Donald Trump formally launched his 2024 presidential campaign Tuesday night at an event at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, surprising few pundits and energizing his loyal base of followers.
The former president, 76, twice-impeached and under investigation for his handling of classified documents, aims to win the Republican Party’s presidential nomination and retake control of the White House. Two years after denying the results of a fair election and fomenting an insurrection, he enters a changed political landscape, including a national party that may consider shifting away from his brand of conservatism.
But Trump, known for riling up his fans with lengthy, winding oratory, showed nothing but confidence in his speech Tuesday night as he presented himself as an outsider candidate.
“I don’t like to think of myself as a politician, but I guess what’s what I am,” he said. “I hate that thought.”
He attacked President Joe Biden’s record on the economy and painted a picture of a country in disarray, run by a corrupt government. He talked about immigration, the border, election reform, public safety and a battle against the establishment — talking points that largely line up with Trump’s first campaign.
Here are five themes from his speech:
Immigration and the border
Echoing rhetoric from his 2016 campaign launch, Trump established immigration reform as a major part of his reelection campaign. He doubled down on plans to complete a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, limit the number of migrants allowed to enter the country and deport undocumented immigrants.
“Joe Biden has abolished America’s borders,” he said. “We are going to restore and secure America’s borders.”
He promoted the idea that the U.S. is allowing foreign criminals to stream into the country, a claim that is not supported by U.S. Customs and Border Protection data that show amid the current influx of immigrants at the southern border, 0.58% were arrested due to criminal convictions or being wanted by law enforcement, a decline from the previous three years.
“We will begin the process of safely removing the illegal alien criminals that have been unlawfully allowed into our country,” he said. “We have no choice.”
Inflation and the economy
Trump framed parts of his speech around the economic hardships Americans are facing with higher prices at the gas pump and grocery store.
“In two years, Biden has destroyed the U.S. economy, just destroyed it,” he said.
He tied the high inflation rate to Biden, even though several economists have said that higher prices can be attributed to an array of factors that include actions taken by the government under both the Biden and Trump administrations, including the first wave of federal COVID relief funding approved when Trump was in the White House and Republicans controlled Congress.
Trump said lower taxers, fewer regulations and fair trade deals will get the U.S. economy back on track.
Trump stayed away from espousing the false narrative that the 2020 election was stolen from him, a claim that has been disproven in courts across the country. He did make vague allusions to foreign interference in the 2020 election without offering any evidence, and he pledged to radically change the way Americans vote, including the elimination of early voting.
“We will do whatever it takes to bring back honesty, confidence and trust in our elections,” he said. “To eliminate cheating, I will immediately demand voter ID, same-day voting and only paper ballots,” he said, inciting some of the loudest cheers of the night. “Only paper ballots.”
“Drain the swamp”
Amid indications that the Republican Party may be moving away from Trump’s approach to conservatism, the former president took aim at the political establishment as he repeated a popular slogan from his first campaign: “Drain the swamp.”
Trump mixed some more concrete policy proposals with a reference to the “Deep State,” a political conspiracy theory that the government is run by a secret network of bureaucrats and private interests.
“To further drain the swamp, I will push for a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on members of Congress,” he said. “It’s time. And I will ask for a permanent ban on taxpayer funding of campaigns, and a lifetime ban on lobbying by former members of Congress and cabinet members.”
He also said he would overhaul the country’s top law enforcement institutions, the FBI and the Department of Justice, because they have been “weaponized.” Trump referenced the still-ongoing investigation into his removal of classified documents from the White House, framing it as an unfair attack on him and his family.
“I’m a victim,” he said.
What about Ron DeSantis?
Trump did not mention Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely seen as a top GOP contender for the 2024 nomination. About a week after taking a shot at DeSantis, who handily won reelection with major increase in turnout for Florida Republicans, Trump centered his speech solely on his own candidacy and a battle against “radical Democrats.”
Some conservative pundits have raised the question of whether the Republican Party will embrace another Trump candidacy after this year’s midterm elections. Trump claimed victory to more than 200 candidates he endorsed at various levels of government, ignoring many high-profile losses of Trump-endorsed candidates in key races.