'We're here:' Donald Trump hits the campaign trail again in New Hampshire, South Carolina
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Donald Trump resumed public campaigning Saturday with renewed attacks on long-standing targets: President Joe Biden, the 2020 election, federal and state prosecutors, and a lengthening list of Republican opponents.
“We will do it again,” Trump told supporters while introducing his “South Carolina Leadership Team” during an event at the statehouse in downtown Columbia, capping a day-long trip that also took him to New Hampshire; both states hold early primaries in the 2024 presidential election.
In an earlier speech to members of the New Hampshire Republican Party, Trump said: “So, we're here and we start, we begin.”
The trip comes after more than two months of political turmoil for Trump following his mid-November announcement of a 2024 campaign. A rising number of Republicans say the former president cannot win next year and the party should look for another standard-bearer.
"We just want the best normal candidate," New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu told NBC News in the days before Trump's visit.
Among Trump's themes on a renewed campaign:
In rambling speeches in both South Carolina and New Hampshire that bounced rapidly from topic to topic, Trump berated Biden and other Democrats as "radical” leftists who have pursued bad policies.
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Trump criticized the president over border security, military aid to Ukraine, election rules, drug trafficking, education, energy, military policy and son Hunter Biden's business practices.
While bemoaning Biden's presidency, the ex-president again made false claims about the administration of the 2020 election, despite a lack of proof about systematic voter fraud.
Biden and his allies say they aren't worried about the prospect of running again against Trump, noting that they defeated him in 2020.
Democrats mocked Trump’s events. South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Trav Robertson, Jr., noting that former Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina and maybe Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., might challenge Trump, said his state “is sure to be ground zero for MAGA Republicans’ race for the MAGA base as they push for increasingly extreme abortion bans and tax giveaways to their special interest donors.”
As some Republicans wonder if Trump will soon be campaigning while under criminal indictment, Trump has braced supporters by claiming that law enforcement officials are biased against him.
Prosecutors in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., are investigating Trump over efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden, activities that led to the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, 2021. Yet another investigation involves Trump's handling of classified material.
On that last item, Trump noted to supporters in his Saturday speeches that Biden recently turned over classified documents improperly in his possession.
One difference between the cases: Trump has been accused of obstruction of justice over refusing to turn over documents to the National Archives. That refusal led to the highly publicized search of his Mar-a-Lago home in South Florida, another subject of Trump's stump speeches in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
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Target: Other Republicans
Prominent Republicans are considering runs against Trump, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Trump's former vice president Mike Pence. Other potential Trump opponents reside in the states he visited Saturday: Haley and current New Hampshire governor Sununu.
Trump did not single out any potential challengers during his speeches, but he did denigrate the Republican field as a whole. Noting that no other Republican challenged him in 2020, Trump said in New Hampshire that "I don't think we have competition this time either, to be honest."
With primaries still a year away, polls are all over the place on Trump and his place in the Republican Party.
A few days before Trump's trip to New Hampshire, a University of New Hampshire poll showed him trailing DeSantis by double digits, 42% to 30%.
Meanwhile, a New Hampshire Journal/Coefficient poll gave Trump a 37%-26% lead over the Florida governor. The same poll also said that, asked to pick between Trump and "someone else," 43% went with the ex-president while 42% went with the alternative.
Two months of turmoil
The day-long trip to two early-primary states comes more than two months after Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign.
Those two months have also featured a bevy of political problems.
Some Republicans blamed Trump for the party's disappointing showing in the 2022 congressional elections, including a failure to win control of the U.S. Senate. Other Republicans cite the many criminal investigations hovering around the former president.
Trump also took heat over a November dinner he hosted featuring anti-Semitic rapper Ye and white nationalist Nick Fuentes.
Different kind of events
Trump has yet to schedule one of the mass political rallies that fueled his presidential campaigns in 2016 and 2020.
On Saturday, he went for more traditional types of campaigning with the keynote address at the winter meeting of the New Hampshire Republican Party and the event at the statehouse in Columbia, S.C.
Discussing rallies during the New Hampshire event, Trump told supporters: "We're going to do them soon."
South Carolina GOP skepticism
Katon Dawson, a former South Carolina Republican Party chairman, said party members in his state are looking for alternatives to Trump. Many hope that Haley jumps into the race.
"They think it's time for the next generation to step up," said Dawson, who did not attend the Trump event.
Dawson said Trump will still be a formidable candidate in 2024. The ex-president will likely retain a strong base of support that could add up to 35%-36% of the vote, enough to win a primary with four or five more candidates who could split up the anti-Trump vote.
"As there are no runoffs in presidential primaries, all Trump needs is a crowded primary in the first ten states," Dawson said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump hits campaign trail in New Hampshire, South Carolina