Trump confronts the obstacles of 2024 as he returns to the campaign trail

(Bloomberg) — Donald Trump ran headlong into some of the biggest challenges he’ll face in his comeback bid — waning enthusiasm among Republicans seeking to leave the former president and rising rivals for the GOP nomination — as he heads into the 2024 campaign reached on the road for the first time.

Most read from Bloomberg

Trump visited two crucial states for early ballots on Saturday, New Hampshire and South Carolina, trying to quell criticism that his campaign has been lackluster since announcing his third bid for the White House last November.

“They said, ‘He’s not campaigning’… ‘He’s not holding rallies’… ‘Maybe he’s lost that step,’ Trump told the New Hampshire Republican Party’s annual meeting in Salem. “I’m angrier and more committed now than ever before.”

Trump also promised his rivals would bring the campaign to him, saying “We’re not going to play preemptive defense like in football” and “we’re going to win and we’re going to win a lot.”

But early signs on the path show a different landscape for Trump. He held smaller events than his signature rallies that drew thousands of fervent supporters, and Republicans who once accepted Trump as the undisputed head of the GOP are increasingly looking to alternatives like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to participate to the race.

Trump addressed a small crowd in the South Carolina state capitol at an event designed to show his support in the early state primary and even dabbled in a bit of retail politics he neglected in his last campaign, stopping at a ice cream and fried chicken restaurant in Western Columbia.

“He remains a dominant figure, but no longer owned by the Republican Party,” said Tom Rath, a former New Hampshire attorney general who has advised several presidential campaigns. “If he goes in there and thinks he’s going to do the same thing he did six years ago, I think he’s mistaken.”

Polls already show that Republican voters are seeking alternatives to Trump, with DeSantis leading the way. A University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll on Thursday showed him leading Trump by 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 match.

Trump attempted to belittle DeSantis during the trip by telling reporters on his plane that the Florida governor would be “deeply disloyal” by taunting him. Trump also criticized DeSantis for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, saying the governor had closed down the state “for a long period of time,” CNN reported.

Other Republicans considering a 2024 bid 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 Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina.

Rath said he thinks there is a real possibility that New Hampshire’s popular Republican Governor Chris Sununu will also challenge Trump. In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Sununu filmed the former president’s performance in his state.

“He’s coming to New Hampshire, and quite frankly, he’s giving a very mundane speech. The response we received is: He read his teleprompter, he stayed with 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 it was a little disappointing in many ways for some people.

At the South Carolina event, Trump unveiled his campaign team there, including U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, Gov. Henry McMaster and three U.S. House Representatives. But even as 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 planned engagement. Haley, who initially said she wouldn’t run if Trump did, has more recently said she’s considering a 2024 bid again.

“It’s not surprising that South Carolina is quiet around this event and this announcement,” said Amanda Loveday, a Democratic adviser at Columbia. “Nikki Haley has been very outspoken about her thought process about announcing the presidency, and she’s 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 flees, I think it will be a broken state in the sense of who supports whom.”

Trump announced his bid in November, a week after the midterms, expecting to enter the race backed by a strong Republican showing. But the results, with the GOP winning only a slim majority in the House and defeating many of Trump’s hand-picked candidates, undermined his launch and any sense of inevitability that the nomination was up for grabs.

“There’s a sense that at this point, Donald Trump won’t just announce the nomination and will have no resistance,” Robert Oldendick, professor emeritus of political science at the University of South Carolina, said of Trump’s position.

Even among Republicans who favor Trump, there is a sense that his campaign could falter.

“I honestly think if DeSantis ran, he could potentially remove Trump from the top spot,” said Carl Broggi, the senior pastor of Community Bible Church in Beaufort, South Carolina.

Trump promised his supporters on Saturday that his large rallies would begin “very soon” as he is on his way to reconnecting with voters.

The former president has also released policy 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 from person to person,” Sununu said on CNN.

Most read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2023 Bloomberg LP

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *