Donald Trump sought to galvanise support for his third bid for the White House on Saturday amid criticism that his campaign is off to a slow start, saying he was “more angry” and “more committed” than ever.
Speaking in New Hampshire at the first of a pair of uncharacteristically low-key events in critical early-voting states, the former president, who announced his candidacy more than two months ago, defended his yet uncontested run for the Republican party’s 2024 presidential nomination.
“They said: ‘He’s not doing rallies, maybe he’s lost that step.’ I’m more angry now and I’m more committed now than I ever was,” Trump told state party officials at a high school in the city of Salem.
“This is it,” Trump added. “We’re starting right here as a candidate for president.”
Trump later appeared in South Carolina, a state which proved crucial to him becoming the Republican nominee in 2016, in what had been described as an “intimate” event inside the state capitol building.
In South Carolina, he vowed to increase security at the border with Mexico, “unleash American’s vast energy resources”, and end the “weaponisation of our justice system”. He reiterated his pledge to cease federal funding for schools that “push” what he called “leftwing gender ideology” and critical race theory.
“We handed Biden a great economy, the fastest economic recovery ever recorded . . . but now families are being crushed,” he said.
The events mark a departure from the frenzied rallies attended by thousands of people that had become part of his political brand. Trump on Saturday said he has “huge rallies planned — bigger than ever before”.
The absence of a number of high-profile Republicans and state officials on Saturday has also raised questions about the extent of support behind Trump’s 2024 bid, especially given that many of his handpicked candidates fell short in last November’s midterm elections.
Prominent Trump critic Chris Sununu, New Hampshire’s Republican governor who won re-election last November by a wide margin and has toyed with his own presidential campaign, did not attend the event in Salem. In December, he told CBS that the party needed to find another candidate.
“I don’t think he can win in November of ‘24,” he said of Trump. “I think most people would agree, he’s just not going to be able to close the deal”.
South Carolina governor Henry McMaster and US Senator Lindsey Graham attended Trumps’ event later on Saturday, but notably absent was former governor Nikki Haley and current US Senator Tim Scott. Both are widely reported to be considering their own White House bids.
Recent opinion polls still show Trump as one of the most popular contenders among likely Republican voters, but he has lost ground to Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor who won re-election in a landslide victory in November. A poll released by the University of New Hampshire this week showed DeSantis garnering 42 per cent of likely Republican primary voters in the state, compared to 30 per cent for Trump.
An outside group supporting DeSantis is planning to spend $3.3mn over the next six months to boost his national profile, fuelling expectations he will challenge Trump for the frontrunner spot.
Since announcing his presidential plans late last year, Trump and his business empire have suffered a string of political and legal defeats. After a multiyear fight that at one point involved the Supreme Court, House Democrats in December released six years of his tax returns, which showed he paid just $1.8mn in federal income tax between 2015 and 2020.
Earlier in the month, the bipartisan congressional committee that probed the January 6 attack on the US Capitol also said Trump should be prosecuted for assisting the insurrection to overturn the 2020 election results. It said he should face criminal charges for obstructing an official government proceeding, conspiring to defraud the US and knowingly making false statements to authorities.
That was preceded by a conviction by a New York jury, which found the Trump Organization guilty of running a 13-year tax fraud scheme.