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Dana Milbank: At Trump’s angry announcement, the magic is gone

Nov. 16, 2022 Updated Wed., Nov. 16, 2022 at 5:05 p.m.

Dana Milbank Washington Post

Donald Trump, The Post reported Tuesday, “wants to recapture the underdog vibe” of his 2016 campaign for the presidency.

If that is his goal, he has already scored a big win. Huge, in fact.

Republicans are (justifiably) blaming Trump for their pratfall in last week’s midterms, the third straight election in which voters rejected the MAGA brand. #Winning

Trump-endorsed election deniers, such as Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, lost up and down the ballot, as Republicans blew their chance to take the Senate and win a workable majority in the House. #Winning

Aides pressed Trump, publicly, not to announce his 2024 presidential candidacy on Tuesday night, so soon after the dismal election. #Winning

Republican officeholders conspicuously avoided Mar-a-Lago for Trump’s “special announcement.” Even Trumpophilic Rep. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) begged off, claiming bad weather kept him from flying from Washington to Palm Beach, when in fact air travel Tuesday was normal. Reporters spotted only one current member of Congress: Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina – and he was defeated in a primary.

Republicans, sick and tired of so much winning, are crying out to Trump: Please, stop winning.

But the Mussolini of Mar-a-Lago replies: No, we’re going to keep winning.

“In order to make America great and glorious again, I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States,” he informed to his guests – an announcement that surprised no one and delighted only slightly more.

Trump aide Jason Miller promised a 35-minute, “very forward-looking” speech. Instead, it was interminable, meandering and, well, low-energy, as Trump kept departing from the teleprompter into gibberish.

He was defensive. He said the “fake news” is “trying to blame me” for the disappointing election showing, but he had an “unprecedented success rate” (!) with his endorsements.

He spoke nonsense: “I’ve gone decades – decades – without a war, the first president to do it that long,” he said of his four-year term.

He renewed old grievances. “I’m a victim,” he complained, moaning about the “fake dossier” – of six years ago.

He lashed out anew at immigrants undertaking an “invasion” of America for “very bad and sinister reasons.”

And he voiced more election conspiracies, saying voting in the United States is worse than in a “third-world country” and suggesting “China played a very active role in the 2020 election” to defeat him. His demand to return to paper ballots and ban early voting earned one of the biggest cheers of the night.

As for “forward looking”? Trump saw a “failing nation” beset by “festering rot and corruption,” run by “radical lunatics” who are “leading us to the brink of nuclear war.”

It was desultory and random, bouncing from supposed long-ago conversations with China’s president, to his belief that “you won’t get” a turkey for Thanksgiving, to the FBI’s seizure of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, to urban “cesspools of blood,” to imitating former German chancellor Angela Merkel’s accent.

The sentence announcing his candidacy for president came immediately after one portraying President Biden as senile, “going to Idaho and saying welcome to the state of Florida.”

As Trump rambled, the planned 35-minute speech eventually passed the 65-minute mark. Along the way, the crowd of about 600 grew listless. Even Sean Hannity cut away on Fox News.

Karl Marx, of all people, anticipated the Donald Trump of 2022, when he noted that great personages of history occur twice, “the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”

Only a fool would count Trump out. If past is prologue, GOP leaders who criticize him now will embrace him anew in about a week.

But the number of Trump supporters lining the intracoastal waterway, or driving back and forth in trucks and motorcycles waving “Trump 2024” and “Let’s Go, Brandon” banners, numbered not in the thousands nor even the hundreds but the dozens.

And even in the middle of the ballroom at Trump’s address, somebody had placed on one of the tables a manila envelope with handwritten letters: “Top Secret Nuclear Codes.” Are Trump’s own supporters trolling him?

With elected Republicans shunning the event, Trump’s campaign filled the room with the usual Trump sycophants. Roger Stone, Boris Epshteyn, Devin Nunes, Russ Vought, Matt Whitaker, Kash Patel, Hogan Gidley and others posed for photos with fans in MAGA hats and motorcycle jackets.

MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell worked the media section, granting interviews to anyone who would listen. I asked if he, like Trump, had a “special announcement” to make.

“We’re gonna melt down the voting machines and turn them into prison bars,” he replied.

A Trump 2024 agenda begins to take shape.

The Trump campaign seemed to be compensating for the lack of respect. No fewer than 33 flags jammed the stage in the gilded Mar-a-Lago ballroom, with its 15 massive chandeliers and mirrored walls. Banners and big screens demanded “Make America Great Again!” (The urgent exclamation point has been added.)

But the magic was missing. As Trump was about to enter the room, the sound system blasted the “Les Miserables” soundtrack:

Do you hear the people sing?

Singing a song of angry men?

No. I hear one angry man singing a song of himself.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

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