With stops in New Hampshire and South Carolina, former President Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign was supposed to calm skeptics and alienate potential challengers, but so far it has failed to do so.
In a state filled with political heavyweights, with some presidential contenders of their own, Trump fielded a South Carolina campaign leadership team full of influential allies, from Gov. Henry McMaster (R-SC) to Sen. Lindsey Graham ( R-SC). with the intention of warning future opponents.
However, the maneuvers did little to bolster confidence in the former president’s prospects.
“He’s trying to fake something. It’s almost like that [attempt at] channeling 2016, and it just doesn’t work,” said one former adviser. “The spirits are not with him.”
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Instead of giving Trump the momentum that helped propel his victories through the nation’s first Republican primary states as he headed toward the 2016 nomination, the launch appears to be boosting his potential rivals.
Trump is expected to face a field of challengers for the 2024 nomination, a point of comparison for aides eager to draw parallels with the former president’s insurgent campaign in 2016. He divided the field into the race, another point supporters emphasize and that the former president seems encouraging.
Trump told reporters aboard his plane that Nikki Haley, a former South Carolina governor and Trump official, had called him to say she was considering an offer. Trump said he encouraged it despite his one-time promise not to run against him, according to Politico.
Haley, who finished third in a poll of Republican primary voters in New Hampshire this week, could make her announcement next month, according to a Dispatch report.
It’s not just Haley who is showing signs of strength.
Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) leads Trump by 12 percentage points in the same University of New Hampshire poll, 42% to 30%. While DeSantis has been broadly consistent in the poll since 2022, Trump is showing a decline.
The governor emerged as Trump’s strongest potential challenger as Florida Republicans swept to victory in the midterm elections, defying the party’s lackluster results and several of the former president’s high-profile endorsements.
But while Trump may be hoping for a repeat of his past successes, a Republican campaign operative said that while he easily swept the state’s first wins in his last two presidential bids, today he faces considerable headwinds.
“In South Carolina, in 2016, it went through the primary,” said a former Trump campaign operative. “There was no real competition for him.”
As Trump crafts his state-by-state strategy, there are obstacles today that may be more difficult to overcome, this person said.
“They want more young people, they want less baggage, they want to put it in the rearview mirror,” said the source, who called that widespread sentiment among state agents and power brokers that will prove critical to establishing a strong game in South Carolina. . and beyond.
“This comes down to a pissing match between the people and the machine of Henry McMaster and the old machine Nikki Haley, which she kept intact,” the source said, with the dynamic pushing for greater disorder if the Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) enters the field. race as expected.
“The donors are completely divided in South Carolina. The power brokers are divided. The base will be confused,” this person added. “It’s going to be a mess.”
Haley highlighted some of the dynamic weight on the political establishment when she called for a generational shift in a recent interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier. “We have lost the last seven out of eight popular votes for the presidency. It’s time to bring in a new generation,” Haley said.
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The push comes at a time when Trump, who will be 78 by the time of the 2024 election, may find it harder to overcome concerns about his age.
The former president already sees that access to him is limited by aides who fear the inconvenience of an unscripted moment.
Trump’s phone sends calls from numbers not in his contacts directly to voicemail, a change that came after the former president “created some political heartburn for Republicans” with a smooth interview during the Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) fight for Speaker of the House, according to a report in the New York Times.