SALEM, N.H. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump kicked off his 2024 White House bid with a stop Saturday in New Hampshire before heading to South Carolina, appearances in early-voting states marking the first campaign events since announcing his latest run more than two months ago.
"We're starting. We're starting right here as a candidate for president," he told party leaders at the New Hampshire GOP's annual meeting in Salem before a late afternoon stop in Columbia to introduce his South Carolina leadership team.
I'm more angry now and I'm more committed now than I ever was.
Trump and his allies hope the events will offer a show of force behind the former president after a sluggish start to his campaign that left many questioning his commitment to running again. In recent weeks, his backers have reached out to political operatives and elected officials to secure support for Trump at a critical point when other Republicans are preparing their own expected challenges.
In New Hampshire, Trump promoted his campaign agenda, including immigration and crime, and said his policies would be the opposite of President Joe Biden's. He cited the Democrats' move to change the election calendar, costing New Hampshire its leadoff primary spot, and accused Biden, a fifth-place finisher in New Hampshire in 2020, of "disgracefully trashing this beloved political tradition.”
“I hope you’re going to remember that during the general election,” Trump told party members. Trump himself twice won the primary, but lost the state each time to Democrats.
While Trump remains the only declared 2024 presidential candidate, potential challengers, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who was Trump's ambassador to the United Nations, are expected to get their campaign underway in the coming months.
In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and several members of the state's congressional delegation plan to attend Saturday's event at the Statehouse.
Trump's team has struggled to line up support from state lawmakers, even some who eagerly backed him during previous runs. Some have said that more than a year out from primary balloting is too early to make endorsements or that they' are waiting to see who else enters the race. Others have said it is time for the party to move past Trump to a new generation of leadership.
Dave Wilson, president of conservative Christian nonprofit Palmetto Family, said some conservative voters may have concerns about Trump's recent comments that Republicans who opposed abortion without exceptions had cost the party in the November elections.
It gives pause to some folks within the conservative ranks of the Republican Party as to whether or not we need the process to work itself out," said Wilson, whose group hosted Pence for a speech in 2021.
But Gerri McDaniel, who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign, rejected the idea that voters were ready to move on from the former president. “Some of the media keep saying he’s losing his support. No, he’s not," she said. “It’s only going to be greater than it was before because there are so many people who are angry about what’s happening in Washington.”
The South Carolina event, set for a government building, was in some ways off-brand for a onetime reality television star who typically favors big rallies and has tried to cultivate an outsider image. Rallies are expensive, and Trump added new financial challenges when he deciding to begin his campaign in November — far earlier than many had urged. That leaves him subject to strict fundraising regulations and bars him from using his well-funded leadership political action committee to pay for such events, which can cost several million dollars.
Trump's nascent campaign has already sparked controversy, most particularly when he had dinner with Holocaust-denying white nationalist Nick Fuentes and the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, who had made a series of antisemitic comments. Trump also was widely mocked for selling a series of digital trading cards that pictured him as a superhero, a cowboy and an astronaut, among others.
At the same time, he is the subject of a series of criminal investigations, including one into the discovery of hundreds of documents with classified markings at his Florida club and whether he obstructed justice by refusing to return them, as well as state and federal examinations of his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.
Still, Trump remains the only announced 2024 candidate, and early polling shows he's a favorite to win his party's nomination.
“The gun is fired, and the campaign season has started,” said Stephen Stepanek, outgoing chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party. Trump announced that Stepanek will serve as senior adviser for his campaign in the state.'