FLORIDA, United States (AFP) — There was no escalator like last time, no offensive nicknames like always, and none of the awkward dancing that sometimes features, but supporters got exactly what they wanted in Florida on Tuesday: the announcement that Donald Trump was running for the White House again.
The setting was a little more sedate than the windswept Make America Great Again rallies in farmers’ fields or in cavernous aircraft hangers on the outskirts of a midwestern city.
But it was Trump all the way, with American flags, family members, advisors and members of his private club packing the gilded ballroom of his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida.
Repeatedly, the former president’s often dark, frequently triumphalist speech was interrupted with chants of “Trump, Trump, Trump,” as the tycoon-turned-TV star lapped up the adoration.
And when he finally got to the moment they had all been waiting for — “I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States” — the room erupted.
One of America’s most divisive figures in recent decades reeled off what he considered his accomplishments during four chaotic years in Washington.
NOW – Trump announces he will run for president in 2024. pic.twitter.com/ECtoEDlXFD
— Disclose.tv (@disclosetv) November 16, 2022
It was, he said a time when “Our nation was at the pinnacle of power, prosperity and prestige, towering above all rivals.”
In the 22 months since he left the White House, begrudgingly handing over the keys to Joe Biden, the country has disintegrated, he said.
No one in the ballroom disagreed.
“This new administration is destroying America and everything it stands for,” Eric Pardi told AFP.
“They’re destroying our national independence, our border, our economy, and our law and order.
“That man loves this country and stands for it and that’s what a president should be, somebody who stands and defends our Constitution.”
The warm embrace of supporters like these were balm to Trump after a difficult week.
Many of his hand-picked election-denying candidates got a drubbing at the ballot box last Tuesday, and the knives are out in the Republican Party after a predicted “Red Wave” failed to materialize.
Previously reliable party figures have muttered that the former president’s obsessions with relitigating his 2020 loss were becoming a turn-off for voters.
Even Fox News seems ready to move on.
To cap it all, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis swept all before him in his crushing re-election win, and is now being spoken of as a front-runner for the Republican White House nomination.
Some of those who feel that way were not even trying to be subtle about it; “You lost again Donald #DeSantis 2024,” said the trailing banner of a small plane that flew over Mar-a-Lago.
But for those on the ground, there was no doubt who should be the standard-bearer in 2024.
“He is chosen by God to fight for our country. His patriotism inspires us to support him,” said 50-year-old Stephanie Liu, an American citizen who was born in China.
“I am super excited. I feel like it’s almost Christmas morning, and Santa Claus is coming,” said a grinning Stacey Bovasso, 54.
“Donald J. Trump is our president, and we need him back.”