By Steve Holland and Andy Sullivan
PALM BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) -Donald Trump was set to launch a new White House bid on Tuesday from a gilt-edged ballroom at his Florida resort, hoping to box out potential Republican rivals and return his false claims of election fraud to the center of U.S. politics.
Trump’s announcement, scheduled for 9 p.m. ET (0200 GMT on Wednesday) at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach follows a disappointing showing in last week’s midterm congressional elections that many Republicans blame on him.
Hundreds of supporters were expected to fill a ballroom decorated with several chandeliers and lined with dozens of American flags.
The unusually early launch may well be aimed at fending off potential challengers for the party’s nomination in 2024, including rising star Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, 44, and Trump’s own former vice president, Mike Pence, 63.
It comes as Republicans close in on the 218 seats they need to take a majority in the 435-seat House of Representatives.
Sources close to Trump, 76, said he planned to push ahead despite mixed results from his endorsements this year, with losses by celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Don Bolduc in New Hampshire contributing to Republicans’ failure to win a majority in the U.S. Senate.
Another Trump-picked candidate, former football star Herschel Walker, was forced into a Dec. 6 runoff in his Georgia race against Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock. That has raised some concerns that Trump’s announcement could again hurt the party’s chances in a Georgia runoff, similar to the January 2021 runoff that gave Democrats their current majority.
Multiple Trump-aligned candidates who ran on platforms focused on his false claims of widespread election fraud were also defeated.
The “red wave” that Republicans expected to carry them to a wide majority did not materialize despite Democratic President Joe Biden’s low public approval ratings. Voter anger over a Supreme Court decision to end national abortion rights offset concerns over high inflation.
“This should have been a huge red wave … and yet we still didn’t perform,” said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a moderate Republican who has toyed with the idea of launching his own White House run.
“It’s the third election in a row that Donald Trump has cost us the race … I’m tired of losing,” he told CNN on Sunday.
Conservative Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen, who praised a number of Trump’s policies while he was in office, on Tuesday urged him not to run again, saying voters on Nov. 8 clearly rejected Trump-backed candidates and gave Democrats the majority in the U.S. Senate.
“That should be a wake-up call for Trump. He cannot win the presidency with his base alone,” wrote Thiessen, former chief speechwriter for Republican President George W. Bush. “His conduct since losing office has made him unelectable.”
A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken before the midterm elections showed that 53% of Americans and almost one in four Republicans view Trump unfavorably. The poll showed a similar number of Americans viewing Biden unfavorably.
Trump plans to launch his campaign nearly two years before the Nov. 5, 2024, election despite these concerns, said two sources familiar with his plans.
“President Donald J. Trump and his team are firing on all cylinders and fully focused on saving our country,” said one source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
DeSantis, who Trump has given the derisive nickname “Ron DeSanctimonious,” handily won re-election last week. Pence is releasing a book on Tuesday detailing Trump’s unsuccessful pressure campaign to overturn his 2020 defeat.
Trump will seek his party’s nomination even as he faces trouble on several fronts, including a criminal investigation into the removal of classified documents from the White House as well as a congressional subpoena related to his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol attack by his supporters. Trump has called the various investigations he faces politically motivated and denies wrongdoing.
The businessman-turned-politician, who has sought to maintain an iron grip on the Republican Party since leaving office, has persisted in making false claims that the 2020 election he lost to Biden was stolen through widespread voting fraud.
Trump is seeking to become only the second U.S. president in history to serve non-consecutive terms, after Grover Cleveland, whose second stint ended in 1897. Biden, 79, has said he intends to run for re-election to a second four-year term in office, though he has yet to make a final decision.
During his turbulent 2017-2021 presidency, Trump defied democratic norms and promoted “America First” nationalism while presenting himself as a right-wing populist. He became the first U.S. president to be impeached twice, though congressional Democrats failed in their attempts to remove him from office.
At a rally that preceded the Capitol attack, Trump urged supporters to “fight like hell” and march on Congress to “stop the steal,” but the mob that subsequently stormed the Capitol failed to prevent Congress from formally certifying Biden’s election victory.
Four people died on the day in the violence, one shot dead by police and the other three of natural causes. A Capitol Police officer who had been attacked by protesters died the following day. Two police officers who took part in the defense of the Capitol later took their own lives. More than a hundred police officers were injured.
Even though court and state election officials rejected Trump’s false election claims, about two-thirds of Republican voters believe Biden’s victory was illegitimate, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.
(Reporting by Steve Holland in Palm Beach, Florida, and Andy Sullivan in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller)