By Eva Fu
Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas) was among a crowd of hundreds who broke into cheers as former President Donald Trump formally launched his third bid for the presidency at Mar-a-Lago on Nov. 15.
He came back to Washington the next day feeling upbeat, describing the event as “absolutely fantastic.”
“His message was right on target,” the congressman told The Epoch Times in a phone interview after stepping off the plane.
Like half a dozen others who spoke with The Epoch Times following Trump’s announcement, Nehls was struck by the tone Trump conveyed that marked a departure from his rallies leading up to the midterms. Many described the speech as “forward-looking” that offered a blueprint for remaking America’s future.
“He was deliberate. He just laid out his plan on what he wanted to do,” said Nehls. “For America, I thought he delivered a very, very effective speech that the American people could understand.”
Nehls said he’s “all in with Donald J. Trump.”
“I’m excited for him when he announced yesterday his return, because I believe our country needs him now more than ever,” he said.
In an hour-long campaign address, Trump painted a dark picture of America under the Democrats’ rule, with soaring inflation, threats of war, a porous southern border, and rampant drug trafficking.
Positioning himself as someone who can turn things around, the former president promised to cut regulations, restore energy independence, lower taxes, and strengthen foreign policies. Notably absent from his speech was Trump’s trademark criticism of legacy media outlets and claims of fraud in the 2020 election, both of which have drawn attacks from the left.
The measured and restrained approach on Tuesday caused some to remark that Trump was too “low energy,” but to his defenders, it was the style befitting such an occasion.
“Taking a look at the problems that we have seen—the downward spiral of the country over the last two years, I think he was right to strike the more serious tone and to come across as very serious and very presidential,” Jenna Ellis, a former senior legal advisor to Trump and contributor to The Epoch Times, said in an interview.
“His bottom line message for heading into 2024 Is that life was better under Trump than it is under Biden. And that’s a message that everyone can resonate with,” said Ellis.
According to a Morning Consult survey last updated on Nov. 14, 69 percent of over 6,000 Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, that includes 46 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of independents, and 91 percent of Republicans.
“We’re in a bad state here. And we need to change this now, or we’re going to lose our country,” Mike Lindell, CEO of MyPillow and staunch Trump backer, told The Epoch Times.
When Trump, now the first major contender from either party to enter the 2024 race, called Lindell over to an upstairs table after the speech to ask for his thoughts, his response was that the tone of the speech was “very, very perfect.”
Lindell believes that Trump’s platform proposed “common sense” solutions that should speak to people across the political spectrum.
Running as an ‘Outsider’
To some of his supporters, Trump was rewinding the tape back to 2015 when he first entered the political arena as a New York businessman and won a surprise victory the next year against Democrat frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
The “Trump campaign will be a replay of 2015/2016–an outsider campaign for ‘the forgotten man and woman,’” Steve Bannon, a former White House chief strategist under the Trump administration, told The Epoch Times.
“He’s going to really go after the oligarchs, the tech oligarchs, the media oligarchs, the Wall Street oligarchs, and it’s going to be strongly anti-CCP,” he said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
Nehls and Kash Patel, a former national security official with the Trump administration, particularly noted Trump’s pledge to reinstate military personnel who were discharged for refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Patel believes that this proposal, as well as Trump’s plan to impose term limits for Congressional members, resonates with many across the country.
“I think many Americans find powerful movements like that refreshing and new and attach it immediately to the theme of his speech last night, which was going in and draining the swamp and getting rid of the corruption in government,” Patel told Capitol Report, a program on The Epoch Times’ sister media NTD, on Nov. 16.
There’s no short of hurdles as Trump kicks off his bid to return to the White House, something Trump openly acknowledged on Tuesday.
“We will be resisted by the combined forces of the establishment, the media, the globalists, the Marxist radicals, the woke corporations, the weaponized power of the federal government, the colossal political machines, the tidal wave of dark money, and the most dangerous domestic censorship system ever created by man,” Trump said.
“We will be attacked. We will be slandered. We will be persecuted … but we will not be intimidated.”
Among the clutch of legal challenges shadowing Trump, who survived two impeachments trials during his presidency, is an investigation into his handling of classified documents at the Mar-a-Lago resort, and the ongoing Department of Justice (DOJ) and House select committee probes into his role contesting the 2020 election results and Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
While Bannon and Ellis believe that criminal probes will fade away in the wake of Trump’s presidential bid, Patel was less ready to make a judgment on how the DOJ probes could impact his candidacy.
“There are very few people in America, even former federal prosecutors, that can answer that question because I just don’t know that it’s been done in recent time or around the same subject matter,” Patel said, noting the unprecedented nature of the probes into a former president.
Whether it’s legal impediments or others, Ellis believes that Trump will not let anything stand in his way.
“He’s waited two years to make this announcement. He’s basically been campaigning for reelection since Jan. 20, 2021, so this wasn’t a surprise,” she said.
“The left has been using and weaponizing any mechanism of law enforcement and Congress oversight to try to continue to take him down, and he has withstood all of their attacks, all of their caucuses, all of the impeachment, everything that has come his way, so I think that’s only made him stronger.”
‘Saddled My Horse’
From the Trump circle, the confidence remains that he is formidable against competition from intraparty challengers, such as the newly reelected Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his one-time running mate former Vice President Mike Pence, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Other Republican presidential hopefuls are not expected to announce their bids until well into the new year.
By launching his campaign early, Trump could lock in endorsements before others enter the fray and showcase his enduring appeal.
While the announcement has ignited opposition from some Republicans who believe that conservatives should move on from Trump, he is still the de facto leader of the Republican Party, his allies say.
Since Tuesday, his press team has touted backing from more than a dozen elected officials, including Rep. Elise Stefanik, who on Tuesday won another term as House GOP conference chair.
Lindell, for one, suggests “anybody that’s thinking about running for president against Donald Trump in the Republican Party” should “just forget about it, turn around and endorse him because that’s what the people want.”
“He’s got a strong campaign, strong message in a massive grassroots organization,” said Bannon. “People will run against him, but at the end, he will be the nominee.”
And Nehls believes that Trump, who won 74 million votes in 2020 which is 13 million more than in 2016, will weather the challenge from the left as well.
“Why would the left be so afraid of this if they crushed him so bad in 2020? It’s because he is the leader of our party. He’s coming back,” he said.
To the GOP lawmaker, no candidate in the yet-to-be-determined Democratic field, including President Joe Biden, would be able to triumph over Trump. “He’s gonna beat them all,” Nehls said.
“I saddled my horse. I believe Donald Trump can ‘make America great again,’ again.”