It is, in many ways, the least surprising announcement. On 15 November, Donald Trump, the former US president who lost to Joe Biden in the 2020 election, declared his candidacy for the 2024 presidential race.
In a speech at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, Mr Trump took potshots at the sitting US president and said he would make America “great and glorious again”.
Mr Trump was propelled into the White House in 2016 off the back of social media, particularly his Twitter feed, and built up a powerful database of ardent supporters whom he’s been able to keep in contact with – and solicit political donations through direct emails.
The emails, which pepper supporters’ inboxes seem to work: the former US president has rousted a $92m (£77m) war chest, according to Bloomberg, that enabled him to donate $20m to a political action group (PAC) that supported five candidates in the US midterms held earlier this month.
It seems likely that those millions will not just be used to support Mr Trump’s allies in current election campaigns, but will be put to work enabling the former president to get social media coverage at a time when he is presently still banned from Twitter.
“Trump does not have the same personal online following in 2022 as he once enjoyed after being banned from Twitter in 2021 and indefinitely suspended from posting across Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms such as YouTube and Twitch,” says Liam McLoughlin, lecturer at the University of Liverpool specialising in social media and politics.
Rather than relying on “organic reach” – posting on social media platforms and relying on his followers to amplify his message – Mr Trump could also put some of his war chest towards buying social media adverts. On election day in 2020, the Trump campaign bought the prime advertising spot at the top of the YouTube HomePage – a single online Related purchase that some estimated could have cost $1m.
“There are a range of pro-Trump pages and communities running adverts to support his campaign. These range from free Trump 2024 flags to promoting his speaking engagements,” says Mr McLoughlin. “Going through Facebook Ad library highlights a number of current adverts supporting a future presidential campaign – although if they are acting on behalf of Trump’s team directly is unclear.”
The big question that could prove to dictate Mr Trump’s likely success or failure in 2024 is whether he’s able to borrow social media’s massive megaphone for his benefit. Mr Trump soared to success by bypassing mainstream media – and the scrutiny that they provide – in his successful election campaign. He almost pulled off the same trick in 2020, before being banned from Twitter, which was his main social media platform, for inciting violence in the 6 January insurrection at the US Capitol. At present, Mr Trump is king of his own niche platform, Truth Social, but that has not got anywhere near the same cultural cut-through as Twitter.
The $44bn purchase of Twitter by exuberant South African entrepreneur, Elon Musk, has opened up the possibility that Mr Trump could return. In the weeks following Mr Musk’s purchase of Twitter, he has dallied with interacting with far-right and alt-right accounts that push on pressure points in the culture wars, including Libs of TikTok. Mr Musk also mounted his campaign to take over Twitter based on a policy of free speech maximalism, believing that the platform had overstepped its limits in banning certain accounts.
Mr Musk said in the immediate aftermath of his purchase that he wouldn’t make a decision on big-name account reinstatements like Mr Trump “for a few weeks”, meaning that the former US president could soon return to the platform to energise his base.
Coupled with freewheeling spending of those millions of dollars in reserve on social media adverts that can specifically target swing voters on hot-button issues, it could mean that Mr Trump is well-positioned for the upcoming election cycle.
Improving his potential odds of success is the fact that he’s still held in high regard by influential traditional media power brokers, including Fox News and its hosts. Mr Trump has regularly courted the news broadcaster, giving them exclusive interviews during his presidency and after it. Their support – if given in favour of up and coming rivals like Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis – could help cement his position as the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party in 2024.