Donald Trump said he was “more angry” and “more committed” as he kicked off his 2024 campaign and rejected claims his third White House bid lacked energy.
The former US president appeared in the critical early voting state of New Hampshire on Saturday to mark his first public campaign appearance of the next presidential race.
Mr Trump, 76, told grassroots Republicans and lawmakers: “They said he’s not doing rallies, he’s not campaigning, maybe he’s lost that step. We didn’t. I’m more angry now and I’m more committed now than I ever was.”
The comments were greeted with cheers and claps from the crowd of several hundred people at the New Hampshire Republican Party’s annual meeting in Salem, New Hampshire.
Once again framing himself as a Washington outsider, Mr Trump vowed to take on the “corrupt political establishment” and “take on the forces laying waste to our country”.
In that vein, he backed imposing term limits on members of Congress, a lifetime ban on lobbying by former members, and a ban on members of Congress trading stocks with insider knowledge.
“Only a non-politician would do that,” he quipped, before heading to South Carolina’s capital Columbia for another speech.
Both states are seen as potential kingmakers in the Republican nomination contest, as they are among the first to hold their primaries.
The events were being seen as a chance to revitalise a stalled presidential bid from Mr Trump, who has kept largely out of the public gaze since his campaign launch last November.
But there was no discernible shift in Mr Trump’s messaging, as the former president focused once again on his baseless claims of a rigged 2020 presidential election.
He reprised his litany of disparaging nicknames for his political rivals and vowed to save the country from “being destroyed by a selfish, radical, corrupt political establishment”.
His most divisive recriminations were reserved, though, for the conservative critics he refers to as “RINOs” – Republicans in name only – whom he said were “even more dangerous than Democrats”.
Mr Trump’s early appearances in the early primary states are intended to cement his status and fend off potential Republican challengers.
But few prominent Republicans in either appeared willing to share the stage with him, suggesting Mr Trump’s dominance over his party has come to an end.
Several high-profile Republicans have fuelled speculation they could launch rival bids as some polls show many GOP voters would prefer a new leader in 2024.
The nomination could wind up a two-horse race between Mr Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has edged ahead of the former president in some recent surveys.
Mr Trump was due to unveil a leadership team and fresh set of endorsements in South Carolina, but many Republican politicians in the state have blamed scheduling clashes for skipping the event.
South Carolina is home to two potential Republican challengers: Nikki Haley, its former governor, and Tim Scott, its junior senator.
Ms Haley could announce a 2024 bid within weeks, while Mr Scott is still giving serious consideration to an announcement.
“I think the Trump folks are going to run into that,” former South Carolina GOP chair Katon Dawson told the Washington Post.
Mr Trump’s event in the state will be held at its legislature in Columbia, which can accommodate just 500 people.
The small-scale venue is a deliberate choice, according to his staff, who described it as an “intimate” event as part of a more “gradual” rollout intended to cement his status in key states without frittering away resources early in the race.
His top campaign advisers have said the approach is reflected in his campaign team – a small, carefully selected group – again taking a more constrained approach to Mr Trump’s last campaign in 2024.
While Mr Trump is still considered the frontrunner among potential Republican candidates, GOP strategists suggested many party figures were likely to hold off on publicly backing him until the field had taken shape.
The biggest roadblock on Mr Trump’s path to becoming the Republican presidential nominee may end up being his mounting legal woes, with a special counsel investigating his handling of classified documents after leaving office.
“These are radical left-wing prosecutors who are absolutely horrible, horrible people,” Mr Trump said, vowing to investigate the Justice Department if he is re-elected.
“One year from now we will win the New Hampshire primary,” he told the crowd.
“And then, with the help of the good people of the state – I love the people – we are going to take back our country and we’ll take back the White House and we’re going to straighten out the United States.”
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