Trump on the brink?

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump is bored at Mar-a-Lago and anxious to get back in the political arena — as a candidate, not a kingmaker — but advisers are divided over whether he should launch a third bid for the presidency as early as this summer.

While many Trump confidants believe he should wait until after November’s midterm elections — and caution that he has not yet made a final decision about running — some say he could move more quickly to harness supporters and deny fuel to the busload of GOP hopefuls in his rearview mirror.

“I’ve laid out my case on why I think he should do it,” said longtime Trump adviser Jason Miller, who traveled with the former president to a rally in Wyoming over Memorial Day weekend. “I think that there being clarity about what his intentions are [is important] so he can start building that operation while it’s still fresh in people’s minds and they’re still active — a lot of that can be converted into 2024 action.”

A second adviser, who believes Trump should pause until the more traditional post-midterm period, said the former president, famous for his lack of impulse control, is nonetheless likely to jump in “sooner rather than later.”

Both said Trump has gathered a wide range of views.

One question is “whether he can sort of suppress his excitement about a 2024 rematch and not, say, go ahead and put that statement out … and waits for a big event, a big speech to do it,” the second adviser said. “A betting person says he’s doing it — and he also wants to crowd out the rest of the field.”

Two people in Trump’s orbit told NBC News they had been asked informally to hold July 4 as a date for a possible announcement, but Miller — noting that Trump hasn’t yet decided to run — said it is “not true” that the day has been reserved, even unofficially, for a launch. 

Taylor Budowich, a spokesman for Trump, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the divide.

Trump’s decision, and its timing, promise to define the playing field for Republicans’ efforts to oust President Joe Biden in 2024, and there is reason for him to feel greater urgency in recent weeks.

While he casts a longer shadow over his party than that of any former president in modern times, the footsteps of 2024 Republican hopefuls are growing louder. Several of them have visited early primary states, endorsed candidates in the midterms or delivered high-profile speeches designed to elevate their standing in the party.

That pack includes Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

There is also an emerging dynamic in which his favorites in multi-candidate races often fail — win or lose — to finish with as much as one-third of the vote. Some Republican operatives see that as a sign that his influence on the GOP electorate has diminished, to say nothing of his standing with a broader public that voted him out of office less than two years ago.

Perhaps more important, Trump is frustrated by the ennui of engaging mostly through midterm endorsements for candidates he hardly knows, especially when — as has happened in several recent high-profile primaries — they lose.

But as much as Trump is tantalized by President Joe Biden’s struggles in office — and his own impatience — there are plenty of reasons to hold off, Trump allies and Republican strategists say.

If Trump announces a bid, his campaign committee will be subject to hard-money fundraising limits and a technical ban on coordinating with his Save America SuperPAC. He would also undoubtedly focus public attention away from Republicans running in midterm races, potentially hurting the party’s candidates in swing districts and states. And he might inadvertently aid Biden by giving the president a contrast point.

“The clearest, cleanest path is to have a cage-match rematch,” the second adviser said. “If you have that rematch too early, it could actually help Biden a little bit. … Trump in modest doses has been good for Trump.”

There is precedent for a once and possibly future president — and for the prospect of a Trump-Biden rematch. In 1892, former President Grover Cleveland defeated President William Henry Harrison, who had unseated Cleveland in 1888.

That was one of six times in U.S. history that a candidate tried to unseat the incumbent president who beat him four years earlier, not counting the elections George Washington won before parties were organized. The first was in 1800, when Thomas Jefferson avenged his loss at the hands of President John Adams. The most recent: Dwight Eisenhower’s consecutive wins over Democrat Adlai Stevenson II in 1952 and 1956.

In four of the six contests, the challenger won.

In recent months, Trump has teased audiences at his rallies by suggesting that he will, in fact, run in 2024.

“The truth is: I ran twice, I won twice and I did much better the second time,” Trump said at a March rally in Georgia, repeating the lie that he was victorious in 2020. “And now we just may have to do it again.”

For now, he is soliciting and receiving counsel, both on whether he should run and — if he does — when he should jump in.

“He always seeks advice from the unlikeliest of places and a very wide pool of voices,” said Miller, who declined to go into the details of his own discussions with Trump on the matter. “I very much want him to run again in 2024.”