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Former U.S. President Donald Trump stands onstage with his wife, former first lady Melania Trump, after announcing that he will once again run for U.S. president in 2024.OCTAVIO JONES/Reuters

Seven years ago, he began his drive for the White House with an escalator ride down to the atrium lobby of Trump Tower in New York. When Donald Trump formally began his effort Tuesday night to recapture the presidency, he found himself engaged in an uphill battle.

His announcement was an all-Trump extravaganza: exaggerations and extravagant talk; glitter and grandiosity; gibes and, if you listened closely, jagged shards of jealousy. There was the sense of grievance that follows him like smoke at a campfire, the boasts that rumble through the air like blasts from the brass section of a Big Ten marching band.

Flanked by a spray of American flags and to the crowd’s chants of “USA! USA!” he spoke of “this great movement of ours.” He praised his record as president and criticized Joe Biden and “the radical left lunatics who are running our government into the ground” for inflation, tumult at the southern border and the rise of China’s economic power. He said the country has become “a failing nation.” And he portrayed himself as an underdog, his favoured role, against the Democrats’ plan for “national ruin.”

“America’s comeback starts right now,” he said.

In his Mar-a-Lago setting that possesses the air of being perched on this side of paradise, there were whiffs of F. Scott Fitzgerald everywhere.

His declaration of candidacy took place in an environs that might have brought to mind The Diamond as Big as the Ritz (and that underlined the novel’s theme of wealth and immorality); it was a performance that, in its invocation of 2020, possessed a bit of The Great Gatsby (“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”); and perhaps above all, it had the feel of an old warrior’s battle against the much-debated famous filament of The Last Tycoon (“There are no second acts in American lives”).

Second acts are a familiar element of Canada’s political history; four prime ministers have served nonconsecutive terms, including the two comebacks by William Lyon Mackenzie King. But Fitzgerald had it right, with one exception, in the American presidency; only Grover Cleveland, late in the 19th century, managed to pull it off. In a fashion, Mr. Trump seemed to be hoping to replicate the comeback of Max Pacioretty, the one-time Montreal Canadien captain who sat out the final months of the 2010-2011 NHL calendar after suffering a concussion and a fractured vertebra only to return the next season as the Habs’ points leader.

Yet the 45th president displayed a peculiar sense of timing – though the timing provided peculiar insight into the upheaval that Mr. Trump set in motion the first time he declared for the presidency.

As if there were not sufficient turbulence within the Republican Party, Mr. Trump muscled his way into prominence the very day that his vice-president, Mike Pence, released a memoir highly critical of the Trump effort to overturn the election; the day intraparty tensions bled into public view with bitter challenges to the leadership of Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and presumptive future speaker Kevin McCarthy; and the day Mr. Trump’s likely rival for the GOP presidential nominee, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, spoke at Fort Walton Beach of a “hugely underwhelming, disappointing performance,” a clear barb at Mr. Trump.

It came, moreover, amid a three-day conference of Republican governors meeting 2½ hours away in Orlando; in the same week in which many of his potential rivals for the GOP nomination are scheduled to speak in a forum in Florida; and in a week in which two former presidents are using their institutes – George W. Bush with his “Struggle for Freedom” conference in Dallas and Barack Obama with his “Democracy Forum” in New York – to address attention to threats to democracy, indirect but unmistakable rebuffs of the president who followed them.

And all that just a week after the defeat of every election denier who, often with Mr. Trump’s support, sought but failed to be the top state election official and thus to be in the position to tip Electoral College votes to him in 2024. Plus, one more: his announcement came a day after his one-time ally, the Club for Growth, released a poll showing Mr. Trump trailing Mr. DeSantis in the likely first two political tests of the 2024 political season, Iowa (by 11 percentage points) and New Hampshire (by 15). Nationally, the respected YouGov poll showed Mr. DeSantis ahead 41-39, a slim advantage but one within the margin of error.

Much like an aging chanteuse returning to her one-time hit ballad, Trump continued to press his view that he was a valiant warrior against “corrupt forces and entrenched interests” of a permanent Washington establishment that has battled him and his core of supporters. “This will not be my campaign,” he said. “This will be our campaign.”

But perhaps in the end Mr. Trump took succour from Fitzgerald. It was the great American novelist, after all, who wrote, “you mustn’t confuse a single failure with a final defeat.” The line comes from Tender is the Night, the last book he completed.

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