It was a busy day for former President Donald Trump on Saturday January 28. He began his quest to regain the Oval Office with a campaign double-header in early voting states: New Hampshire and then a small rally in South Carolina. It was the first GOP event in the 2024 presidential primary season with a tight message: “we can do better with me leading the nation.”
Winning these states’ primaries – two of the first three to be held in 2024 – will weed out several weaker candidates and add tremendous momentum to whoever comes out on top.
King Making, American-Style
No Trump event, large or small, escapes controversy. In New Hampshire, Governor Chris Sununu did not attend the event. He is considered a potential presidential contender and has not been a fan of number 45. Last December, Sununu argued that Trump is “not the influence he thinks he is” and that the Republican Party was “moving on.”
Stephen Stepanek, outgoing chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party and brand-new state advisor on Trump 2024, refuted the governor’s assessment: “You have a lot of people who weren’t with him in ’15, ’16, then became Trumpers, then became never-Trumpers,” Stepanek said. “But the people who supported him in New Hampshire, who propelled him to his win in 2016 in the New Hampshire primary, they’re all still there, waiting for the president.”
Trump Comes Out Swinging
Trump plowed through the New Hampshire meeting without a teleprompter: instead, a binder – but it was a rehearsed message, and he used the term “radical Democrats” repeatedly. “These are radical left people. I think in many cases they are Marxists and Communists.” And he declared that the country under Joe Biden is always stuck on “April Fool’s Day.”
He also picked up his signature issue from 2016 and 2020; the lack of security on the US/Mexico border and unchecked illegal immigration. He went so far as to accuse other countries of purposely sending people to the US that were either criminal or mentally ill. “Why would they not empty their prisons and mental institutions,” he asked, “when the stupid people of America will take on that expense?” But Mr. Trump also noted the veritable plague of fentanyl coming over at unchecked points and killing US citizens in every state.
Not everyone was sold on Trump 2024: “President Trump starts the [New Hampshire] primary season as a frontrunner, but his standing isn’t what it once was,” New Hampshire political strategist Jim Merrill said. “There is curiosity among voters and operatives alike to check out the potential field.”
The optics in the Statehouse in Columbia, SC, were absolutely presidential: The pulpit beneath the rotunda was flanked by American flags. Trump swapped the notebook for a teleprompter, and when he took the stage one could almost hear “Hail to the Chief” in the hallowed halls. He stated, “this campaign is about the future; it’s about issues.”
The Palmetto state appeared to energize the former president, and his message was reiterated to cheers and applause. Rumor had it that DeSantis swag and signs were handed out just before rally time to try to upend a frenzied crowd. Along with Trump, Gov. Henry McMaster, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and several state congressional delegation members were in the house to rally the faithful. Not surprisingly, Trump announced McMaster as his new team leader in the state.
But one local political strategist, Rob Godfrey, advised that it was early, and some party people were pumping the brakes and waiting to see who else might announce. “I think there are a fair number of people that are keeping their powder dry because there’s such a deep bench for Republicans this year.”
Those potential, yet unannounced, “deep bench” opponents include former US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and former Vice President Mike Pence.
Trump kept his message: “Under Biden, our nation is being destroyed by a selfish, radical, and politically corrupt establishment.” He then reminded people of the battle over the public education of American children. On Thursday, Trump released an education plan he believes is comprehensive and free of bias and bigotry. He vowed to withhold federal funds from “any school pushing critical race theory, gender ideology, or any other inappropriate content.” And in the same breath promised to hunt down and remove “the radical zealots and Marxists in the Department of Education.”
The New Style of Trump
Trump played to his base and courted the all-important independent swing vote by reminding everyone of the issues at stake: The economy, natural resources, strong military, protecting children and women, classified documents, and freedom. He stuck to the script and inserted his patented snarks but, overall, demonstrated restraint. The new Trump for 2024 he presented was not the same rowdy, opulent, in-your-face guy for whom the Silent Majority fell head over heels in 2016. So will the Independents and gun-shy conservatives see a wolf in sheep’s clothing or decide on a hail Mary pass to return a new, calmer, less bombastic Trump and his governance to the White House? Or will Trump gather steam and go full, well, Trump once he has an opponent?
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