Donald Trump is likely to announce his much-expected 2024 presidential run from Florida, sources have told the Telegraph, amid speculation he is intent on overshadowing his Republican rival Ron DeSantis.
At his mansion on the ultra-exclusive island of Palm Beach, the only clue to the wealthy enclave’s newfound prominence in US politics is the jumbo-sized American flag rippling in the wind.
Yet it is here, amid the verdant lawns and palm trees of Mar-a-Lago, that the former president has formed the headquarters for a political comeback that some believe might come as soon as this month.
Mr Trump, who recently turned 76, has spent the last few months assembling a council of advisers at his private club to plot his return with a highly anticipated 2024 campaign.
The Sunshine State holds numerous advantages as a campaign launchpad, but some suggest Mr Trump has a singular motive: overshadowing Florida’s other 2024 hopeful, Ron DeSantis.
The Florida governor has emerged as Mr Trump’s top rival for the Republican nomination, gaining a national profile for his anti-lockdown stance during the pandemic and his high-profile "anti-woke" battle with Disney.
The result has been a huge upswing in support among GOP voters, with some polls of the party base suggesting Mr DeSantis level-pegging with Mr Trump.
A recent poll of GOP voters in New Hampshire - a crucial early voting state - put Mr De Santis at 39 per cent, marginally ahead of Mr Trump on 37 per cent. The previous 2021 poll by the University of New Hampshire Granite State had Mr Trump beating the Florida governor by more than two to one.
Possible challenge to Trump
Mr DeSantis has fuelled speculation over his presidential aspirations by notably refusing to rule out challenging Mr Trump for the Republican nomination, a move that has nettled the former president.
A sign of Mr Trump’s increasing frustration with Mr DeSantis was evident in a recent interview, where he said: “I don’t know if Ron is running, and I don’t ask him. It’s his prerogative. I think I would win."
While Mr Trump has remained coy about his 2024 plans, insiders The Telegraph spoke with said they were confident the Republican will run.
Mr Trump is said to have fixated on dominating his most likely rival, Mr DeSantis, often berating the Florida governor as an “overrated” and lacklustre politician.
He is even reported to have considered staging his campaign launch in Tallahassee, the state capital, and in the shadow of Mr DeSantis’ governor’s mansion.
Mr Trump’s motivation is to show the governor “who the boss is”, according to Rolling Stone Magazine, which first reported the idea.
Trump sources dismissed that idea to The Telegraph, but noted that Florida held many merits as the home base of a White House bid.
Largest swing state
They pointed in particular to its critical significance to presidential races as the largest swing state in the country.
Furthermore, it holds significant fundraising potential - Mr Trump’s Palm Beach is just one of the state's billionaire bases from which to tap deep-pocketed donors.
Mr Trump has already amassed a stunning warchest - more than $120 million - far outpacing every other potential candidate, as well as the Republican National Committee.
“It's almost obscene how much money there is in Florida. And so it's a really good state to run from,” said Jim Clark, a longtime observer of the state’s politics, and a professor at Florida Central University.
He notes there are many advantages to Mr DeSantis risking the wrath of Mr Trump with a 2024 gambit.
“Timing is everything in politics,” he said. “[DeSantis] will almost certainly be re-elected as governor this November, and then his term will be up in 2026. And historically, politicians out of office do not do well. So this may be his only real shot at the presidency.”
Keenly attuned to the threat Mr DeSantis could pose, Mr Trump’s advisers describe Mar-a-Lago as a staging ground for his campaign comeback, where the Republican bigwig still exercises his political dominance over his party.
On the patio of the members-only club, Mr Trump will often deliver remarks from a translucent lectern that mimics the bully pulpit he enjoyed at the White House.
Mar-a-Lago’s former bridal suite has been transformed into a campaign-style operation, where Mr Trump works from a large replica of the Oval Office’s Resolute Desk.
But as Mr Trump charts his course towards 2024, his advisers remain split over when to make his announcement, particularly as his former vice president Mike Pence and Arkansas senator Tom Cotton have signalled their willingness to take him on.
America’s Independence Day on Monday had been touted as a ripe opportunity for a launch, but that idea has since been shelved.
Jason Miller, his longtime strategist, has advocated for an announcement sooner rather than later, in the hope of knee-capping potential rivals like Mr DeSantis.
“I think that there being clarity about what his intentions are [is important] so he can start building that operation while it’s still fresh in people’s minds and they’re still active,” Mr Miller told NBC News.
An early presidential announcement would also distract from the televised congressional hearings examining Mr Trump's actions during the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, boosting his claim the proceedings are politically motivated.
His aides are reportedly rushing to build up basic campaign infrastructure in time for an announcement as early as this month. According to the New York Times, he recently surprised some advisers by saying he might declare his candidacy on social media without warning even his own team.
Waiting for the midterms
However, other advisers have counselled Mr Trump to wait until after November’s midterm elections, which may hand Republicans control of Congress and boost the GOP’s momentum.
Those in the latter camp have underscored that the midterm races, in which Mr Trump has played an active role in endorsing candidates, will offer a litmus test for his hold over his base.
There are also potential financial advantages in delaying an announcement. As an official candidate, Mr Trump’s campaign will be subject to fundraising limits and it is prohibited from coordinating with his political action committee.