What is Donald Trump even doing?

It's been one month since Donald Trump somberly rejected the stigma of his dual impeachments to declare his candidacy for the 2024 presidential election, predicting during an announcement speech at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida that Americans would "overwhelmingly" back a second Trump presidency. Between then and now, Trump has had a turbulent few weeks, punctuated by a flurry of legal setbacks, reputational blows, and rising political headwinds in the face of his re-election bid. What he has not had, however, is anything resembling a traditional campaign rollout — or much of a campaign rollout to speak of. In fact, despite having initially bucked his advisers' recommendation to hold off on announcing his candidacy until later in this election cycle, Trump has largely eschewed the impression that he's running for office to begin with. 

What has he been doing? 

The travel-averse former president has largely stayed put at Mar-a-Lago, entertaining guests as the headliner at the American Freedom Tour Winter Gala — a for-profit organizer of Trump's non-campaign rallies — and inviting notorious antisemites to dinner. To the extent that the former president has made appearances outside the comfort of his private estate, it's been by video conferencing, pre-recorded messages, and Fox News interviews. Despite having been welcomed back to Twitter for the first time since his account was suspended in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, Trump has kept his social media musings to his Truth Social site, where he recently called for — then denied calling for — the termination of the United States Constitution. According to The Washington Post, Trump's campaign claims it will begin holding events in earnest in the new year. One official from the former president's team told the paper that "We're still two years out. There'll be a time to do events and a time to do rallies."

Speaking with The Daily Beast, another Trump campaign official suggested that the delay in public-facing events is a deliberate decision by the team as it works behind the scenes to assemble staff. 

"They're being methodical, looking at the numbers, planning the campaign, and recruiting the right team to execute the plan," the unnamed official explained. "Why would an announced candidate travel to a state where there is no leadership in place? Selecting and publicizing a cadre of key leaders in vital early primary states would be a significant accomplishment before Christmas."

Are Republicans satisfied? 

While Trump's team may be hoping to project an image of deliberate planning, some in the GOP have taken the former president's relative absence as a baffling misstep and even a sign of weakness from the candidate himself. 

"I think at this point in his nascent re-election campaign, they need to stop and regroup over the holidays," former senior Trump campaign adviser David Urban told Politico shortly after Herschel Walker's electoral defeat in Georgia's run-off election. "Since the announcement for his re-elect, I don't think that by any measurable standard you can say it's been going well. You've had unforced error after unforced error."

"The former president announced his 2024 run against the wishes of most of the GOP and his close advisers, largely out of frustration with momentum shifting to Ron DeSantis," Trump's onetime White House communications director Alyssa Farah Griffin told The Daily Beast. "Now he's several weeks into a presidential run with no real apparatus, zero message, and no events. So far, it's a spite-run and it's being received as poorly as one could expect."

Nevertheless, Trump campaign officials and backers have repeatedly insisted the delay between the announcement and actual campaigning is a deliberate choice by the former president. 

"This is a marathon and our game plan is being implemented even though the presidential primary calendar hasn't been set yet and the 2022 midterm cycle just ended," campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung told The Daily Beast, while MAGA Inc. super PAC boss Taylor Budowich echoed the same sentiment to The Washington Post:

"President Trump entered the race three weeks ago ready to win and he is going to do exactly that — no amount of wishful thinking from the media or consultant class will change it," he explained. "He's building one of the most ruthless and talented teams in American politics, and he is the only person in the country who is ready and capable of reversing America's decline."

But if that's the case, why announce his candidacy as early as he did? Why not wait until things were set, before telling the world of his intent to run? 

Why now? 

As multiple pundits and Republican insiders have theorized, Trump's campaign announcement may have been preempted by two separate, if congruent, factors. Writing in The Washington Post, longtime conservative activist George Conway — husband of perennial Trump White House adviser Kellyanne Conway — theorized that Trump's decision was prompted in large part by the former president's fear of criminal prosecution and his belief that running for, and achieving high office, will shield him. Moreover, Conway writes, Republican party delegate math means that "Trump can only be bested for the GOP nomination in a contest that's one-on-one from the outset." In essence, by declaring his candidacy early, Trump is hoping to scare off any potential rivals unwilling, as Conway put it, to risk their political futures by taking "a brutal mud bath" with Trump this time around.

Democrats seem to be of a similar mind. In a statement, Democratic National Committee spokesperson Ammar Moussa noted that "the list of reasons why this three-week-old campaign should contend for one of the worst launches in history is simply too long" to enumerate. Nevertheless, "Donald Trump's stranglehold on the MAGA party hasn't loosened. Trump's potential primary competitors' refusal to condemn Trump for breaking bread with antisemites or wanting to terminate the Constitution is a reminder the Republican Party remains firmly beholden to Trumpism and his extreme positions."

Donald Trump.