“He Is in a Weird Bunker”: Donald Trump’s 2024 Campaign Is Sputtering Out of the Gate
Donald Trump may officially be a presidential candidate for the 2024 Republican nomination, but eight weeks into his third presidential run, he’s acting more like a Palm Beach retiree than a White House aspirant. Trump’s virtually invisible campaign––he has yet to hold a rally and rarely leaves Mar-a-Lago––is a topic of much debate and increasing concern among his allies. In recent days, I spoke with a half dozen Republicans close to Trump, and the consensus is that his campaign is a “mess,” to borrow a preferred Trump epithet. “He is in a weird bunker and doesn’t want to go anywhere. Even the inner circle is worried he’s getting no traction at all,” a former Trump administration official said. “Literally nothing. It’s like it’s not even happening,” a prominent Trumpworld figure said when I asked what he was hearing about the campaign. “The early ’22 announcement was a historic flop. Talk about how not to create momentum,” a top GOP strategist said.
There are several theories about why Trump’s campaign has been so underwhelming out of the gate. “Money is a real issue,” the former administration official said. Already, prominent GOP mega-donors, including billionaires Ken Griffin and Stephen Schwarzman, have said they aren’t supporting Trump’s 2024 run. As a presidential candidate, Trump isn’t allowed to tap into the $100 million war chest his various super PACs have amassed since he left the White House, meaning he either has to raise the money himself or spend his own. “A rally is expensive. They cost a half million dollars easily,” a veteran of Trump’s 2016 campaign told me. Trump’s 2024 campaign has yet to file a fundraising report with the Federal Election Commission, but two sources close to Trump told me the money spigot isn’t flowing like it used to. Perhaps that’s why Trump recently promoted a widely mocked NFT collection of Trump superhero trading cards. “That was the most pathetic thing,” the former official said.
Even if the financial situation improves, Trump allies worry he has already committed a series of baffling, self-destructive blunders. “Trump completely overexposed himself with all those stupid midterm endorsements,” another 2016 campaign veteran told me. In November, Trump hosted the Kanye West–Nick Fuentes dinner at Mar-a-Lago. In December, Trump called for the “termination” of the Constitution in a Truth Social post. And this month, Trump enraged his MAGA base by backing Kevin McCarthy for Speaker of the House. An ally of Matt Gaetz said he doesn’t understand why Trump supported McCarthy. “I asked Trump, ‘Why do you stick with this guy?’ And Trump just said, ‘Kevin will be great, you’ll see!’ I really don’t get it.”
In late December, a senior Trump adviser assured me the ex-president would start ramping up his campaign in January. On Wednesday, Trump senior advisers Susie Wiles, Brian Jack, and Chris LaCivita told Politico that Trump was planning an “intimate” event in South Carolina for later this month.
“The campaign has been building out its infrastructure and expanding the team for the last few months—doing the necessary work that may not always be public-facing,” Trump 2024 campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said in a statement, while describing now as “the perfect time to start doing events in early primary states like South Carolina.” He added, “Rallies are great, and there will be rallies, but there’s a lot of time between now and Election Day 2024.”
Of course, there are eons of political news cycles before Republicans start casting their votes for a nominee. The original thinking behind getting in so early, according to sources, was to freeze the field so that Trump could run uncontested. “He wanted to get in and lay a marker down,” the adviser said. But recently, with Ron DeSantis and others making noise about running, Trump’s campaign strategy has shifted. According to a source close to the campaign, Trump wants a crowded GOP primary so that he can prevail with his die-hard base (in 2016, Trump faced 16 candidates). “His entire primary strategy is based on getting a plurality,” the source said. “They think he will win because more candidates run.”