Donald Trump, the defeated, twice-impeached former president facing mounting legal and political peril, on Tuesday night at his private club in Florida announced that he’s running yet again. The campy-but-iconic escalator ride in Trump Tower this was not.
The more-than-hour-long speech was a low-tone version of what Trump’s been saying for years: His failures are not failures — they’re successes. His losses are not losses — they are wins. “I am a victim,” he said. “I am a victim.” Everything is good when he’s in charge, and everything is awful when he is not. “America’s comeback starts right now,” he said in maybe his most energetic line of the night, but he couldn’t avoid the reckoning of the midterms — that voters across the country aren’t necessarily looking to him to lead it. At one point he unwittingly admitted his apocalyptic depiction of “a failing nation” beset by “hardship, anxiety and despair” is not the United States that most people seem to see. “The citizens of our country have not yet realized the full extent and gravity of the pain our nation is going through,” he said. “But they will.”
What was most striking, though, about this event in the gilded, garish ballroom at Mar-a-Lago was not what he said or how he said it. The Trump aesthetic has always been a mask, a glitzy, gaudy cover for his angry, brawling approach, and these images by the inimitable photographer Mark Peterson capture the ways in which his most obdurate supporters have adopted that paradoxical style as their own: biker vests and brick-wall-patterned suits, bedazzled brooches and purses, a “Let’s Go Brandon” tattoo. On vivid display in this chapter of Trump’s life and political rise and (perhaps) fall was a crowd that was thick with ride-or-die conspiracists and conspicuously light on more prominent and powerful figures from the party he once totally held in his thrall.