Trump kicks off his campaign with low-key events in New Hampshire, South Carolina

By Gram Slattery and Ted Hesson

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (Reuters) – Former U.S. President Donald Trump kicked off the campaign trail on Saturday for the first time since announcing his bid to reclaim the White House in 2024, visiting two early voting states and sidelining criticism that his race was canceled to a slow start.

“I’m angrier now and I’m more engaged now than I’ve ever been,” Trump told a small crowd at the New Hampshire Republican Party’s annual meeting in Salem, before heading to Columbia. , South Carolina, for an appearance alongside his in-state leadership team.

Unlike the raucous rallies in front of thousands of worshipers that Trump often holds, Saturday’s events were notably quiet. In Colombia, Trump spoke to about 200 people in the state capitol building, with Governor Henry McMaster and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina at his side.

Once the undisputed center of gravity of the Republican Party, a growing number of elected officials are concerned about Trump’s ability to beat Democratic President Joe Biden, should he decide to run as expected.

Many Republicans are considering launching their own White House candidacies, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, widely seen as the biggest threat to Trump. Top Republicans from both states the former president has visited — including New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley — are among those weighing their own bids.

There have been several notable absences from South Carolina, including the state’s party chairman, five U.S. Republican representatives from the state, and U.S. Senator from South Carolina, Tim Scott, who himself was billed as potential Republican presidential candidate.

Trump tried to allay those concerns, telling the crowd he expected a flurry of additional endorsements from federal and state lawmakers in South Carolina within days.

Several Republican state lawmakers opted out after failing to get assurances from Trump’s team that it wouldn’t be considered an endorsement, according to a person with knowledge of the planning.

William Oden, the chairman of the Republican Party for Sumter County, South Carolina, said he was a fan of the former president but kept his options open.

“I haven’t decided,” Oden said. “We’re waiting for everyone to come out. And like I would in business, I’m not making any choices until we hear from all the candidates.”


At both stops on Saturday, Trump echoed some of the themes that drove his 2016 campaign, including strong criticism of illegal immigration and China.

But he also emphasized social issues, perhaps in response to DeSantis, whose relentless focus on the culture wars helped build his national profile.

In Colombia, the former president has spoken out against transgender rights and the teaching of critical race theory, a once obscure academic concept that has sparked school board protests and class bans in some states.

“We are going to stop the radical leftist racists and perverts who are trying to indoctrinate our youth, and we are going to take their Marxist hands off our children,” Trump said.

“We will defeat the cult of gender ideology and reaffirm that God created two genders: male and female. We will not allow men to play women’s sports.”

Trump hasn’t spent much time on his grievances over the 2020 election, though he did hint at his false claim that the election was stolen from him, calling the election “ridiculous”.

Since launching his campaign in November, Trump has maintained a relatively low profile. He called several conservative Republicans in the US House of Representatives in early January to persuade them to vote for Kevin McCarthy, an ally, as the new president.

Most dismissed his pleas, although McCarthy was elected to the post after a bloody battle.

Trump retains a large base of support, especially among the base. While he loses in some head-to-head polls to DeSantis, he wins by significant margins when poll respondents are presented with a wider field of options.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery in Columbia, South Carolina and Ted Hesson in Washington; Editing by Ross Colvin, Daniel Wallis and Cynthia Osterman)

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