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Trump plows forward, GOP critics be damned

Former President Donald Trump plans to go ahead with announcing another White House run during primetime next Tuesday, despite pleas from top party officials and informal aides to hold off.

Though he is prone to change his mind, Trump, officials say, has been unpersuaded by arguments that he should hold off on making an announcement until after the mid-December runoff election in Georgia. Rather than being chastened by GOP criticism of the role he played in the Republican Party’s lackluster midterm elections, he has cast blame elsewhere and taken swipes at a potential rival.

He is confident he will emerge intact from this moment. One adviser said Trump views the current situation as reminiscent of 2015 and 2016, when the doubts about his political potency were pervasive, including within his party.

“It’s at their own peril,” the adviser said of the critics piling on Trump. “Bring it on.”

Trump’s team announced he will hold a “special announcement” at 9 p.m. next Tuesday at Mar-a-lago.

Trump spent Thursday at rain soaked Mar-a-Lago fuming about the midterm election results and what he and his advisers saw as an unfair blame for the lack of a red wave. Aides took note of who they believed had crossed them in the election’s aftermath, like Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears who called Trump a “liability,” and said she couldn’t support him in 2024.

It wasn’t just so-called establishment Republicans on their list, but also old advisers, new members of Congress, commentators on Fox News, and even his favorite hometown paper, the New York Post, that ran a front page headline painting him as “Trumpty Dumpty.”

Both publicly and privately, Trump and his allies pushed back at what they viewed as a coordinated effort to turn the former president into a pariah. They noted that results were still being tabulated in Arizona and Nevada, which would determine the balance of the Senate, keeping fresh the possibility that Trump-endorsed candidates would prevail. They were piqued that similar second-guessing was not being paid to other committees and top GOP officials who had backed more moderate, non-Trump endorsed candidates who had lost.

Trump officials worked privately to shore up the ranks, including reaching out to prominent allies to restate their support. As part of their push back to the criticisms, they enlisted one of the highest ranking Republicans in Congress, Elise Stefanik, to offer her 2024 endorsement for Trump — before he even announced. Aides said others would soon follow suit.

Trump and his team also began launching public and private attacks on fellow Republicans who they believed were feeding the narrative that he was to blame for the party’s poor showing, or benefiting from it. He shared a stream of angry posts on his site, Truth Social, that included a defense of his general election record, multiple posts stating that no, he was not “angry” about the midterms, and unfounded accusations of fraud in places like Pennsylvania.

Trump also launched a four paragraph attack on Ron DeSantis, who has been lauded by the right for his overwhelming re-election win, in which he called the Florida governor “an average REPUBLICAN Governor with great Public Relations” and took credit for his political rise.

“Ron DeSanctimonious is playing games!” Trump wrote, using his nickname for the governor.

Inside Trump circles, speculation grew that people close to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom Trump has repeatedly attacked and whose strategy he differed with on key Senate races, were pushing blame their way. Another person close to the Trump operation was encouraged to push some of the blame on National Republican Congressional Committee chair Tom Emmer before going on TV.

Trump has found himself in politically vulnerable positions before: the Access Hollywood tape in 2016, his response to the Charlottesville white nationalist rally, his siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a press conference in Finland, and, most recently, the Capitol riots on Jan. 6. But top Republicans believe that Trump is at his most vulnerable now, in part because the party is at a natural inflection point over who should be its next leader.

“It feels different to me, this election was such a disappointment to people and so I think that this a real wake up,” said a top Republican operative who is in contact with major donors. “And fingers are pointing all around but they’re mostly pointing at Trump.” But, the operative added, even now, some of those donors and elected officials do not want to speak out publicly against Trump for fear of being attacked.

Within Trump’s orbit, there is some recognition that the midterms have scarred him politically. For that reason, several have encouraged him to not plow forward with a presidential bid announcement until after the Georgia race, lest he be blamed again should Herschel Walker, the party’s candidate, lose.

Michael Caputo, a longtime Trump ally and political strategist, warned that if Trump announces now, Walker’s opponent, Sen. Raphael Warnock, “raises twice as much money for the Georgia runoff.”

But one Trump adviser outright dismissed those pleas.

“It’s baked in and what Trump does isn’t going to affect that race,” the adviser said.

And others argued that whatever blame there is for Tuesday’s showing isn’t and shouldn’t be Trump’s alone. One person close to Trump said Republicans writ large had mismanaged expectations.

“Politics 101 is managing expectations,” the person said. “I don’t think it reflects well on Trump because he was part of setting expectations. So it’s a good lesson for all of us that we need to be more cautious when talking about how many seats to win, etc.”

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