said that though he believed Trump had done some things well, “for a litany of reasons, I think it’s time to move on to the next generation.”

Pro-Trump voices argue that DeSantis is more vulnerable than generally appreciated and they also contend that the media is making too much of moves from a donor class that has always viewed Trump with skepticism if not outright disdain.

Trump “was never the toast of the billionaires and will never be the candidate of Wall Street,” one figure within Trump’s circle told The Hill.

Regarding grassroots support, this same source said that for all the attention on DeSantis, Trump was “sitting on somewhere around 45 percent of the primary vote. And that is very solid. The people who are for him are very intensely for him.”

On Saturday, Trump will try to bring some of that intensity back into his campaign. 

The bottom line is, he needs to prove he is a formidable candidate rather than a fading one.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

Tags 2024 presidential election Mike Pompeo Nikki Haley Paul Ryan Trump campaign

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