Donald Trump began his campaign for the 2024 presidential election with events in New Hampshire and South Carolina on Saturday, saying that “everyday for the United States is April Fool’s Day” under President Biden.Speaking in South Carolina’s state capital, Columbia, his second event of the day, Trump said he would return to the common-sense policies that are missing at present.Since the 2020 presidential election, which he wrongly insists he won, Trump, 76, has staged large scale rallies that have attracted thousands of supporters. The events on Saturday, in two of the states that will hold among the earliest Republican primaries next year, were much smaller in scale.Speaking at the New Hampshire Republican Party’s annual meeting in Salem, Trump insisted he was motivated to win as he embarks on his third White House bid. “I’m more angry now and I’m more committed now than I ever was,” he said.Later, addressing a handpicked audience of senior state Republicans in Columbia, the former president said that Biden, 80, had got almost every policy wrong since taking office.Trump spoke for about 40 minutes in Columbia. A television reporter at the event predicted that about 100 people were present.“People are so discouraged by what has happened to our country. We will complete the unfinished business of making America great again,” he said, using his campaign slogan. “They hit back at that: Maga, Maga, Maga. It means, make America great again. I’ve tried to explain that to them. The Democrats don’t quite get it.”The event in South Carolina was designed to introduce heavyweight local figures who have already thrown their weight behind Trump’s nascent campaign. Both Lindsey Graham, a state senator, and Henry McMaster, the governor, appeared alongside Trump.South Carolina, the first state from the south to choose a candidate, helped to light a fire under Trump’s campaign in 2016. He won the primary, taking about a third of the vote.Similarly, in 2020, South Carolina finally sparked Biden’s campaign into life after he had struggled to gain traction in the earlier Democrat primaries.Trump may have a trickier job in just over a year’s time when the state will hold its 2024 primary. Although he is still the only serious candidate to formally declare, both Tim Scott, the other senator from South Carolina, and Nikki Haley, the state’s former governor and Trump’s ambassador to the UN, could join the race. Both have strong local support.“The reason that Donald Trump is coming to South Carolina is because it’s an important state, but he’s trying to really lock up some of that support,” Alex Stroman, a former executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party, told The Hill website. “And I think that support is fairly soft. I know people who have endorsed him who have felt like they were kind of pressured into it and had to do it, but don’t plan on being with him when the election happens early next year in South Carolina.”The address yesterday gave Trump the opportunity to offer some red meat to the party faithful.“We’re going to end the free reign of violent criminals in Democrat-controlled cities and keep dangerous repeat offenders locked up in jail where they belong,” he promised. “We’re going to stop the left-wing radical racists and perverts who are trying to indoctrinate our youth and we’re going to get their Marxist hands off of our children.“We’re going to defeat the cult of gender ideology and reaffirm that God created two genders, called men and women. It’s ridiculous. We’re going to bust up the censorship regime and bring back free speech. We’re going to find the deep state actors who are buried in the government and fire them.”At several times he referred to the situation on the US’s southern border with Mexico, where millions of undocumented migrants have crossed into America. The Customs and Border Protection agency reported almost 2.4 million “encounters” with undocumented migrants in 2022, a number that Trump said in reality was more than “15 million”. He did produce any evidence to support the assertion.Saying that he felt like it was April 1 every day living in Biden’s America, he listed everything that he argued had gone wrong since he left office two years ago.He accused some top officers in the military of being “woke TV generals”, and said that the withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2020, when 13 members of the military were killed, was “the worst day in the history of our country”.Trump also sought to draw a distinction between the hundreds of classified documents found during an FBI search of his home in Florida, and discovery of similar papers at Biden’s home and at an office he used in Washington after his stint as vice-president.“We have an FBI and a justice department that raids a very secure Mar-a-Lago in Florida, placed under lock and key with additional locks added,” he said. “But then they want nothing to do with Biden’s garage with classified documents just strewn all over a wet floor.”The FBI searched Trump’s home after the justice department grew suspicious that he had not returned all the secret papers in his possession. Biden’s lawyers invited the FBI to search his private home in Delaware last weekend. Agents discovered a number of classified documents that the president’s lawyers had missed during their sweep of the property.Biden is expected to declare his intention to seek a second term at some point soon after his state of the union address to Congress on February 7.Republicans will not begin choosing a candidate to challenge him until February next year, but Trump will face a fight from several other candidates.
While Trump and Ron DeSantis, 44, the governor of Florida, are the favourites, others such as Mike Pence, the former vice-president, and Mike Pompeo, Trump’s secretary of state, are expected to throw their hats in the ring. Scott and Haley, plus a handful of other hopefuls, have backers that believe they can emerge from what is likely to be a crowded field.In an email to supporters yesterday Trump pointed to a poll by Emerson College, released last week, showing the former president leading Biden in a head-to-head race by three points.
The same poll showed Trump holding a 26-point lead over DeSantis among Republicans.DeSantis is expected to formally declare in the summer and most analysts agree that polls can alter wildly between now and when the party chooses its candidate.Republican candidates endorsed by Trump standing in November’s midterm elections had a largely miserable time after backing his notion that the 2020 election was stolen.Several close senate races — particularly in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Georgia — went to the Democrats despite Trump’s explicit backing for the Republican candidate.After the midterms, in which DeSantis won a landslide re-election victory, the Florida governor opened up a sizable poll lead over Trump. One poll for The Wall Street Journal had DeSantis leading by 23 points.