New York Times reporter following Donald Trump, Maggie Haberman, spoke on the newspaper's morning podcast "The Daily" ahead of the big announcement in Mar-a-Lago only to explain that the monster the GOP has created is now too big for them to control.
She began by explaining that "the reason the mid-terms were a hot mess is because of Donald Trump." Now, the picture is a little muddy.
"Trump's insistence on getting Republicans to back his false claims about the 2020 election and repeat that over and over again did have an impact and there's reason to believe it scared a lot of voters and this is an issue he's been saying for 18 months he wanted them to run on and they did. And now look what happened," Haberman continued.
Now candidates, officials, pundits and every Republican in between is talking about Trump being the albatross around the necks of the GOP if they don't figure out how to drop him. Meanwhile, Trump is announcing his run, regardless of the smoldering embers of the fire.
Trump has already found scapegoats to explain away the losses by blaming a lack of funding for GOP candidates, failed strategy, and that candidates should have been pushing the 2020 election lie instead of running on the economy, she continued. While that didn't work for Kari Lake, Trump has complained about Mehmet Oz's performance in the debate with now Senator-elect John Fetterman, saying that Oz was not pressing the election denialism enough.
"So, he doesn't accept responsibility at all," said Haberman.
The main reason he's announcing now, she said is to keep anyone else out of the race, particularly Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL).
"This is often his playbook," Haberman explained. "To make himself look inevitable so nobody should even challenge me."
Meanwhile, she revealed, that behind closed doors Trump thinks that announcing his run "complicates things for the Justice Department." It's thought that Attorney General Merrick Garland will announce an indictment against Trump for stealing documents from the White House upon leaving in Jan. 2021. Many of those documents also turned out to be classified or top secret.
"He thinks that announcing gives him insulation against indictment," Haberman said. "It does make it more challenging for the Justice Department. His thinking is that it's already complicated for the sitting president, President Biden's Justice Department, to indict Trump as a former president, but as a candidate, even though Biden has been very clear that it's an independent Justice Department Trump is still going to say, 'Biden is telling the Justice Department to come after me.''"
If Trump had not announced his candidacy, however, it's likely he would have employed the exact same strategy to try and make the Justice Department indictment against him look political. The one option the DOJ has is to ask the judge in the case to place a gag order around the case. Trying to keep Trump quiet on his own indictment, however, would likely prove difficult and a judge would have to warn of stiff penalties that included jail to ensure Trump abided by such an order.
Haberman said that most of his allies say that he doesn't want to run another campaign but that he does want to be president again.
"He doesn't miss traveling all over the place, he's much older, but he does miss the power of the office," she said.
She went on to say that many GOP leaders see Trump as a weak candidate because of exactly what happened in the midterms.
"These elections were a proxy in many ways because he made them talk about his issue set," said Haberman. "They're a proxy for how this will play in a general election. And Trump is not the same as he was in 2016 when he was seen as a political outsider and there was a newness about him. He is obsessed with election denialism and a number of issues that are not seen as appealing to independents as they are to his MAGA base."
Many of the Republicans in the party leadership would prefer Trump not run, but there's no power to stop him, she continued.
"They're nothing they can do about it. If he wants to run he's going to run. He is the party. This was settled in 2016 when he was the nominee and in 2020 when he was the nominee again. There's no apparatus to stop him," Haberman went on.
While there are individual Republican members who have a voice and "they can say and do whatever they want but Kevin McCarthy needs Trump to be House Speaker because a lot of these members are loyal to Donald Trump and a lot of these leadership elections haven't happened yet. Mitch McConnell knows that senators' voters support Donald Trump. The party chairperson has long been an ally of Donald Trump and was initially installed by Donald Trump. So that takes care of that."
Trump still has a stranglehold on the Republican Party, even those who don't like him believe he'll be the nominee. Electability might have been important to Democrats in 2020, but in the GOP, Trump built a "personal fidelity" that is stronger. They also agree with his wars against the media or liberals and tech companies.
Haberman was asked how Trump could possibly spin when he keeps failing, but she reframed the question, saying, "you don't acknowledge that failure exists. Failure is actually winning. So you just keep on doing the same thing the entire time."
"But you don't win!" said host Michael Barbaro.
"But if you tell people you really did, what's the difference?" Haberman explained. "That's what he's testing and what got tested the other day and it's got limits."