SALEM, N.H. – Former President Donald Trump took aim at his potential rivals for the Republican presidential nomination as he kicked off a new phase of this 2024 White House campaign with a stop in the state that first launched him towards the presidency.
Pointing to his 2020 renomination as the sitting president, Trump on Saturday recollected during a speech in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state of New Hampshire that he didn’t have much competition.
Then, as he looked to a potential 2024 GOP primary field that might eventually include rivals such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, and other well known Republicans, Trump asserted that ‘I don’t think we have competition this time either to be honest.’
The former president also pushed back against recent criticism from political pundits that the first months of his third White House campaign have been anything but impressive.
‘They said he’s not campaigning… maybe he lost his step,’ Trump said as he imitated his critics.
The former president then stressed that ‘I’m more committed now than I ever was.’
Trump made his comments as he gave the headline address to hundreds of party leaders, elected officials and activists attending the New Hampshire GOP’s annual meeting.
New Hampshire, which for a century has held the first primary in the race for the White House, was the scene of Trump’s first election victory in 2016, igniting him towards the GOP presidential nomination and eventually the White House.
Trump’s visit to New Hampshire — first reported by Fox News earlier this week — was his first stop of the day. He later headed for South Carolina, another crucial early voting state that holds the third contest in the GOP’s presidential nominating calendar, directly after New Hampshire.
The Saturday afternoon gathering South Carolina’s state capitol building — where he is expected to announce his leadership team in the Palmetto State with Sen. Lindsey Graham and Gov. Henry McMaster on hand — will be Trump’s first 2024 campaign event since announcing his candidacy in mid-November at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.
As he builds his leadership teams in the early voting states, the former president announced that Steve Stepanek is ‘coming on board as the senior adviser for my New Hampshire campaign’
Stepanek, a former state lawmaker and businessman who co-chaired Trump’s 2016 campaign in the Granite State, on Saturday finished up four years steering the state party committee.
The former president received a very warm welcome from the crowd in New Hampshire, as Trump supporters and allies have expanded their grip over the state party in recent years.
‘We’re starting right here as a candidate for president…. This is just the beginning of our agenda. I look forward to returning many times,’ Trump touted.
And he predicted that ‘one year from now we will win the New Hampshire primary and the with the help of the good people of this state… we’ll take back the White House.’
While Trump’s the only major Republican to date to launch a 2024 presidential campaign, and while he remains the most popular and influential politician in the GOP and the party’s most ferocious fundraiser when it comes to energizing the grassroots.
But political pundits from both the left and the right torched his campaign launch, and he’s been criticized by Democrats and some Republicans for controversial actions and comments he’s made during the past two months. Plus, in the wake of a lackluster performance by the GOP in the midterm elections — when the party underperformed in what may expected to be a red wave election — Trump has also been blamed for elevating polarizing Republican nominees who ended up losing in November.
While he didn’t take sides in New Hampshire’s combustible GOP primaries in September, the MAGA-style candidates who won the U.S. Senate and both congressional nominations went down in flames in November’s general election.
Two days before the former president’s arrival in the Granite State, a new public opinion poll by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center suggested that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida held a double-digit lead over Trump in a hypothetical 2024 GOP presidential nomination matchup in the first primary state.
DeSantis, whom pundits expect will declare his candidacy for president later this year but who has yet to say if he’ll launch a campaign, stood at 42% support in the survey of likely GOP presidential primary voters in New Hampshire, with Trump at 30%. The poll is energizing DeSantis supporters — including two outside political groups with no ties to governor, one national and one New Hampshire based — which are trying to convince the Florida governor to run for president. Both groups set up booths at the NHGOP meeting in Salem.
Until recently, Trump was the clear and overwhelming front-runner in the early 2024 GOP presidential nomination polls. But in a handful of national surveys released last month, Trump trailed DeSantis, whose standing with conservatives across the country has soared over the past three years. DeSantis was overwhelmingly re-elected in November for a second term leading Florida, a one-time battleground state that’s turned increasingly red the past two cycles.
Trump allies and supporters highlight that public opinion polling has long undercounted the former president’s support, dating back to his first campaign for the White House in 2016.
And Trump, during his comments in New Hampshire, touted his poll position in numerous surveys, claiming that ‘we are so far ahead in the polls.’
The former president took aim at his successor in the White House, criticizing President Biden on multiple fronts, including the current president’s proposal to move New Hampshire down a notch in the Democratic Party’s nominating calendar, which has infuriated both Democrats and Republicans in the Granite State.
Republicans are not altering their nominating calendar, keeping New Hampshire second in their schedule after the Iowa caucuses.
‘I make this solemn pledge — when I’m back in the White House I will ensure that New Hampshire remains the home of the first in the nation Republican primary for many, many years to come,’ Trump highlighted.
Trump’s stops in New Hampshire and South Carolina appear to be a move to plant a flag as his campaign starts to move into a higher gear.
‘It’s going to be the first of many trips,’ Trump campaign senior adviser Chris LaCivita told Fox News. ‘It’s something we’ve been looking forward to do. The early bird gets the worm. It’s all about getting out, organizing, getting your people together, getting them motivated, getting them excited.’
LaCivita emphasized that ‘we’re starting early and starting aggressive and putting this organization together, I think bodes well for the future.’
While Trump was the first candidate to announce, the field for the GOP presidential nomination will likely soon grow. Some of the likely or potential contenders hail from the two states Trump was stopping in on Saturday. Former two-term South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina appear to moving towards launching possible campaigns. And in New Hampshire, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu is also mulling a bid.
‘New Hampshire is full of tire kickers. We love to put candidates through their paces and Donald Trump is no exception to that. He’s going to have to work just like any other candidate who wants to win New Hampshire. He’s certainly shown he can do that. He did that in 2016 pretty handily. And he has without question the best infrastructure of any candidate, so he’s well positioned,’ veteran New Hampshire conservative activist Greg Moore told Fox News.
But Moore, the longtime state director for Americans for Prosperity, emphasized that Trump is ‘still going to have to prove himself to New Hampshire voter just like every other candidate.’