Donald Trump was supposed to walk onstage in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, deliver four pages of prepared remarks to announce that he is running for president, give the crowd a wave, and smile.
It didn’t quite happen that way.
Instead, after descending into the lobby on an escalator with wife Melania, Trump took the stage Tuesday and immediately veered off script, diving into a rambling speech that bore little resemblance to the one that had been emailed to reporters.
Still, the simple announcement that the self-promoting businessman is entering the 2016 GOP primary field was the most stunning part. Although Trump has made noises about running in past elections, spent months this time hiring staff, traveling to early voting states and going through the motions of mounting a campaign, few people believed he would actually go through with it.
“We need someone who can take the brand of the United States and make it great again,” Trump said. “I am running for president of the United States, and we will make America great again.”
Even The Donald himself seemed like he couldn’t quite believe it.
“All of these politicians that I’m running against now — it’s so nice to say, ‘I’m running,’ not ‘If I run,’” he reflected, interrupting his own remarks.
Should Trump mount an even halfway serious campaign for the presidency, his candidacy could have significant implications on the Republican nominating process.
Trump has said he will self-fund his candidacy, for example, which would allow him to remain in the race without courting big donors, at least until the first Republican debate in August.
“I’m really rich,” he reminded the crowd.
Only the top 10 GOP candidates in national polling will be invited onto that main debate stage (though the host, Fox News, has added a second forum for those who don’t make the cut). If it were held today, Trump would make it onstage — and Carly Fiorina, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich would not.
On Tuesday, Trump gave party members a preview of what they might expect of their newest candidate for president.
He criticized Obamacare and in particular the website Healthcare.gov, saying, “I have so many websites all over the place.”
He promised to “build a great wall” along the southern border of the U.S. to stem illegal immigration from Mexico — “and no one builds walls better than me, believe me,” Trump added. “I will do it very inexpensively. I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”
He cautioned that President Obama should not strike a nuclear deal with Iran (“If he makes that deal, Israel maybe won't exist very long”) and he warned against the global influence of China, sort of: “I’m not saying they’re stupid. I like China. I just sold an apartment for $15 million to somebody from China. Am I supposed to dislike them?”
Trump’s announcement speech cut a stark contrast with the campaign launch one day earlier by Jeb Bush, one of the frontrunners in the GOP race. Taking advantage of the timing, the Democratic National Committee released a tongue-in-cheek statement welcoming Trump’s “much-needed seriousness.”
“Today, Donald Trump became the second major Republican candidate to announce for president in two days,” said DNC press secretary Holly Shulman. “He adds some much-needed seriousness that has previously been lacking from the GOP field, and we look forward hearing more about his ideas for the nation.”
Trump took advantage of that timing, too, attacking Bush for his support of the Common Core education standards.
“I don’t see how he can get the nomination,” Trump said. “How the hell do you vote for this guy?”
Some observers might be asking the same question about the real estate mogul and reality TV show star. There are many questions surrounding Trump’s candidacy, including whether he will file the necessary personal financial disclosures with the Federal Election Commission. On Tuesday, Trump said he will release a financial summary that puts his net worth at around $9 billion, although a similar summary put out by him in 2011 included a valuation of his “brand” at $3 billion. (And Forbes put his net worth at closer to $4.1 billion on Tuesday.)He also promised to file paperwork with the FEC, and said he will not need any extensions. He must do so prior to the first Republican debate in order to participate.
Either way, Trump will head to the key early voting states this week to kick off his Oval Office bid – which promises to be one of the more unpredictable and zany of this election cycle, if Tuesday’s speech was any indicator.
“Sadly, the American dream is dead,” Trump concluded. “But if I become president I will bring it back, bigger and better and stronger than ever before.”
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