Trump makes splashy rollout of his SC team at State House amid questions about his support
In his first campaign trip since announcing a 2024 White House bid, former President Donald Trump began his effort to consolidate support in the state that holds the First in the South primary.
In the second floor lobby between the House and Senate chambers and in front of a crowded space of news media, invited and invited guests, Trump announced his leadership team, which includes Gov. Henry McMaster and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of Seneca.
“I respect these people so much, ... and the state so much and God bless you. We need the blessings from God, the country is in big, big trouble,” Trump said. “We’ll turn it around and we’ll turn it around fast.”
While many Republican lawmakers are still waiting to see how the race shakes out before aligning with a candidate, Trump still has support from a handful of statewide elected officials.
Trump was joined by U.S. Reps. Joe Wilson, Russell Fry and William Timmons of South Carolina; Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette; former U.S. Attorney Peter McCoy; former ambassador to Switzerland Ed McMullen and former Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer.
“How many times have we heard, we like Trump policies, but we want somebody else,” Graham said. “There are no Trump policies without Donald Trump.”
Fry, in his remarks introducing the former president, pointed to how Trump’s event drew attendance from several lawmakers to counteract a narrative that Trump has lost support in the state.
“Never before in the history of the South Carolina Republican primary has a presidential candidate received this much support this early in the game,” said Fry, who called the state “Trump Country.”
Among those in attendance were state Reps. Thomas Beach, R-Anderson, Cal Forrest, R-Saluda, Heather Ammons Crawford, R-Horry, and Bill Chumley, R-Spartanburg, and state Treasurer Curtis Loftis.
Beach, who is a member of the House Freedom Caucus, said he is backing Trump’s 2024 bid.
“I think he did a wonderful job,” Beach said of Trump. “I’m sure we’re going to have some really great candidates and iron sharpens iron. But he’s done the job. I’m so proud of him and can’t wait for him to go back to the White House.”
Despite the notable names in attendance, many other elected Republican lawmakers did not attend, citing other commitments on a Saturday afternoon away from the state capitol. They included state Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry.
Trump’s visit to South Carolina comes while he has been unable to consolidate support from the GOP establishment. Other candidates, including former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of Charleston, are considering jumping into the presidential race.
Former state Rep. Katie Arrington, whose unsuccessful Republican primary challenge of Lowcountry Congresswoman Nancy Mace was endorsed last year by Trump, also attended. Arrington stood in line outside of the State House waiting to get in.
Senate President Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee, and Speaker of the House Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, also attended. Smith came with his family, and he told reporters his appearance Saturday was not an endorsement of Trump.
State Sen. Penry Gustafson, R-Kershaw, attended out of respect for the former president.
But Trump acted confident he would get more state lawmakers to back him.
“We’re going to be announcing it over the next couple of weeks,” Trump said. “We have tremendous support. I think we have really tremendous support all over the country.”
Trump won the 2016 South Carolina Republican presidential primary. Winning the Palmetto State is key in the presidential election cycle as GOP primary voters in South Carolina have voted for every eventual nominee since 1980 except in 2012 when Mitt Romney won the nomination.
Trump’s weekend of campaigning included a stop in New Hampshire Saturday before he traveled to South Carolina.
“No other candidate is working this early to win every last vote and save America from (President Joe) Biden’s destruction,” Trump wrote in a fundraising email sent Saturday.
But early polling is mixed, and some believe the GOP may look to move on from the former president.
A South Carolina Policy Council poll found 47% of Republican respondents in the Palmetto State wanted to nominate someone else for president. Trump only had 37% in the poll. In a head-to-head matchup with Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor had 52% of the support to Trump’s 33%.
But a Trafalgar Group poll released Friday shows Trump leading in South Carolina with 43.4%. DeSantis had 27.8% of the support, followed by Scott with 14.3% and Haley at 11.6%.
A January poll of 450 likely primary voters in South Carolina conducted for the Conservative Policy Research Network found Trump leads individual head-to-head matchups against DeSantis, Haley and Scott. Trump also gets a 41% plurality of the support when respondents were asked who they would support if the field included the former president, Haley, DeSantis, Scott, and former Vice President Mike Pence.
“If there are people that are not 100% on board, well, it’s prudent to take your time with your options. But I’m just a big fan, and I firmly believe Trump will do another awesome job,” Beach said.
During his speech, Trump touched on some of his classic issues including drugs coming into the country, rising crime, the Afghanistan withdrawal, high gas prices, and the southern border, and election integrity.
Trump also questioned the prioritization of electric vehicles by the Biden administration.
“We’re going to be sitting on the highway,” Trump said during the 52-minute event. “They’re going to be looking for a little plug-in. Does anybody have a plug-in? My car just stopped? I’ve been driving for an hour and 51 minutes? Ridiculous. They say gas is better, so use whatever you want, but have alternatives. If you want an electric car or an electric stove or range. It’s crazy what they’re doing.”
McMaster has been pushing to grow the electric vehicle industry in the state. In the last several months, McMaster and several businesses announced billions of dollars in investments from the electric vehicle industry. The investments include BMW shifting to making all-electric vehicles at its Upstate facility and two electric vehicle battery component companies opening plants, one in Florence County and one in Berkeley County.
Trump’s event drew others outside
As people waited outside for the doors to open, they lined up along Gervais Street. The Daily Show’s Jordan Klepper and a crew were outside the State House filming a segment for the show.
At one point, a vehicle drove by with the driver blasting the car’s horn and passengers giving the middle finger to those waiting to enter the State House.
While hundreds of Trump supporters flocked to the outskirts of the State House on Saturday, only a handful of protesters gathered, suggesting few critics seemed to care that the former president was in town.
A strong economy, better housing and more jobs were some of the reasons supporters lined up Saturday to tout Trump’s presidency.
“Eggs today are $7 compared to 99 cents under Trump,” said Ida Martin, chairwoman for the Republican Party in Williamsburg County, who added that besides being excited to hear Trump speak, she was happy he was running again.
Another supporter said he tries to follow Trump wherever he goes.
“He owes no one any favors, most people owe him favors and I believe he is the only person on Earth that can clean up Washington D.C.,” said Don Bowne, 75, of Myrtle Beach.
A few protesters, however, opposed Trump’s arrival.
Trump “is the guy who tried to undo democracy in our country,” said Columbia resident Tom O’Brien, 51, who said he rallies at the State House monthly, working to remove the statue of Benjamin Tillman, the former governor and U.S. senator who was one South Carolina’s most racist politicians.
Other protesters said they came out to support the Black Lives Matter movement, saying that Trump being allowed to speak at the public State House was disgraceful.
“Trump promoted racism and called the people in Charlottesville very fine people on both sides, so it’s an insult to people who want racial equity,” said Heather Hawn of Columbia.
Even though some of Trump’s supporters also like Haley and Scott, the former president is their first choice.
“I love (Scott and Haley), but it’s still Trump’s time,” said John Peterson who, although not invited to hear Trump speak, drove up from North Charleston. “President Trump has a track record as president and I thought he did a fantastic job in securing the border.”