SALEM, N.H.—Donald Trump began his first campaign trip of the 2024 presidential race seeking to brush back calls from some Republican insiders and voters for a new party leader.
“I’m more angry now and I’m more committed now than I ever was,” he said at the New Hampshire GOP’s annual meeting on Saturday.
The former president offered familiar policy proposals in the speech, including strengthening the southern border. He drew some of his biggest applause when referencing cultural battles that have come to animate the party, such as calling for a ban on transgender athletes competing in girls’ and women’s sports.
Later Saturday, he will appear with supporters in Columbia, S.C., another key early GOP primary state that is home to a pair of possible rivals for the nomination.
The trip amounts to the first test of Mr. Trump’s campaignwhich he launched more than two months ago—earlier than some Republicans thought was wise—only to stay largely out of public view since. He scoffed Saturday at criticism of the lack of events, appearing before more than 400 people in a high school auditorium, while teasing a return to his signature rallies.
The events Saturday come as a handful of national polls show Mr. Trump recapturing some ground he lost in recent months. State polls have also demonstrated the strength of potential rival Florida Gov.
The governor hasn’t entered the race but is widely expected to do so after the state legislative session ends in May.
A University of New Hampshire poll released this week showed Mr. DeSantis getting 42% of likely GOP primary voters, versus 30% for Mr. Trump. A New Hampshire Journal/Coefficient poll showed the former president besting the governor, 37% to 26%. South Carolina polls also show a close battle between the two men.
Mr. Trump is also set to regain access to Facebooka potent fundraising and messaging tool he harnessed in past elections, though it remains to be seen how he will use the platform this time around. His
and Instagram accounts were suspended in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. He was also recently invited back on Twitter but has yet to use it, preferring his Truth Social platform.
Many Republican leaders across the country continue to urge Mr. Trump to step aside, citing the controversies and legal problems he has faced and disappointing results in recent elections—including losses in November by Trump-endorsed candidates in some key Senate and governor races. That sentiment was felt at a Republican National Committee meeting in California this week, where
was re-elected as party chair after a race that featured a heated debate over the party’s direction.
Bill Palatucci, a longtime RNC member from New Jersey, said he wants to see the party move past Mr. Trump and thinks that is already in the process of happening. But he added the party needs to retain the voters Mr. Trump attracted and “convince the former president to be constructive, rather than destructive” as the 2024 presidential field takes shape.
“His influence is fading, but it’s unclear if it’s fading fast enough,” said Mr. Palatucci, an ally of former New Jersey Gov.
who has suggested Mr. Christie could enter the race.
“I think a lot of us want to see him be the nominee,” Carrie Almond, an RNC member from Missouri, said of Mr. Trump. “But we also want to see who else is out there.”
Rep. Russell Fry (R., S.C.), who last year defeated an incumbent Republican who had voted to impeach Mr. Trump over the Capitol riot, said voters are craving a return of the former president’s policies. “He’s got an incredibly loyal following,” said Mr. Fry, recalling a rally Mr. Trump held in the state last March that attracted thousands of people despite inclement weather. “He’s going to continue to see that level of enthusiasm.”
Mr. Trump, 76 years old, is the only declared candidate but is expected to get competition in the coming weeks and months. Mr. DeSantis has come closest in hypothetical matchups and has attracted the most party leaders and major donors wanting to turn the page.
New Hampshire Gov.
is another potential contender and has been critical of the former president. In an interview, he said Mr. Trump shouldn’t expect to dominate his state as he did in the 2016 primary, following a loss in the Iowa caucuses, noting other hopefuls have already visited.
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“They’re coming to New Hampshire because they know the first-in-the-nation primary has to be earned. You can’t take anything for granted,” Mr. Sununu said.
A University of New Hampshire poll released this week showed Mr. DeSantis getting 42% of likely GOP primary voters, vs. 30% for Mr. Trump. Others lagged well behind. A South Carolina poll also showed Mr. DeSantis with a large advantage.
In South Carolina, Mr. Trump will be received by some of his staunchest backers, including Gov.
The state’s other Republican senator, Tim Scott, has been mulling a possible presidential bid. So, too, has former Gov. Nikki Haley, who has said she is close to making a decision. Neither is expected to attend the Trump event, held at the State House with about 500 people invited.
“President Trump will unveil his leadership teams, which will show the significant support he has from grass roots leaders to elected officials,” his spokesman, Steven Cheung, said. “He has continued to dominate in the polls and there is no one else who can generate the type of enthusiasm and excitement like President Trump.”
—John McCormick contributed to this article.
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