Why Donald Trump can say he’ll be the 47th president of the United States — without having to declare himself an official candidate

Trump

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a “Save America” rally in Florence, Ariz., on January 15, 2022.AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
  • Former President Donald Trump this week all but declared he’ll run for president in 2024.

  • But experts say it takes more than hints for him to be legally required to register with election regulators.

  • Trump gains advantages by delaying a formal announcement that he’s running for office, some experts say.

Clad in a white polo shirt and red “Make America Great Again” hat, Donald Trump lined up to hit a golf ball.

“First on tee — 45th president of the United States,” a man off-camera declares in a now-viral video.

Trump then interjects: “The 45th and the 47th.”

It’s the latest in a litany of hints, suggestions, and near-declarations that Trump’s offered about whether he’ll run for president in 2024.

But Trump must make more than a few indicative remarks for the federal government to require him to officially register as a presidential candidate and begin adhering to financial disclosure and fundraising limit requirements, election experts say.

“There’s no law against joking, bloviating, speculating, or predicting, said Brad Smith, chairman and founder of the Institute for Free Speech and a former Federal Election Commission chairman.

To become an official candidate, Trump needs to put money where his mouth is.

He would have to raise or spend more than $5,000 specifically in support of a presidential campaign effort to officially register as a presidential candidate, according to Federal Election Commission guidelines.

Even though Trump has conducted campaign-style political rallies and raised tens of millions of dollars for his collection of post-presidential political committees — most notably, Save America PAC — he hasn’t expressly declared that these committees exist in service to his presidential ambitions.

“If he starts to spend money pursuing a run for office, that could trigger candidacy,” Ken Gross, former associate general counsel of the FEC, wrote in an email to Insider. “Making such a statement on a golf course, possibly in jest, about becoming the 47th president doesn’t quite get you there.”

While many election experts say the golf course comment is not enough to force Trump to register as an official presidential candidate, some have warned that if he keeps making these comments, his own mouth could force his hand to decide on whether he will register.

“This was just an offhand comment …But if Trump were to make more statements like that, especially in a public forum, then it becomes more likely that he would cross the threshold into a candidate status,” said Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at Campaign Legal Center.

Ann Ravel, another former FEC chairwoman who now lectures at Berkeley Law, wrote to Insider that Trump is already getting close to the blurry line between candidate and non-candidate.

“This appears to be a decision to run, since he did not qualify it by saying ‘if I run’ — but stated that he planned to be the 47th President. So if he starts raising money, he must register as a candidate to disclose all his expenditures and contributions,” Ravel said.

Trump

Donald Trump is seen in his office in Trump Tower in Manhattan, N.Y., in 2012.Jennifer S. Altman/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

‘He will be the nominee’

Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based Republican strategist, previously told Insider that Trump might be holding off his announcement to run for office for many reasons, including pending legal investigations, financial concerns, and health reasons.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told Insider on Wednesday, “Well, I think that if he’s healthy, he will.”

“If he wants to run, he will be the nominee, in my judgment,” Gingrich said. “And the odds are pretty good he’ll win.”

Trump is still a favorite among potential 2024 Republican presidential candidates. Fifty-seven percent of Republican voters supported him to lead the GOP presidential ticket, according to a Harvard CAPS/Harris poll shared with The Hill.

Trump’s recent comments hinting at another run for office come at a crucial time while Trump is aggressively fundraising for the Republican Party and his own PACs.

Save America, Trump’s flagship political action committee, had more than $90 million in reserve as of June 30, latest FEC filings show.

Trump is also the animating force behind the Make America Great Again Action super PAC, which may raise and spend unlimited sums of money. Trump can personally use so long as he’s not a declared candidate.

The former president is expected to appear in Houston to attend the “Save America” rally over the weekend. Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Attorney General Ken Paxton are also expected to make an appearance and speak at the event, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Election experts told Insider that there are financial benefits to Trump holding off his announcement to run for office.

“Before he becomes a candidate, he can be more involved with the operation of the super PAC. Once he becomes a candidate, then he can only raise and spend money,” Fisher said.

Presidential campaign committees are also subject to fundraising restrictions that other kinds of political committees — particularly super PACs — are not.

For example, an individual donor can contribute a maximum of $5,800 to a single presidential campaign — $2,900 toward the primary, $2,900 toward a general election.

The same donor could give more to a PAC or a party committee — and give any amount they want to a super PAC.

Eliza Relman and Jake Lahut contributed to this reporting.

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