‘South Carolina picks presidents’: Trump kicks off 2024 bid; visits SC State House

Former President Donald Trump kicked off his 2024 campaign Saturday, highlighted by an afternoon stop at the South Carolina State House.
Published: Jan. 28, 2023 at 8:34 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 30, 2023 at 8:27 AM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - Former President Donald Trump kicked off his 2024 campaign Saturday, highlighted by an afternoon stop at the South Carolina State House.

Trump started his first public campaign event by picking Gov. Henry McMaster to head his campaign’s South Carolina leadership team. The staff also includes U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and two South Carolina congressmen.

“We’ve been friends almost since the minute we met [gesturing towards McMaster]; we wanted him to endorse me, and I wanted to take his endorsement; I didn’t have the endorsement from the person that, for a period of time, was a little bit above him and that worked out very well for me,” Trump remarked, referring to former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is rumored to also make a run for president.

The former president embarked on two campaign events Saturday; before coming to the State House, Trump was the keynote speaker at the New Hampshire GOP’s annual meeting. The states hold two of the party’s first three nominating contests, giving them enormous power in selecting its nominee.

“So the famous saying goes South Carolina picks presidents, Trump said. “You’ve heard that a little bit before. In 2016, this state did exactly that giving us 44 out of 46 counties, and I can’t wait because the answer is we’re gonna get 46 this time. I think we’re getting all 46; I have a feeling.”

Trump and his allies hope the events showed force behind the former president after a sluggish start to his campaign that left many questioning his commitment to running again. “Why isn’t he campaigning? There must be something wrong; I said it’s two years till the election, give me a break,” Trump remarked, in regard to that critic.

In recent weeks, his backers have been reaching out to political operatives and elected officials to secure support for Trump’s reelection at a critical juncture when other Republicans are preparing their own expected challenges.

“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,” Trump claimed. “The 2024 election is our one shot to save our country, and we need a leader who’s ready to do that on day one.”

Along with McMaster and Graham, several members of the state’s congressional delegation attended Saturday’s event. But Trump’s team has struggled to line up support from state lawmakers, even some who eagerly backed him during previous runs.

Some have said that more than a year out from primary balloting is too early to make endorsements or that they are waiting to see who else enters the race. Others have said it is time for the party to move past Trump to a new generation of leadership.

Graham asked the crowd of over 300, how many times they heard someone say they liked Trump’s policy but we want someone new; he answered rhetorically by saying, “There are no Trump policies without Donald Trump.”

“I was there,” Graham said. “You wanna know why $400 billion dollars was given by NATO nations? Cause he asked and there were afraid to say no. ...We live in a dangerous world right now, the good news for the Republican party? There are many talented people for years to come. But there is only one Donald Trump.”

During the almost hour-long event, the former president touched on a myriad of topics, but one key focus for him, just like it was in 2016, was the southern U.S. border.

“Under Biden, fentanyl, heroin, meth and other lethal drugs are pouring across a wide open border tearing families and communities apart; drug overdose deaths are up to 13% in South Carolina last year; and the reason is the drugs are just pouring in at levels 10 times what they were two and a half years ago,” Trump claimed.

Another big talking point for the former president was, as he said, “resorting parental rights.”

“We will protect parents’ rights, we will bring them back,” Trump said. “That includes direct elections of public school principals by the parents. As I announced this week I will cut federal funding for any school pushing for sexual or political content on our children.”

The South Carolina event, at a government building, surrounded by elected officials, is in some ways off-brand for a former reality television star who typically favors mega rallies and has tried to cultivate an outsider image. But the reality is that Trump is a former president who is seeking to reclaim the White House by contrasting his time in office with the current administration.

Rallies are also expensive, and Trump, who is notoriously frugal, added new financial challenges when he decided to launch his campaign in November, far earlier than many allies had urged. That leaves him subject to strict fundraising regulations and bars him from using his well-funded leadership PAC to pay for such events, which can cost several million dollars.

Trump’s nascent campaign has already sparked controversy, most particularly when he had dinner with Holocaust-denying white nationalist Nick Fuentes and the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, who had made a series of antisemitic comments. Trump also was widely mocked for selling a series of digital trading cards that pictured him as a superhero, a cowboy and an astronaut, among others.

At the same time, he is the subject of a series of criminal investigations, including a probe into the discovery of hundreds of documents with classified markings at his Mar-a-Lago club and whether he obstructed justice by refusing to return them, as well as state and federal examinations of his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

While Trump remains the only declared 2024 presidential candidate, a host of potential challengers, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, are widely expected to launch campaigns in the coming months.

Early polling shows Trump is a favorite to win his party’s nomination.