COLUMBIA, South Carolina - For the first time since announcing his intention to run for president again in 2024, former U.S. President Donald Trump walked the campaign trail on Saturday. He visited two states with early voting, despite criticism that his campaign has gotten off to a poor start.
Before making an appearance with his leadership team in Columbia, South Carolina, Trump told a small gathering at the annual convention of the New Hampshire Republican Party in Salem, New Hampshire, "I'm angrier now, and I'm more dedicated now than I ever was."
The activities on Saturday were much more subdued than the boisterous rallies that Trump frequently hosts in front of thousands of supporters.
Trump spoke in front of 200 people at Columbia's state capitol building, flanked by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and Governor Henry McMaster.
A growing number of political figures have raised doubts about Trump's capacity to defeat Democratic President Joe Biden if he decides to run again, as is generally anticipated. Trump was once the unquestioned leader of the Republican Party.
Republican candidates, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is largely seen as Trump's strongest danger, are debating whether to run for president.
Leading Republicans in both of the states that the former president visited, including Chris Sununu of New Hampshire and Nikki Haley of South Carolina, are considering running for office themselves.
In South Carolina, there were many notable omissions, including the state party chairman, five of the state's Republican U.S. congressmen, and U.S. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who has himself been mentioned as a future Republican presidential contender.
To ease their worries, Trump assured the audience that he anticipated a tsunami of further support from South Carolina's state and federal politicians in the coming days.
According to a person with knowledge of the preparations, several Republican state politicians opted not to go after failing to secure guarantees from Trump's campaign that their attendance would not be seen as an endorsement.
Although he declared himself a supporter of the former president, William Oden, the chairman of the Republican Party in Sumter County, South Carolina, said he was keeping his options open.
Oden stated, "I haven't made a decision." We're holding off until everyone exits. "And just as in business, I wait to make a decision until after we have heard from all the contenders."
DESANTIS IN YOUR EYES?
Trump reiterated several of the issues that drove his 2016 campaign during both of his appearances on Saturday, including harsh criticism of China and illegal immigration.
He did, however, also place a strong emphasis on social concerns, probably in response to DeSantis, whose unrelenting focus on cultural conflicts has contributed to the rise of his national image.
The former president blasted the teaching of critical race theory, a hitherto obscure academic idea that has provoked school board protests and classroom bans in several states, as well as transgender rights in Columbia.
Trump declared, "We're going to get the Marxist hands off our kids, and we're going to stop the left-wing extreme racists and perverts that are attempting to indoctrinate our youth."
"We're going to disprove the gender ideology cult and assert that God only made males and females." "Men won't be permitted to participate in women's sports."
Trump did not spend a lot of time discussing his complaints about the 2020 election, but he did allude to his untrue assertion that the election was rigged against him by calling it "stupid."
Trump has kept a quiet profile ever since he started his campaign in November. Early in January, he called several conservative Republicans serving in the House to convince them to support an ally, Kevin McCarthy, for speaker.
Most ignored his pleas, but McCarthy eventually won the election after a bloody struggle.
Trump continues to enjoy a sizable base of support, especially from the working class. While he trails DeSantis in some head-to-head surveys, he triumphs by sizable majorities when poll participants are given a wider range of choices.
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