Former U.S. president Donald Trump hit the campaign trail in his third bid for the White House over the weekend, making stops in a pair of key primary states – including South Carolina – in an effort to reassert his dominance over the early-voting Republican electorate.
An “invitation-only” crowd of approximately 200 people gathered inside the upper lobby of the S.C. State House – in the shadow of a statue of former vice-president John C. Calhoun – to hear Trump lay out his case for a second, non-consecutive term in office.
“Every day in America has become April Fool’s Day,” the 45th president said, referring to the administration of his successor, U.S. president Joe Biden. “This campaign will be about the future – this campaign will be about issues. Joe Biden has put America on the fast track to ruin and destruction and we will ensure that he does not receive four more years.”
If Trump wants a rematch with Biden, though, first he must fend off challenges from within his own party – including a potential bid from former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley.
As I noted last month, Trump has seen his star fade among GOP voters nationally following the 2022 midterm elections. Several recent polls have shown his top potential 2024 rival – Florida governor Ron DeSantis – besting him in a hypothetical contest between the two candidates.
(Click to view)
DeSantis is also encroaching on Trump in the Palmetto State. According to a recently released poll from the Atlanta, Georgia-based Trafalgar Group, the 44-year-old Jacksonville native is backed by 27.8 percent of the state’s GOP electorate – putting him just 15.6 percentage points behind Trump.
U.S. senator Tim Scott was backed by 14.3 percent of South Carolina Republican voters, while Haley came in fourth with 11.6 percent support.
The former president was flanked by his top two Palmetto State supporters – the reflexively obedient governor Henry McMaster and the opportunistically mercurial U.S. senator Lindsey Graham – during his South Carolina visit.
McMaster dutifully nodded, smiled, clapped and laughed on cue. When it was his turn to speak, he offered the following endorsement: “We believe in common sense, we believe in the Declaration of Independence, we believe in the Constitution, we believe in the Bible and we believe in you.”
Trump spent a great deal of his address hammering away on energy issues.
“Just like I did last time, I will unleash America’s vast energy resources,” he said. “It’s all-invasive. This is a big thing – energy.”
The former president also vowed to “knock the hell out of inflation,” pointing out that “families are being crushed with real wages down 21 months in a row.”
Trump specifically vowed to help middle class families in South Carolina – although it is worth recalling he reneged on his 2016 promises to target tax relief to the middle class.
Trump also hearkened back to another another familiar theme – border security and his much-ballyhooed wall (another promise that didn’t exactly pan out).
“Lethal drugs are pouring across our wide open borders,” he said, vowing to “impose criminal penalties on any future administration” that eroded America’s borders.
In addition to McMaster and Graham, Trump was flanked by S.C. lieutenant governor Pamela Evette, treasurer Curtis Loftis, congressmen Joe Wilson, Russell Fry and William Timmons, former lieutenant governor Andre Bauer, former U.S. attorney Peter McCoy and former ambassador to Switzerland Ed McMullen.
“These are friends of mine, they’re great politicians” Trump said. “We’ve got tremendous support – I think we’ve got tremendous support all over the country.”
To view Trump’s full remarks, click here.
Trump gave a good speech. The problem? We’ve heard it before. In 2016. And Trump absolutely failed to deliver.
Contrary to his campaign promises, Trump was absolutely terrible on bread and butter fiscal issues. In fact, he stayed terrible on the fiscal front right up to the bitter end of his administration – which is one reason the pre-Covid economy failed to grow as fast as it could have (and part of the reason we are dealing with the runaway inflation he is now vowing to “knock out”).
Nonetheless, his allies remain firmly in his corner – and are clearly eager to dispel the notion that the party needs new blood.
“People say ‘we like Trump policies but we want someone new,'” Graham said during his remarks. “There are no Trump policies without Donald Trump.”
Trump’s visit to early-voting South Carolina wasn’t his only campaign stop of the day. Prior to visiting the State House, Trump attended the New Hampshire GOP’s annual meeting in Salem, New Hampshire. There, he vowed to protect the Granite State’s first-in-the-nation primary status.
““From the very beginning, I’ve strongly defended New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary status,” he said. “I’ve been your defender, and I’ve refused to let any Republican … even think about taking that cherished status away.”
Trump also claimed Democrats’ recent decision to move South Carolina ahead of New Hampshire on their primary calendar was a vindictive move on Biden’s part.
“Joe Biden lost it badly, and it was a very tough time,” Trump said. “He had a humiliating fifth place defeat, and now he’s taking a revenge on the voters of your state by cruelly and disgracefully trashing this beloved political tradition.”
“I hope you’re going to remember that during the general election,” Trump told New Hampshire voters.
Again, though … first he’s got to win the GOP nomination.
Trump is currently the only announced GOP presidential candidate. He won the Palmetto State’s “First in the South” presidential primary in 2016 as an outsider – en route to his upset victory over former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Four years later, in 2020, the SCGOP controversially canceled its quadrennial election as a sop to Trump even though he had primary opposition (including former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford).
THE POLL …
Who is your 'First in the South' Republican presidential primary choice?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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