ORLANDO, Fla.— President Trump delivered a fierce denunciation of the news media, the political establishment and what he called his radical opponents on Tuesday as he opened his re-election campaign in front of a huge crowd of raucous supporters by evoking the dark messaging and personal grievances that animated his 2016 victory.
Almost four years to the day since he announced his first, improbable run for public office from the basement of Trump Tower in Manhattan, Mr. Trump mocked and disparaged Democrats, calling them the leaders of an “angry, left-wing mob” and declaring that the 2020 election will be a “verdict on the un-American conduct of those who tried to undermine our great democracy, undermine you.”
He extolled his record as president — the growing economy, the tax cuts and deregulation — but did not offer any new policies or a cohesive agenda for a second term that might expand his political appeal. As he formally declared his intention to run again, he told the audience that his new slogan would be “Keep America Great,” pledging to wage a relentless battle on behalf of his supporters.
“Our political opponents look down with hatred on our values and with utter disdain for the people whose lives they want to run,” Mr. Trump told a packed arena, later mocking Joseph R. Biden Jr., the former vice president and a Democratic rival for the presidency, as “Sleepy Joe.”
But for the most part, Mr. Trump avoided mentioning the nearly two dozen Democrats competing for the right to challenge him, and he resisted the temptation to use his favorite denigrating nicknames.
Mr. Trump had relentlessly hyped Tuesday’s event as a dramatic moment in his journey to a second term. But in the end, it was not so different from the dozens of rallies he has held during the past two years.
Standing in front of a sea of people wearing his signature red “Make America Great Again” hats, Mr. Trump unleashed a torrent of attacks, falsehoods, exaggerations and resentments that were the trademark of his first campaign and have been on almost daily display during his time in the White House. His warning for his voters: The establishment will stop at nothing to rob you of another four years.
“They tried to take away your dignity and your destiny. But we will never let them do that, will we?” the president said, declaring victory over a political machine that opposed his election. “They tried to erase your vote, erase your legacy of the greatest campaign — probably the greatest election in the history of our country.”
Egged on by the enthusiastic crowd, Mr. Trump cited a familiar list of grievances during his 76-minute speech. He railed against the “witch hunt” conducted against him by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and the “18 very angry Democrats” who worked with Mr. Mueller. He insisted — falsely — that Mr. Mueller had cleared him of all wrongdoing in connection with Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and of obstructing the investigation that followed. And he remained fixated on his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, and her “33,000 emails,” once again prompting chants of “lock her up.”
At times, Mr. Trump seemed like any other incumbent president, ticking off a laundry list of claimed accomplishments on veterans’ health care, funding for the military, abandoning the Paris climate accords and defending gun rights. The frenzied crowd seemed to lose some of its passion during those moments.
But he whipped them up again by raising fears about immigrants, spending more time on the centerpiece of his bleak vision of a country under assault than on any other issue. As he has before, he lashed out at Democrats, saying they are to blame for the consequences of letting “aliens” into the country.
“The Democrat agenda of open borders is morally reprehensible,” Mr. Trump said, accusing Democrats of the “ultimate act of moral cowardice” for failing to defend Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. He said the Democratic position on immigration was “the greatest betrayal of the American middle class and, frankly, American life.”
But for Mr. Trump, the rally was the beginning of what polls suggest will be a difficult 18 months as he seeks another four years in the White House. Already trailing Democrats in many voter surveys and having never cracked 50 percent in approval ratings since taking office, Mr. Trump has turned himself into one of the most polarizing presidents in American history.
His decision to formally start his re-election bid in front of a frenzied crowd of die-hard supporters was a clear signal that he has no intention of backing away from his dire warnings about immigration and trade. Nor will he abandon the personal attacks against his critics and the establishment that have supercharged his most loyal fans.
Instead, Mr. Trump is betting that the 2020 campaign will be a “Back to the Future” replay of the 2016 one, when a reality TV star and New York real estate mogul campaigned as a disrupter with nothing to lose and shook the political establishment to its core. This time, though, he will have the full support of the Republican Party.
In his inaugural address, Mr. Trump bragged about having begun a historic movement fueled by the anger and frustration of Americans whose fortunes had been ignored by the establishment. He promised an end to “American carnage” and vowed that the “forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”
To win re-election, Mr. Trump must convince those supporters that he has not forgotten them despite having failed to make good on some of his most important campaign promises: The wall he promised along the border with Mexico is still not built. Obamacare has not been fully repealed. The nation’s infrastructure is still aging and crumbling. The economy is booming, but many people still feel the sting of financial uncertainty.
Giant television screens, food trucks, a band known as the Guzzlers and a celebration of all things Trump turned the 20,000-seat Amway Center into something between a playoff game and a music festival before Mr. Trump strode to the lectern. The president’s supporters stood in a downpour for hours before the main event, waiting to get in.
Some had been die-hard supporters since Mr. Trump opened his previous bid in 2015. Some were newer converts who said they have been convinced over the past four years that his policies have improved their lives.
“I just want to hear what his plans are for the next term,” said Terry Castro, 72, a retired business owner from Florida whose husband served in the military.
That was part of the challenge for the Trump campaign in planning an event for a candidate who has not articulated a clear vision for what he wants to do with a second term.
But for a president who wants to be seen as an outsider despite occupying the Oval Office, the rally presented an opportunity to, at least for one night, turn the clock back to 2015.
This time, the stakes are much higher.
Mr. Trump, after all, has been running for re-election since he moved into the White House: He filed papers with the Federal Election Commission for his re-election campaign on Jan. 20, 2017, the day he was inaugurated. The MAGA rallies he has regularly held in friendly red states have lost their novelty and much of the news media’s interest.
Still, the rally on Tuesday was expected to help consolidate his base in a must-win state where advisers view his poll numbers as too soft to be comfortable. Campaign officials are also hoping that packing the arena, a show of force no Democratic candidate can match, will reassure Mr. Trump, who has been rattled by his flagging poll numbers and frustrated by watching from the sidelines as the Democratic presidential primary race heats up.
Without a new message or a clear agenda for a second term, Mr. Trump’s advisers are banking on the belief that the same basic playbook — Mr. Trump’s preternatural ability to shock and entertain — will again animate his core voters and retain the swing voters who gambled on him in 2016.
It remains to be seen if that strategy will succeed again or whether something new will emerge. “Trump hasn’t yet said how he wants to define the race,” said Jason Miller, a communications adviser on the 2016 campaign.
Yet campaign aides feel confident of his re-election chances, mostly because of their dim view of the Democratic field. And in contrast to 2016, Mr. Trump is backed by an operation that is sleeker and more sophisticated than the ragtag team he ran out of the 26th floor of Trump Tower. The campaign has invested millions of dollars in a digital strategy to harvest email addresses and phone numbers from potential supporters, and to advertise on sites like Facebook and YouTube, where his supporters can be found.
There are some basic principles of Trumpworld that have not changed. The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is overseeing most of the operation, as he did last time. Mr. Trump primarily trusts only his family members and a small handful of other people, and he is a begrudging recipient of bad news.
That point was on public display over the past six weeks, after The New York Times and other outlets reported that early campaign polling from March showed a bleak landscape for the president.
At Tuesday’s rally, Mr. Trump made no mention of disappointing polls, preferring instead to display his trademark bravado. At the end of a speech that spoke almost exclusively to his base, Mr. Trump claimed to have the support of a nation behind him.
“We are going to keep on working,” Mr. Trump vowed. “We are going to keep on fighting. And we are going to keep on winning, winning, winning.”
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