President Donald Trump on Tuesday night started his re-election bid, ending years of speculation that he might return to private life and opt out of seeking a second term that could provide him legal protections into 2025.
Political operatives since before he took office have suggested the 73-year-old former real estate mogul and reality television host might tire of the grueling job of president, choosing to enjoy running his businesses alongside his children in Manhattan and his various resort properties around the world. He put an end to that talk Tuesday during a raucous campaign rally in Orlando, Florida.
“Show up Nov. 3 — that’s your big day — and vote. Vote, vote, vote,” Trump said moments before chants of “four more years” broke out. “We’re going to have a big, big day.”
He warned against putting a “left-wing mob” in charge of the House, Senate and White House come 2021, saying his opponents want “rip the country apart.” He also hailed the economy as perhaps “the greatest we’ve had in the history of our country.”
“We’re going to keep it so great,” he said of the country, finally at 8:53 p.m., formally announcing his re-election bid.
Trump and his team chose Florida — which the president hailed Tuesday as his “second home” — for the campaign launch as they seek to piece back together the same 2016 electoral map that put him in the White House. He won the Sunshine State three years ago over Hillary Clinton by less than 2 points, and White House aides acknowledge they expect another close result there next November.
Trump also previewed a possible 2020 campaign trail line, saying Democrats want to divide the country into “tribes” and “undermine” American democracy.
Flashback: ‘We’re fighting all the subpoenas,’ Trump says
Four more years
Early in the rally, he railed against former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s “illegal witch hunt” even though the former FBI director found evidence Trump obstructed justice.
As he did Tuesday night at the Amway Center, the president often boasts that he has accomplished more than any first-term chief executive in U.S. history. But he regularly tells rally crowds there is much more to be done, and they need to help him secure four more years in office to accomplish it all — including building his long-promised wall along hundreds of miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We did it once, and we’re going to do it again,” the president said Tuesday night. “And this time, we’re going to finish the job.”
A second term also could unlock something else for Trump: He would retain the legal protections of the Office of the Presidency. Former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III cited much-discussed 1973 Justice Department guidelines that state that “the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting president would impermissibly undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions” in his final report when explaining his reasons for not suggesting criminal charges against Trump on obstruction of justice.
“That means the president’s best bet on not facing charges would be a second term,” said Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, who now teaches at the University of Michigan. “Also, by 2025, if the second term is successful, public opinion could swing against charging him. A prosecutor would take that into account: ‘Is the timing right and should I do this?’”
Winning in 2020 would allow the president to remain in office until January 2025, by which time the five-year statute of limitations on many of the actions that Mueller raised concerns about — which occurred in 2016 and 2017 — would have expired.
“A judge could decide to extend the statute of limitations. But that would be subject to which judge you get. And it’s never been tested with a president,” McQuade said. “Robert Mueller once said to me, ‘Cases do not get stronger with the passage of time.’”
Several recent polls have shown the president trailing Democratic front-runner Joe Biden in Florida — as he does nationally and in other key battleground states. The former vice president had a 9-point lead in a hypothetical Florida race, according to a Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday.
Winning a second term without the state’s 29 electoral votes would be extremely tough for Trump. And Biden knows a thing or two about campaigning there, having won it twice as President Barack Obama’s running mate.
And an internal Trump campaign poll found Biden ahead in other states the incumbent won in 2016 and where he’s already had events this year. Biden had a 16-point lead in Pennsylvania and led by 10 points in Wisconsin. In Texas, the Democrat trailed Trump by only 2 points.
After firing several of his pollsters earlier this week, the president took a public shot at his entire re-election staff Tuesday night: “They cost a fortune and they never give me any ideas.”
Recent polls have also shown Trump in close races, both nationally and in swing states, with other top Democratic candidates, including Sanders, Warren, California Sen. Kamala Harris, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a 37-year-old political upstart running against a slew of more experienced candidates.
Trump took aim at Biden on Tuesday night when lauding his trade policy toward China, including tariffs on billions in Chinese-made goods, saying the Asian giant “took us for suckers” under Obama and Biden.
Democrats across the country watched Tuesday’s announcement with keen interest.
The tax law the president signed in December 2017 after it received no Democratic support “failed to prevent layoffs,” Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler told reporters on a Monday call, saying it “did the opposite.”
Democrats are also teeing off on Trump’s use of tariffs against global friends and foes alike, as well as his attempts to alter or terminate Obama’s signature health care law.
“If health care is the No. 1 issue in 2020, Trump will lose Wisconsin in a landslide,” Wikler said.
Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.