(Bloomberg) — Donald Trump has run head-first into some of the biggest challenges he will face in his return bid — fading enthusiasm among Republicans looking to transition from the former president and rising rivals for the GOP nomination – as he hit the 2024 campaign trail for the first time.
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Trump visited two crucial early voting states on Saturday, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and sought to squash criticism that his campaign has been lackluster since announcing his third run for the White House last year. November.
“They said, ‘He’s not campaigning’… ‘He’s not having rallies’… ‘Maybe he’s lost that step,’ Trump said at the New Hampshire Republican Party’s annual meeting in Salem. “I’m angrier now and I’m busier now than I’ve ever been.”
Trump also vowed to get his rivals to bring him the campaign, saying, “We’re not going to play defense preemption like they do in football” and “we’re going to win and we’re going to win big.”
But the early signs on the trail show a different landscape for Trump. It has held smaller events than its signature rallies that have drawn thousands of ardent supporters, and Republicans who once accepted Trump as the undisputed GOP head are increasingly looking to alternatives like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to attend at the race.
Trump spoke to a small crowd in the South Carolina state capitol at an event meant to show his support for the start of the state primary and also made some retail politics that he overlooked in his latest campaign, stopping at an ice cream and fried chicken restaurant in Western Columbia.
“He remains a dominant figure, but he’s no longer in the possession of the Republican Party,” said Tom Rath, a former New Hampshire attorney general who advised several presidential campaigns. “If he walks in there thinking he’s going to do the same thing he did six years ago, I think he’s going to be wrong.”
Polls already show Republican voters eyeing alternatives to Trump, with DeSantis leading the pack. A poll by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center on Thursday showed him leading Trump 42% to 30% among likely primary voters in the state. The South Carolina Policy Council found the governor ahead of Trump in a head-to-head matchup by 52% to 33%.
Trump tried to play down DeSantis during the trip, telling reporters on his plane that the Florida governor would be “very disloyal” in challenging him. Trump also criticized DeSantis for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, saying the governor had shut down the state “for an extended period of time,” CNN reported.
Other Republicans considering 2024 bids include former South Carolina Governor and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley; former Vice President Mike Pence; former Secretary of State Michael Pompeo; former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson; and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott.
Rath said he thinks there’s a real possibility that popular Republican Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire will also challenge Trump. In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Sununu panned the former president’s appearance in the state of him.
“He’s from New Hampshire and, frankly, he gives a very banal speech. The response we got is that he read his teleprompter, stuck to talking points, walked away,” Sununu said. seen in ’16 I think, in many ways, it was a little disappointing for some people.
At the South Carolina event, Trump introduced his campaign team there, including US Senator Lindsey Graham, Governor Henry McMaster and three US House Representatives. But even though he was joined by members of the state’s political establishment, the event was relatively low-key and marked by the absence of Haley and Scott.
Scott’s campaign said he had an engagement scheduled in advance. Haley, who initially said she wouldn’t run if Trump did, recently said she’s reconsidering a 2024 bid.
“It’s no surprise that South Carolina is quiet about this event and announcement,” said Amanda Loveday, a Democratic consultant in Colombia. “Nikki Haley was very vocal about her thought process about her announcement for president, and she is very popular in this state, as is Tim Scott.”
“I think people still want to wait and see who else comes in,” she said. “Whoever races, I think it’s going to be a fractured state in the sense of who supports who.”
Trump announced his bid in November, a week after the midterm, expecting to enter the race buoyed by a strong Republican showing. But the results, which saw the GOP take only a slim majority in the House and many of Trump’s handpicked candidates defeated, undermined his casting and any sense of inevitability that the nomination was his for the taking. .
“There is a feeling that at this point Donald Trump is not going to just announce and get the nomination without any resistance,” Robert Oldendick, professor emeritus of political science at the University of South Carolina, said of Trump’s stance. .
Even among Republicans who view Trump favorably there is a sense that his campaign may falter.
“I honestly think that if DeSantis runs, he could potentially remove Trump from the top spot,” said Carl Broggi, senior pastor of Community Bible Church in Beaufort, South Carolina.
Trump promised supporters on Saturday that his large rallies would begin “very soon” as he moves to reconnect with voters.
The former president has also released political videos, much like a traditional candidate, on immigration and other issues, including one calling for new restrictions on Chinese ownership of US infrastructure, farmland and other assets.
“Even if you are the former president, you have to come and earn it person to person,” Sununu told CNN.
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