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Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speak at midterm election rallies, in Dayton, Ohio, on November 7, 2022 and Tampa, Florida, on November 8, 2022 in a combination of photos. Image Credit: REUTERS

Washington: The 2024 presidential race is taking shape following midterm elections that gave an early boost to President Joe Biden and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, while leaving Donald Trump on the defensive.

Even with ballots still being counted and control of Congress up in the air, the three men quickly took centrestage as White House contenders with pressure mounting for each to announce their decisions to run. That could crowd out other potential rivals on both sides.

Biden reiterated on Wednesday he intended to seek another term after Democrats fared better than expected in congressional elections, declaring that polls showing most Americans don’t want him to run again will have no bearing on his eventual decision.

Losses by Trump’s hand-picked candidates in key Senate and House races triggered panic and rare public dissent across the GOP, with figures openly suggesting it’s time for Trump to move on and conservative outlets like Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, Wall Street Journal and New York Post calling him a drag on the party. Donors and operatives began to suggest the GOP would be better off with DeSantis as its standard-bearer.

Trump lashed out at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, claiming that the media mogul’s news outlets are “all in” for his chief Republican rival and threat to his 2024 presidential ambitions.

The former president was ostensibly responding to sharp and mocking criticism from Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, New York Post and Fox News, in the aftermath of the Republican Party’s poor showing on Tuesday, in which Trump has received rare - and public - intra-party blame for his outsized role in elevating candidates who either lost or struggled.

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Republican gubernatorial candidate for Florida Ron DeSantis with his wife Casey DeSantis and children Madison, Mason and Mamie, waves to the crowd during an election night watch party at the Convention Center in Tampa, Florida, on November 8, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

The New York Post lauded DeSantis’ resounding re-election victory in Florida with a picture of the governor splashed across the front page and a headline playing on his name: “DeFuture.”

Four days earlier, Trump tauntingly called him “DeSanctimonious,” a nickname that the former president again invoked in the statement issued Thursday.

Murdoch’s properties are “all in for Governor Ron DeSanctimonious, an average REPUBLICAN Governor with great Public Relations,” Trump said in a statement on Thursday, going on to criticize DeSantis for quarantine measures he presided over when the Covid-19 pandemic spread in early 2020, and saying the governor attracts citizens to his state because of its “SUNSHINE.”

The nearly 500-word statement was the latest in a series attacks against DeSantis over the past week, starting with the jab at his name at a Saturday rally, and a threat on the eve of the election to release what Trump claimed was damaging information on DeSantis should he decide to run in 2024. The escalation has taken place as Trump inches closer to a 2024 presidential announcement, expected Nov. 15 at his Palm Beach, Florida, estate.

A message left for comment from DeSantis wasn’t immediately returned.

Trump also said his 2018 endorsement ushered DeSantis into the governor’s mansion, suggesting that DeSantis is disloyal for flirting with a presidential campaign.

“And now, Ron DeSanctimonious is playing games! The Fake News asks him if he’s going to run if President Trump runs, and he says, “I’m only focused on the Governor’s race, I’m not looking into the future.” Well, in terms of loyalty and class, that’s really not the right answer,” Trump said.

The state of the economy and stubbornly high inflation are likely to remain top issues of public concern well into the 2024 campaign cycle, and there were clear signs coming out of Tuesday’s vote that many remain troubled by the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol that Trump instigated through his false claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent. Voters rejected election deniers in the presidential battlegrounds of Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Democratic strategist Jon Reinish called the results a “repudiation of extremism” that showed voters want “people who work across the aisle and get results.”

DeSantis’s landslide re-election, at the same time, precipitated an almost overnight realignment within the GOP.

At a Monday night rally in Ohio on the eve of Election Day, Trump confidently teased a third presidential run, telling the crowd he’d make a “big announcement” November 15 at his Palm Beach estate and telling Fox News that “the base would not like it” if DeSantis - whom he called “Ron De-sanctimonious” - were to run.

But the humiliating defeats Trump’s favoured candidates suffered on Tuesday in crucial House and Senate races are serving as a rallying cry for those looking for an alternative to the former president.

Trump wrote on Wednesday on his Truth Social platform that the election results were “somewhat disappointing,” without taking any responsibility for the disappointments.

On Thursday, he issued twin attacks on Murdoch’s News Corp. and DeSantis, accusing the conservative-leaning media Goliath of being “all in” for DeSantis, while again invoking the derisive play on his name.

Trump talks to the press on the grounds of his Mar-a-Lago resort on midterm elections night in Palm Beach. Image Credit: Reuters

Special announcement on Tuesday

And a Trump statement on Thursday night confirmed that he would be making “a special announcement” at 9pm on Tuesday.

Pre-midterm polls already showed DeSantis as the strongest challenger to Trump for the nomination should they both run.

Now some Republicans are trying to convince party members to focus on helping DeSantis, who has not said whether he plans to run for president, according to people familiar with the matter. Those donors and operatives don’t plan to openly criticize Trump, one of the people said. Their hope is Republicans coalesce around DeSantis, avoiding a crowded primary field.

President Joe Biden speaks at Howard Theatre in Washington on Nov. 10, 2022. Image Credit: AP

Biden’s Decision

The midterm results are likely to quell public doubts for now from Democrats about Biden’s age and stewardship, even as voters delivered a mixed verdict on both.

Almost eight in 10 voters said they felt the pain of inflation but fewer than a third saw it as the defining issue for Biden and Democrats, according to exit polls.

At the same time, two thirds of Americans - including three in 10 Democrats - do not want Biden to run again, the polls show.

Biden, who turns 80 this month and is already the oldest-ever US president, will have to navigate questions about his age and whether Democrats need new leadership, especially if DeSantis, 44, becomes the GOP nominee. Biden told reporters Wednesday he’d likely make a final decision early next year, and that Trump’s early entrance into the race would not affect his timing.

A small group of the president’s aides have recently discussed laying the groundwork for a 2024 run, according to two senior Biden advisers. The decision will hinge in large part on whether Biden believes he can be effective in advancing his agenda and combating what he views as extreme trends in the GOP, one of the advisers said. The advisers asked not to be identified discussing Biden’s thinking.

The Democratic National Committee expects to hire spokespeople next year in early voting states to speak out against Republican candidates entering the race, according to a person familiar with the planning.

That builds on a staff of almost 40 researchers who have been producing materials on possible GOP candidates since 2021, the person said.

The party also plans to activate grassroots supporters, including more than 200,000 trained volunteers and small-dollar donors who have contributed $155 million since the 2020 cycle, according to a DNC memo.

No mainstream Democrats have said they plan to run if Biden enters the race, though he could face little-known challengers. Vice President Kamala Harris, California Governor Gavin Newsom, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg could be waiting in the wings if Biden bows out or falters.

Trump’s Troubles

Trump, 76, faces similar scrutiny regarding his age and health, and polls show he’s even less popular than Biden.

Trump’s plan to declare early is an attempt to dissuade other candidates lacking his built-in base of support. Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton was the first GOP aspirant to forgo a presidential run. Former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has said she won’t run if Trump does.

Some Republicans urged Trump to delay the November 15 announcement, at least until after next month’s Senate runoff in Georgia, which could determine control of the chamber.

“No one’s going to be surprised by this announcement. Nobody’s going to care. It’s not going to clear the field,” New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu said Wednesday on Fox News.

DeSantis has raised $164 million this cycle while building a national following and has carefully positioning himself to the right of the former president on a handful of issues, including pandemic-era public health measures and LGBTQ rights.

Other potential Trump challengers who have laid some groundwork for a run include former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Michael Pompeo; former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie; Texas Senator Ted Cruz; and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott.

Republican strategist and pollster Frank Luntz said Trump’s midterm rebuke will embolden potential challengers. Pence, for example, is beginning a book tour on Tuesday - the day Trump could announce his White House bid - including a town hall Wednesday on CNN.

“There aren’t going to be three or four people running against him, there’s going to be a whole lot more,” Luntz said.