By Gabby Orr, Kristen Holmes and Melanie Zanona, CNN
Former President Donald Trump is anxiously mulling when, exactly, he should announce a presidential run for 2024 — a decision that has become even more pressing as he tries to reclaim control of his image following a spate of damaging revelations by the House select committee investigating his role in January 6, 2021.
Over the past week, Trump has told associates he is eager to launch another presidential campaign as early as this month to capitalize on President Joe Biden‘s increasingly dismal poll numbers and put his potential GOP rivals on notice.
But his desire to expedite a campaign announcement — ditching previous plans to wait until after the November midterm elections — grew even deeper after former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson raised serious questions in a televised congressional hearing this week about Trump’s behavior during the final months of his first term, according to sources familiar with the matter.
Some Trump allies have privately admitted that the House committee’s public hearings have proven more damaging than expected, as congressional investigators continue to air snippets of sworn testimony from current and former Trump advisers undermining his false claims about the 2020 election and raising new questions about his potential legal jeopardy.
The hearings have also clearly weighed on Trump, who spent most of a 90-minute speech to evangelical conservatives last month complaining about them and who has fired off more than a dozen posts to his Truth Social website this week aimed at undermining Hutchinson’s credibility.
In recent days, some of Trump’s advisers have been reaching out to his closest allies to let them know that the former President is seriously considering an earlier-than-expected announcement. One GOP source familiar with those conversations was told that Trump was considering announcing as soon as the first week of July, while others in his orbit cautioned that he does not currently have the infrastructure in place for a major campaign announcement and “doesn’t want this to be a dud,” as a person close to Trump described it.
Another source said it was unlikely Trump would make an announcement without alerting the press to ensure maximum coverage.
At one point, members of Trump’s staff had discussed a potential early July event in Michigan — a critical battleground state in the midterms and beyond — that drew internal speculation as a possible venue for his campaign announcement, but the event was scrapped before any serious planning.
Multiple sources, who were granted anonymity to speak candidly about closely held discussions, likened the environment surrounding Trump’s 2024 decision to his first presidential campaign in 2016 — chaotic and unorganized with little understanding of who, other than Trump himself, is in charge.
“Every day is different. We get told he’s going to announce imminently, and by the afternoon that has changed,” one source with knowledge said.
A person close to Trump who previously said the former President would wait until after Labor Day to toss his hat into the 2024 GOP primary changed their tune earlier this week, saying a September announcement is now “up in the air” and that if Trump does announce early, “it will be July.”
“He’s sounding a lot more committed lately,” added another person close to Trump.
Before decamping to Mar-a-Lago earlier this summer for his Bedminster, New Jersey, club, Trump was insistent to those around him that he would announce before the November midterms. He then changed course only a few weeks later, telling allies he didn’t want to interfere with the midterms and thought he could draw more momentum by waiting to announce after the election — assuming Republicans retake the House majority, as they are favored to do.
Three sources described Trump as anxious and reactive whenever conversations about a future run arise.
He vacillates between concerns about the investigations he is facing and wanting to “fight fire with fire,” as one source put it, knowing that as soon as he launches a fresh bid for the White House he will likely receive the airtime he believes he needs to be his best defender. Although the former President has granted dozens of interviews since leaving office, the bulk have been with authors of not-yet-published books or right-wing media outlets with limited reach.
The absence of any Trump-aligned Republicans on the House panel probing January 6 has only exacerbated his desire to redirect attention to himself — possibly with a presidential campaign launch. Without any representation on the committee, Trump’s allies have been unable to cross-examine witnesses in real time or preemptively respond to witness testimony.
That dilemma was on full display this week as Hutchinson, a 26-year-old former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, delivered blow-by-blow testimony detailing the warnings Trump and his top aides received leading up to January 6 and his response — or lack thereof — that day. The hearing was announced with only 24 hours’ notice, while Hutchinson’s identity as its live witness leaked at the eleventh hour.
“He knows that if he announces [a run for president] he’ll be center stage again,” giving him the opportunity to rival the hearings, one source told CNN.
But others say Trump’s primary motivation for declaring his candidacy this early is because of the other potential Republican presidential hopefuls jockeying for a run. Top Republicans like Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Rick Scott of Florida, former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Vice President Mike Pence have made recent pit stops in early voting states and are laying the groundwork for their own potential campaigns.
One source said Trump “wants to clear the field and dare other people to run against him.”
There is perhaps no potential rival that sentiment applies more to in this moment than Gov. Ron DeSantis, whom Trump has become fixated on amid the Florida Republican’s emergence as a hero of cultural conservatism and — according to some of Trump’s own aides — a more palatable version of the former President himself.
Through his Save America leadership PAC the former President has recently blasted out examples purportedly demonstrating his strong position within a potential 2024 GOP field.
Trump’s next appearance on the campaign trail is scheduled for July 9, when he is due to host a rally for Alaska Senate Republican hopeful Kelly Tshibaka. While sources close to the former President do not expect that to be the vehicle for a campaign launch, they have not ruled out a spur-of-the-moment post to his Truth Social site that could set the 2024 GOP primary in motion.
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