Former President Donald Trump returns Saturday to the state that first launched him toward the presidency, as he takes his latest White House bid into a new more active phase.
Trump, who in November launched his third presidential campaign, will visit New Hampshire, the state that for a century’s held the first primary in the race for the White House. And Trump’s victory in New Hampshire’s 2016 presidential primary rocketed him toward the GOP nomination and eventually the White House.
The former president will deliver the keynote address to hundreds of party leaders, elected officials and activists attending the New Hampshire GOP’s annual meeting, which this year will be held in Salem.
Trump’s stop will come a couple of hours before he heads to South Carolina, another crucial early voting state that holds the third contest in the GOP’s presidential nominating calendar.
That gathering at South Carolina’s state capitol building where he’s 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.
“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.”
The former president is expected to receive a warm welcome from the crowd in New Hampshire, as Trump supporters and allied have expanded their grip over the state party in recent years.
“President Trump has long been a strong defender of New Hampshire’s First in the Nation Primary Status and we are excited that he will join us to deliver remarks to our members,” said Steve Stepanek, who co-chaired Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign in New Hampshire before becoming state party chair two years later.
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, the first two months of his latest White House bid have been anything but spectacular.
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 many 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.
Pushing back on the criticism, LaCivita said the campaign’s “always been real to us. It may not have been quote-un-quote real to the prognosticators that live in the Washington D.C. area. But frankly, we don’t give a damn about them.”
And he highlighted that the campaign’s “executing a plan and it’s a plan based on our own timeline and no one else’s.”
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 holds 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, stands at 42% support in the survey of likely GOP presidential primary voters in New Hampshire, with Trump at 30%. The poll is energizing two outside political groups with no ties to DeSantis – one national and one New Hampshire based – that are trying to convince the Florida governor to run for president – which will have a presence 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.
“DeSantis doesn’t stand a chance in a primary. Donald Trump’s still probably got 35-40% of the vote and in a primary with a bunch of Republicans, he wins,” claimed former state Rep. Al Baldasaro, a former state representative who was a top Trump ally and surrogate in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.
Baldsaro, who attended Trump’s 2024 launch in Florida, believes New Hampshire is still Trump country and that there are plenty of “Trumpers” in the state that don’t advertise their support for the former president.
“He’s motivating the troops that he’s in it – he’s in the run,” Baldasaro said. “I have people calling me and texting me that they want to get involved. I have no doubt in my mind that his trip is going to motivate them to come out and get involved.”
But Trump has plenty of GOP detractors in New Hampshire, starting with the most popular Republican in the state – Gov. Chris Sununu, who won’t be attending the state party meeting.
“The party is not galvanizing all around him,” Sununu said of Trump in an interview with this reporter earlier this month.
Sununu supported Trump during the 2016 general election and again as the then-president unsuccessfully ran for re-election in 2020. However, Sununu has long pushed back against Trump’s unproven claims that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged” and “stolen.” He also started stating in early 2021 that the GOP is larger than any one person, which was perceived as a swipe at the former president.
The governor, who’s mulling a presidential bid of his own in 2024, has repeatedly argued that the GOP should “move on” from Trump and that “there’s lots of other great leaders out there. There’s lots of other great opportunity to bring great ideas and things to the table.”
Veteran New Hampshire based national Republican consultant Jim Merrill noted that “Trump comes into the primary well positioned to succeed but not the force he used to be. It will be a competitive primary and I expect a number of candidates will ultimately run.”
“Increasing it seems like the electorate is ready to look to the future and move forward,” Merrill, a veteran of numerous GOP presidential campaigns, said. “Whether Donald Trump can run a campaign focused on the future and not the past is going to be a question for him about whether he can succeed here or not.”