By Lois Weiss

A milder-mannered Donald J. Trump turned up in the capital of South Carolina on January 28, 2022 to announce his 2024 campaign team before a select audience of state politicians and Trump supporters.

Unlike his large rallies, at this more sedate affair before just several hundred people he didn’t call out his expected Republican competition with nasty nicknames or encourage the chanting of his name or “USA” by the audience, many of whom were decked out in fancy “Trump” hats and bling.    

Sombrero Man at the South Carolina State House in Columbia

The visit to the State House in Columbia by the former 45th President was to lay the groundwork towards becoming the 47th President after losing to Joe Biden in 2020 in what Trump still calls a “ridiculous” and “stolen election.”

Trump is learning to move on, though it is hard for him to do so. Other than saying he got 20 million more votes than in 2016, and complaining that the Hunter Biden laptop had been labeled “disinformation” by the FBI prior to that election — “pollsters say it made a difference of  17 points” — the more sedate Trump didn’t dwell too much on the loss as numerous polls have shown his supporters want to look to the future and have grown weary of re-litigating the past. “People have to believe in our elections,” he noted.

Trump supporters listening from the rafters of the South Carolina State House in Columbia

Instead, he made the analogy that the United States is becoming like “April Fool’s Day.” “They do just the opposite of common sense,” he explained of the Democrats in government. “We have open borders when they should be closed….We have no voter ID when everyone wants it…We have a woke military…We want a military that wants to win. They want mandatory electric cars and electric stoves.”

Along the same theme he noted, “We are in the midst of the greatest crime wave in the history of our country and they want to defund the police. April Fools.”

“We have men that want to compete in women’s sports,” he said. “We have Antifa and BLM that want to burn down our cities and they get away with it and yet they put American patriots in Jail – that is all April Fools.”

As other examples, he pointed to the US “begging foreign nations for oil when we have more oil than they have.” “That is April Fools when they stop drilling when oil prices were the highest…it’s supposed to be the opposite.”   

Similarly, while illegal immigrants and drugs are pouring through the border, the Biden administration not only didn’t use the “expensive materials” “we had sitting there” to complete sections of the border wall Trump had championed, but would not even let Texas and Arizona use the materials, he said.  

With drugs coming in through the “wide open border,” “tearing families and communities apart,” Trump declared, “The drug cartels are waging war on America and it’s time for America to wage war…we are going to smash their trafficking networks.”

“We are going to reverse every single crisis, calamity and disaster that Joe Biden has created and bring safety, prosperity and prestige back to America,” Trump insisted.

He wants to renegotiate the debt held by China and bragged about the tariffs and funds he brought in from China that included $50 million for the nation’s farmers.

The greatest applause came for his comments on education and towards ending the teaching of critical race theory. He proposed cutting the funding for schools teaching critical race theory and wants to adopt reforms to protect parents’ rights. “Who would think we would have to say it?” he wondered incredulously. He also proposed the direct election of public school principals by parents, garnering more applause.  

“We’re going to stop the left-wing radical racists and perverts who are trying to indoctrinate our youth, and we’re going to get their Marxist hands off our children,” Trump said, adding, “We are going to defeat the cult of gender ideology and reaffirm that God created two genders called men and women. We’re not going to allow men to play women’s sports.”

SC Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette, SC Gov. Henry McMaster, Donald J. Trump and SC Senator Lindsay Graham at SC state house in Columbia

In more typical Trump fashion, he made fun of the calls for ditching gas stoves and making electric cars mandatory. “The cars go for like two hours. What are you going to do? Everyone’s going to be sitting on the highway. We’re all going to be looking for a little plug-in. Does anybody have a plug-in? My car just stopped. I’ve been driving for an hour and 51 minutes. It’s ridiculous…The cooks are saying gas is better so use whatever you want but have alternatives if you want an electric car or an electric stove or range.” 

Trump shaking hands with SC Gov. Henry McMaster

While it may be what Trump deems “ridiculous” for everyone to have an electric car before there is enough electricity and charging ports, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, who stood to Trump’s right during the over hour-long speech, has the state with the most car exports and is encouraging car makers to fill its boundaries with electric car factories.

Rising stars on Trump’s South Carolina campaign team include Rep. Russell Fry, who trounced an anti-Trump opponent, and Rep. William Timmons.

Rep. William Timmons from 4th Congressional district at SC State House for Trump campaign kickoff
Rep. Russell Fry got cheered at the South Carolina State House in Columbia
Rising Republican star, Rep. Russell Fry, was a former South Carolina legislator before being elected to the 118th Congress

South Carolinians who skipped the announcement included Sen. Tim Scott and Nikki Haley, Trump’s former United Nations representative, both of whom are contemplating runs for the presidency themselves but are polling in the low single digits. On the plane to South Carolina, Trump confided that Haley had called him about running and he told her, “Look, go by your heart if you want to run.”

Although Haley may think she needs to keep herself in the forefront of voters minds and could be quietly hoping for a vice presidential slot with either Trump or another candidate, going against Trump isn’t for the faint of constitution. Trump can’t help himself and he’s sure to start knocking her out of the main ring by name calling or making other comparisons that won’t make him seem presidential.

Supporters waited over four hours for Trump to show up

While his most loyal South Carolina supporters stood waiting for him at this private event for four hours — he held a smaller event in New Hampshire in the morning — it’s Trump’s lack of gravitas that is now splitting the Republican party.

Either you are with him to Make America Great (once) Again, or against him because his usual childish behaviors won’t unify the country nor endear him to independent voters or soccer moms and reports say have already turned away many of his both low and high net worth donors. They may love him but don’t think he will win and will only cause havoc during the primaries.

But Trump still think’s he’s da man. “The 2024 election is our one shot to save our country and we need a leader who is ready on day one,” Trump said. “To change a whole system, you need a president who can take on the whole system and a president that can win.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham stood to Trump’s left and gazed at him adoringly through much of the speech. When it was his turn at the podium, in a dig to  Trump’s greatest rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Graham said of voters, “How many times have you heard, `We like Trump…policies but we want somebody new?’ There are no Trump policies without Donald Trump. I was there…I say this sincerely, you can talk about his policies, but you could not do what he did.” That argument will have to be made to first Republican and later, all voters.

With two years remaining until Election Day, Trump will have to maintain a sharp and even keel to woo both his own past supporters and other voters who have considered him too volatile, unpredictable and dangerous – yet are the same qualities that during his time in office kept China, Russian President Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un at bay.

“Through weakness and incompetence, Joe Biden has brought us to the brink of World War III,” Trump warned. “We’re at the brink of World War III, just in case anybody doesn’t know it. As president, I will bring back peace through strength.”

Perhaps he could but with US-China tensions rising over its spying balloon and obliteration by President Biden; Russia tensions rising over Putin’s continued war on Ukraine while it is being funded by U.S. taxpayers; and more countries like Finland and Sweden hoping to join NATO despite Turkish protests, 2024 may be too late.