(Bloomberg) — Donald Trump said he is “busier” than ever in his bid to retake the presidency as he tries to re-energize voters in the early primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina.
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“They said, ‘He’s not campaigning’… ‘He’s not rallies’… ‘Maybe he’s lost that stride,’ Trump said in a speech Saturday 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’s 2024 bid got off to a rocky start as people panned his speech when he announced his third presidential run in November and called his campaign launch lackluster. Even key political figures in all-important Iowa won’t return his calls.
Trump’s visits on Saturday sought to recapture some of that old magic in two pivotal early primary states.
In New Hampshire, he announced that outgoing GOP Chairman Stephen Stepanek will be the senior adviser for his campaign. Later, at a rally in Columbia, South Carolina, Trump unveiled his campaign team for that state, which includes US Senator Lindsey Graham, Governor Henry McMaster, Lieutenant Governor Pamela Evette and US Representatives Joe Wilson, Russell Fry and William Timmons.
Graham said in a short speech to a small crowd in the state capitol that Trump “did it once, he can do it again,” and touted the former president’s foreign policy accomplishments while in office.
“We live in a dangerous world right now,” Graham said. “The good news for the Republican Party, there are a lot of talented people for years to come, but there is only one Donald Trump. And I mean it honestly, you can talk about his policies about him, but you couldn’t do what he did.”
Not all Republicans in New Hampshire and South Carolina are rushing for a Trump hug.
GOP strategists say the former president maintains support among diehard supporters who gave him primary victories in those two states in 2016, but there are signs voters may prefer alternatives like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to participate in the race.
“He remains a dominant figure, but he’s no longer in the possession of the Republican Party,” said Tom Rath, the former New Hampshire attorney general who advised several presidential campaigns. “He’s coming into a very different New Hampshire political environment than he was used to before.”
Trump won a crowded New Hampshire primary in 2016 with about 35% of the vote and South Carolina’s GOP race with 33%.
A University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll released Thursday showed DeSantis leading Trump 42% to 30% among likely primary voters. A poll of likely GOP voters by the South Carolina Policy Council found that only 37% think the party should nominate Trump in 2024. In a heads-up, DeSantis outscored Trump 52% to 33%.
However, former New Hampshire GOP chairman Fergus Cullen says the devotion of loyal Trump supporters shouldn’t be underestimated. In a crowded field, Trump may only need a third of the vote to win the New Hampshire primary again.
“His supporters are willing to date someone else, but it’s not like they’re really trying to dump him,” Cullen said.
Resistance to Trump
Trump has the support of about a third of South Carolina’s GOP voters, estimates Katon Dawson, a former state GOP chairman. That might be enough to win a crowded primary, but there’s room for another candidate to wrestle support, he cautioned.
Dawson supports Nikki Haley if she runs. Haley would be a formidable candidate in South Carolina as a popular former governor, who also served as a United Nations ambassador under Trump. She said she would not run in 2021 if Trump did, but she has since said she is seriously considering a 2024 bid.
“There is a feeling that at this point Donald Trump will not just announce and win the nomination without any resistance,” said Robert Oldendick, professor emeritus of political science at the University of South Carolina in Colombia.
Other Republicans considering 2024 bids include former Vice President Mike Pence; former Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, who released a book this week; former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who attended this week’s Republican National Committee meeting in California; and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, who did not attend Saturday’s event. A spokesperson for Scott said the senator had a previously scheduled engagement.
Trump launched his third bid for the White House expecting to capitalize on a Republican “red wave” in the midterm elections. Instead, he has been widely blamed for the GOP’s disappointing results when its hand-picked candidates lost key races. He did not follow up his announcement with any major election events outside of Florida.
Read more: Trump’s support is the ‘kiss of death’ as Republican criticism mounts
In a Jan. 19 post on Truth Social, Trump acknowledged that his campaign is seen as lackluster, but said the election was still “a long way off” and promised “MANY GIANT COMMUNIONS and other events to come.”
Carl Broggi, the senior pastor of Community Bible Church in Beaufort, South Carolina, said support for Trump among evangelical voters in the state remains strong after he got three new Supreme Court justices and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
But Broggi said Trump hasn’t been as firm as DeSantis on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity and hurt his position when he said in an interview that some evangelical leaders were being disloyal for not immediately supporting him .
“I honestly think that if DeSantis runs, he could potentially remove Trump from the top spot,” Broggi said.
(Updates with South Carolina rally starting in fifth paragraph.)
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