COLUMBIA, S.C. — Former President Donald Trump over the weekend gave GOP supporters a glimpse into how he plans to freshen up his act and confront simmering concerns over him leading the 2024 ticket.
At stops in New Hampshire and South Carolina, Mr. Trump signaled he plans to stick with the pugilistic style that helped fuel his rise. He’s also seeking to strike a balance between playing up his outsider image and tapping into the establishment ties he forged over his four years in The White House.
“To save America we need a leader who is willing to take on the forces laying waste to our country and we need a president who is ready to hit the ground running on Day One — and boy am I hitting the ground,” Mr. Trump said in a keynote address at the New Hampshire Republican Party’s annual meeting. “I am more angry now and more committed now than I ever was,” he said.
Surrounded by Gov. Henry McMaster, Sen. Lindsey Graham, and other state GOP party leaders at the South Carolina State House, Mr. Trump said he ushered in an era of sweeping change before and said he will do it again.
“To change the whole system, you need a president to take on the whole system,” Mr. Trump said. “There is only one president who has ever challenged the entire establishment in Washington, and with your vote next year, we will do it again, and I will do it again.”
“Together, we will complete the unfinished business of making ‘America Great Again,’” Mr. Trump said.
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Mr. Trump is the sole declared candidate in the Republican race, but that is expected to change over the coming months.
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, former Vice President Mike Pence, and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration, are considering bids.
Mr. Trump is the clear front-runner in the race.
Still, polls show and insiders maintain Mr. Trump‘s grip on the party is slipping. They say voters are sick of his fixation on the 2020 election, making him vulnerable to a challenge.
Mr. Trump on Saturday traded his signature rallies in favor of more traditional campaign events. Mr. Trump‘s message, though, was still unconventional, biting and controversial.
Mr. Trump mocked the idea the nomination race will be competitive and reiterated the false stolen election claims that have been blamed for hurting the party in the midterm elections.
Mr. Trump criticized President Biden, the president’s son Hunter Biden, Democrats, and RINOs, or “Republicans in Name Only.”
On the policy front, Mr. Trump staked out familiar positions, vowing to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, “restore” election integrity and fight to defend free speech from cancel culture.
Mr. Trump pledged to stop the “weaponization” of the justice system, and “stop the left-wing radical racists and perverts who are trying to indoctrinate our youth.”
“We’re going to defeat the cult of gender ideology, and reaffirm that God created two genders called men and women,” Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Trump’s visits to New Hampshire and South Carolina marked his first foray onto the campaign trail this year, and into the early primary states, he hopes will again help him win the GOP presidential race.
The back-to-back events served as a reminder of how much the political landscape has changed since Mr. Trump was treated as a sideshow and a threat to the GOP after he crashed onto the scene seven years ago.
“How many times have you heard, ‘We like Trump policies, but we want somebody new?’” Mr. Graham said here Saturday at the State House. “There are no Trump policies without Donald Trump.”
Mr. Graham had a different take seven years ago. He said Mr. Trump was “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot” and said he “doesn’t represent my party.”
But on Saturday Mr. Graham said Mr. Trump‘s record of accomplishment and ability to get things done is unmatched.
He also sent a shot across the bow of Mr. Trump‘s potential 2024 rivals.
“The good news for the Republican Party is there are many, many, talented people for the years to come, but there is only one Donald Trump,” Mr. Graham said. “I say this sincerely, you can talk about his policies, but you could not do what he did,” he said.
It was a similar scenario in New Hampshire where the party has moved toward Mr. Trump over the years.
Indeed, Stephen Stepanek, the outgoing chair of the New Hampshire GOP, announced he joined Mr. Trump’s New Hampshire operation as a senior adviser, reprising a role from the 2016 campaign that helped him become state party chair.
Mr. Stepanek said it is easy for others to “campaign on the policies and rhetoric” of Mr. Trump, but said Mr. Trump is the only one who can fulfill those promises.
“There is only one person who can drain the swamp,” he said “There is only one person who will take on that daunting task and that one person is Donald J. Trump.”