WASHINGTON — Brace yourself: Donald Trump plans to run for president again.
At least that’s what the former president is telling his dinner buddies.
Trump has told at least three people he’s dined with in recent months that he plans to run in 2024, a former senior official at the Republican National Committee tells Rolling Stone. “I have three friends who’ve had dinner with him in the last couple of months. All three reported that his current plans are to run for president in 2024,” the former R.N.C. official says. “Now, whether he does or not is a different issue. We’ve still got three years to go. But he’s telling people that.”
The ex-R.N.C. official says the first two dinners took place in late spring. But the third dinner happened in the last two weeks, the official said. The first two dinner companions came away from their conversations convinced Trump was serious and he’s running, the official adds. The third said he left the dinner “not 100% sure Trump wants to run but he likes being in the conversation, he wants to freeze the field, and he wants his name out there,” according to the ex-R.N.C. official.
A spokeswoman for Trump did not respond to requests for comment about Trump’s recent dinner conversations and whether he plans to run for president again.
A former Trump adviser who speaks with members of Trump’s inner circle says he’s been briefed on similar conversations that reflect the former president’s current thinking. The ex-adviser says Trump started to give indications in private back in May that he was leaning toward running again, and that the more recent signs suggest he wants to run.
“All the people I talk to who deal with him directly think as of now he is running,” the ex-adviser says.
Trump’s popularity within the party remains strong. In a recent survey by GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio, half of the respondents said they’d support Trump in a GOP primary. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally, finished in second place with 19 percent of the people surveyed.
Another Trump run would plunge the country back in the same turmoil and spectacle that dominated so much of the past six years of American politics. Will TV networks cover his every utterance and rally yet again? Will the tech companies that excised him from their services be forced to allow him back as an official candidate? In January, two days after the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Twitter announced a permanent suspension of Trump’s official account; the company has since blocked several copycat accounts that tried to evade the suspension. And in June, Facebook handed Trump a two-year suspension and said it would consider extending that suspension if Trump’s Facebook account still posed a “risk to public safety.”
Trump has so far played coy about whether he intends to run again in 2024. At a recent Fox News town hall, host (and shadow Trump adviser) Sean Hannity raised the subject of the former president’s political plans for the next three years. “You’re not going to answer, but I have to ask,” Hannity said. “Without giving the answer…have you made up your mind?”
“Yes,” Trump said, eliciting cheers from the Fox audience.
“I think you got it right,” Hannity said to the crowd.
Last month, Trump returned to the political arena when he spoke at the annual convention for the North Carolina Republican Party. A few weeks later, he held his first rally since January 6th in northern Ohio, where he gave his support to Max Miller, a Republican challenger to Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the violent insurrection on January 6th.
Another indication of Trump’s interest in running in 2024 is the campaign cash he’s stockpiled. Save America, a pro-Trump political action committee, ended last year with $31 million in cash on hand, according to federal election records. But money poured into the leadership PAC in the first three months of this year, and CNBC reported that the PAC ended March with $85 million on hand. (The PAC’s 2021 finance disclosures aren’t due until later this summer.) By comparison, Trump had just $8.4 million on hand at the end of March 2017, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Trump is expected to use some of that cash haul to help elect loyalist candidates running for election in different races across the country. For instance, the Trump-loving congressman Jody Hice is challenging Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger who refused Trump’s attempts to change the vote count to flip Georgia to Trump. And in Alabama, Trump has appeared in radio ads in support of Rep. Mo Brooks, another loyalist who is running for U.S. Senate and who gave an inflammatory speech at the January 6th rally that preceded the Capitol insurrection.
For now, Trump is seemingly having it both ways. By telling his friends that he plans to run and not officially declaring, he can continue to raise funds through his PAC without the restrictions of an official candidacy. The ex-R.N.C. official says such talk could also freeze the field of Republican presidential contenders. That field includes Mike Pompeo, Trump’s former CIA director and secretary of state; Nikki Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations; Florida Gov. DeSantis; and U.S. senators like Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri.
The ex-R.N.C. official says it’s expected that Trump’s camp wouldn’t respond to questions about what he’s telling his associates regarding 2024. “If they didn’t want that information out there, they’d respond and call it fake news,” the official says. “If they did say yes, then they’d trigger the campaign-finance laws and the clock starts ticking.”
There are, of course, plenty of reasons why he won’t end up running: his old age, say, or the potential legal jeopardy he faces through his now-indicted company. But if the last six years have taught us anything, what fuels him is the attention of the media and adulation of his supporters.
Post-presidency and on a social-media timeout, he’s lost his platform and most of his audience. A third run for president would go a long way toward bringing it all back.