(Bloomberg) – Donald Trump has run headlong into some of the biggest challenges he will face in his return bid – waning enthusiasm among Republicans seeking to move past the former president and growing rivals for the GOP nomination – as he hit the 2024 campaign track for the first time.
Bloomberg’s Most Read
Trump visited two crucial early-voting states, New Hampshire and South Carolina, on Saturday and tried to calm critics that his campaign has been lackluster since announcing his third run for the White House last November.
‘They said, ‘He doesn’t campaign’… ‘He doesn’t do rallies’… ‘Maybe he lost that step,’ Trump said at New Hampshire Republican Party’s annual meeting in Salem . “I’m angrier now and more engaged now than I’ve ever been.”
Trump also vowed to have his rivals campaign for him, saying, “We won’t play preemptive defense like they do in football” and “we’re going to win and we’re going to win real big.”
But early signs on the trail show a different landscape for Trump. He has held smaller events than his signature rallies that have drawn thousands of ardent supporters, and Republicans who once accepted Trump as the undisputed leader of the GOP are increasingly seeking alternatives like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to widely enter the race.
Trump addressed a small crowd at the South Carolina state capitol at an event meant to show his support for the start of the state primary and even did some detail politics that he neglected during his last campaign, stopping at an ice cream and fried chicken restaurant in western Colombia.
“He remains a dominant figure, but more in possession of the Republican Party,” said Tom Rath, a former New Hampshire attorney general who has advised several presidential campaigns. “If he goes 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 considering alternatives to Trump, with DeSantis leading the pack. A poll from the University of New Hampshire Center for Inquiry 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 52% to 33% head-to-head.
Trump sought to diminish 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 shut down the state “for a long time,” CNN reported.
Other Republicans considering 2024 nominations 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 thought there was a real possibility that popular Republican Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire would also challenge Trump. In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Sununu criticized the former president’s appearance in his state.
“He comes to New Hampshire and, frankly, he gives a very mundane speech. The response we got is he read his teleprompter, he stuck to the talking points, he left,” Sununu said. “He doesn’t really bring that fire, that energy, I think, that a lot of people saw in 16. I think in a lot of ways it was a little disappointing for some people.
At the event in South Carolina, Trump unveiled his campaign team there, including U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, Governor Henry McMaster and three U.S. House Representatives. But even though he was flanked 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 a previously scheduled engagement. Haley, who initially said she wouldn’t run if Trump did, said more recently she was considering a 2024 bid again.
“It’s no surprise that South Carolina is quiet around this event and this announcement,” said Columbia Democratic consultant Amanda Loveday. “Nikki Haley has been very vocal about her thought process on the presidential announcement, and she’s very popular in this state, as is Tim Scott.”
“I think people always want to wait and see who else comes in,” she said. “Anyone running, I think it’s going to be a fractured state in the sense of who’s supporting who.”
Trump announced his candidacy in November, a week after the midterm elections, expecting to enter the race supported by a strong Republican performance. But the results, which saw the GOP gain only a narrow majority in the House and many of Trump’s hand-picked candidates defeated, undermined his launch and any sense of inevitability that the nomination was his. .
“There is this feeling that at this point Donald Trump is not just going to 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 could falter.
“I honestly think that if DeSantis showed up, he could potentially take Trump out of the top spot,” said Carl Broggi, senior pastor at Community Bible Church in Beaufort, South Carolina.
Trump promised his supporters on Saturday that his major rallies would begin “very soon” as he prepares 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 infrastructure, farmland and other assets. Americans.
“Even if you are the former president, you have to come and win it person to person,” Sununu said on CNN.
Bloomberg Businessweek’s Most Read
©2023 Bloomberg LP