Trump kicks off active campaigning with events in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
He trails in N.H. polls and lags in S.C. endorsements.
According to Politico, by this time in 2019 nine Democrats had entered the race for their party’s presidential nomination. As of now, I know of only one Republican who is officially running for president — Donald Trump.
Politico argues that the GOP field is “frozen,” primarily due to uncertainty about Ron DeSantis:
"Everyone not named DeSantis is having a hard time figuring out their way around him. So they are waiting for him to screw up or fade," said Republican strategist Scott Jennings. "So far, he's doing neither."
I have no inside information about the state of play, but I imagine that most big GOP donors are waiting on DeSantis, and won’t commit to supporting anyone else until they see whether he (1) enters the race and (2) has “screwed up or faded.”
Most big donors probably view DeSantis as the party’s best bet, either on his merits or because he’s best positioned to defeat Trump. Unless an alternative candidate to DeSantis and Trump can count on significant financial support, it’s natural that he or she will hesitate to enter the race, especially with polls showing that DeSantis and Trump leave everyone else in the dust.
Trump hasn’t hesitated. He entered the race months ago and is kicking off his campaigning this weekend with stops in New Hampshire and South Carolina. (He received a boost when Facebook and Instagram allowed him to advertise on their platform, thus boosting his ability to raise money at the grassroots level.)
In New Hampshire, though, a new poll shows the former president trailing DeSantis. The survey, by the University of New Hampshire, has the Florida governor in front with 42 percent support. Trump is next at 30 percent, followed by Nikki Haley at 8 percent. No one else reaches 5 percent.
Readers may recall that New Hampshire gave Trump his first win in 2016, following his defeat by Ted Cruz in the Iowa caucuses. Trump never really looked back after his Granite State victory. Losing New Hampshire this time around would be a blow.
In South Carolina, Trump has secured endorsements from Lindsey Graham and the state’s governor, Henry McMaster. Graham was once John McCain’s close friend and sidekick. That Trump’s denial of McCain’s heroism, among other things, hasn’t stood in the way of Graham’s embrace of Trump tells us plenty about the South Carolina Senator’s character.
The endorsements by Graham and McMaster count for something. But they haven’t caused the rest of state GOP heavy hitters to fall in line. According to the Washington Post:
Advisers to Donald Trump have blanketed South Carolina Republican officials with pleading phone calls in recent weeks in an effort to drum up endorsements and attendees for the former president’s first campaign swing of the 2024 cycle next week.
But the appeals have run headlong into a complicated new reality: Many of the state’s lawmakers and political operatives, and even some of his previous supporters, are not ready to pick a presidential candidate.
Part of the reluctance to endorse Trump stems from the fact that Nikki Haley and Tim Scott, the state’s favorite daughter and son, are considering a run for the nomination. There’s more to it, though:
Dave Wilson, president of Palmetto Family Council, an influential evangelical group, said “there is more than a little bit of softening” of Trump support in South Carolina, saying many had been turned off by some of his recent comments, including questioning the loyalty of evangelical voters. Wilson said many evangelicals in the state wanted to wait and see who got into the race.
“A lot of people recognize the importance of the Trump presidency who are stepping back and are saying, ‘Is there another standard-bearer for the party and the issues we believe in?’ Someone who can carry us not just four more years, but eight more years and create momentum,” he said.
Some have singled out DeSantis as that “someone.”
According to the Post, a number of key state Republicans will not attend Trump’s rally. State party chairman Drew McKissick is said to be among them. Not long ago, this could not have happened.
To be fair, though, it could have happened in the summer of 2015. Trump gained the GOP nomination in 2016 not because state party bigwigs backed him, but because the rank-and-file did.
Let’s see what the rank-and-file’s turnout and level of enthusiasm is this weekend.
The rank and file didn't back Trump in 2016. He got 32% of the vote in South Carolina while getting 100% of the delegates.
Everyone waits for DeSantis - even the Democrats, I suspect. Given that it is in his interest to be coy, how long can DeSantis hold off announcing one way or the other?