(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump said he is “more committed” than ever to his bid to retake the presidency, brushing off criticism of his campaign launch as he sought to re-energize voters in the early primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina.
“They said, ‘He’s not campaigning’… ‘He’s not doing rallies’… ‘Maybe he’s lost that step,’ Trump said in an address Saturday to the New Hampshire Republican Party’s annual meeting in Salem. “I’m more angry now and I’m more committed now than I ever was.”
Trump’s 2024 bid suffered a rocky start as people panned his speech when he announced his third presidential run in November and called his campaign launch lackluster. Key political figures in all-important Iowa also won’t return his calls.
Trump’s visits on Saturday sought to find some of that old magic in two pivotal early primary states.
In New Hampshire, he announced that outgoing state GOP Chairman Stephen Stepanek will be the senior adviser for his campaign there. Later at a rally in Columbia, South Carolina, Trump unveiled his campaign team for that state, which includes US Senator Lindsey Graham, Governor Henry McMaster, Lieutenant Governor Pamela Evette, and US Representatives Joe Wilson, Russell Fry and William Timmons.
Graham said in a brief address to a small crowd at the state capitol that Trump “did it once, he can do it again,” and he touted the former president’s foreign policy achievements while in office.
“We live in a dangerous world right now,” Graham said. “The good news for the Republican Party, there are many talented people for years to come, but there is only one Donald Trump. And I say this sincerely, you can talk about his policies, but you could not do what he did.”
Not all Republicans in New Hampshire and South Carolina are rushing in for a Trump embrace.
GOP strategists say the former president maintains support among the hard-core backers that gave him primary wins in those two states in 2016, but there are signs voters may prefer alternatives such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to enter the race.
“He remains a dominant figure, but not in possession of the Republican Party anymore,” said Tom Rath, the former New Hampshire attorney general who has advised multiple presidential campaigns. “He’s coming to a very different New Hampshire political environment than what he was used to before.”
Trump won a crowded New Hampshire primary in 2016 with about 35% of the vote and the South Carolina GOP race with 33%.
A University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll released Thursday showed DeSantis leading Trump 42% to 30% among likely primary voters. A survey of likely GOP voters by the South Carolina Policy Council found that only 37% think the party should nominate Trump in 2024. In a head-to-head matchup, DeSantis out-polled Trump 52% to 33%.
Still, former New Hampshire GOP Chairman Fergus Cullen says the devotion of Trump’s staunch supporters shouldn’t be underestimated. In a crowded field, Trump may need only a third of the vote to win the New Hampshire primary again.
“His supporters are open to dating somebody else, but it’s not like they’re really looking to dump him,” said Cullen.
Resistance to Trump
Trump has the backing of about a third of South Carolina GOP voters, estimates Katon Dawson, a former state GOP chairman. That might be enough to win a crowded primary, but there is room for another candidate to peel away support, he cautioned.
Dawson is backing Nikki Haley if she runs. Haley would be a formidable candidate in South Carolina as a popular former governor, who also served as UN ambassador under Trump. She said in 2021 she wouldn’t run if Trump did but has since said she’s seriously considering a 2024 bid.
“There is this feeling that at this point, Donald Trump is not simply going to announce and have the nomination without any resistance,” said Robert Oldendick, emeritus professor of political science at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
Other Republicans considering 2024 bids include former Vice President Mike Pence; former Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, who released a book this week; former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who attended this week’s Republican National Committee meeting in California; and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, who did not attend Saturday’s event. A Scott spokesman said the senator had a previously scheduled engagement.
Trump launched his third White House bid expecting he would be capitalizing on a Republican “red wave” in the midterm elections. Instead, he was widely blamed for the GOP’s disappointing results when his hand-picked candidates lost key races. He didn’t follow his announcement with any major campaign events outside Florida.
Read more: Trump Backing Is ‘Kiss of Death’ as Republican Criticism Grows
In a Jan. 19 post on Truth Social, Trump acknowledged his campaign is viewed as lackluster but said the election is still “a long time away” and promised “MANY GIANT RALLIES and other events coming up soon.”
Carl Broggi, the senior pastor at Community Bible Church in Beaufort, South Carolina, said Trump’s support among evangelical voters in the state remains strong after he got three new Supreme Court justices on the bench and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
But Broggi said Trump hasn’t been as firm as DeSantis on sexual orientation and gender-identity issues and had hurt his standing when he said in an interview that some evangelical leaders were disloyal for not immediately backing him.
“I think honestly if DeSantis ran, he could potentially remove Trump from the first-place spot,” Broggi said.
(Updates with South Carolina rally starting in fifth paragraph.)
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.