BY RICK MORAN
Donald Trump formally kicked off his 2024 campaign on Saturday, blitzing the states of South Carolina and New Hampshire — the first two states on the Republican primary calendar in 2024.
Trump may not have wanted to begin his formal campaign for president so soon. But others, including the man who might be his most dangerous rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, may have forced his hand. Trump is still ahead in the polls, but DeSantis has begun to surge and in some early states — specifically, New Hampshire — DeSantis is ahead. A University of New Hampshire survey released this week showed DeSantis leading Trump 42% to 30%.
Trump is experienced enough to know that these early polls don’t mean anything. The real tests will come in the early primaries.
Meanwhile, Trump has a Democrat to bury. Joe Biden may be the absolutely worst man to serve as president when Vladimir Putin is rattling his nuclear weapons.
“Through weakness and incompetence, Joe Biden has brought us to the brink of World War III,” Trump said. “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.”
Meanwhile, Biden keeps poking the Russian bear counting on Russian President Vladimir Putin not to lash out and start a world war.
He called Biden’s botched American pullout from Afghanistan in 2021 “the lowest day in the history of our country” and claimed that if he were president, there would be “a peace deal negotiated within 24 hours” to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
He blamed Biden for border crossings and drug deaths, repeating his 2015 assertion that Mexico is sending “killers,” “murderers” and “rapists” to the U.S.
“They are sending people that are killers, murderers, they’re sending rapists. And they’re sending, frankly, terrorists, or terrorists are coming on their own, and we can’t allow this to happen,” Trump said.
But it’s the DeSantis vs. Trump cage match that will dominate the political conversation over the next year or more. And on Saturday, Trump had plenty to say about his main GOP rival.
On Saturday, Trump took his sharpest swings at DeSantis to date, accusing the governor of “trying to rewrite history” over his response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Trump said DeSantis, who has been openly skeptical about government efforts to vaccinate people against the virus, “promoted the vaccine as much as anyone.” He praised governors who did not close down their states, noting that DeSantis ordered the closure of beaches and business in some parts of the state.
“When I hear that he might [run] I think it’s very disloyal,” Trump said.
As for the polls showing DeSantis beating him in key nominating states, Trump was dismissive.
“He won’t be leading, I got him elected,” he said. “I’m the one that chose him.”
For some Republicans, it comes down to which candidate is more likely to attract a broad cross-section of American voters and prevail against Biden. To answer that, Trump brought the house down in New Hampshire with some of his policy prescriptions.
During his speech in New Hampshire, Trump doled out red meat to a friendly crowd. The crowd roared with applause when he said that, if elected, he would “eliminate federal funding for any school that pushes critical race theory or left-wing gender ideology,” and support “direct election of school principals by the parents.”
His speech in New Hampshire echoed policy prescriptions he has released over the past several weeks in the form of video addresses, on issues such as education and protecting Social Security and Medicare. His team has seen those pronouncements as a way to maneuver back onto the political stage without having to organize the signature rallies that defined Trump’s prior bids.
You can bet the farm that the Democrats and their radical allies will pull out all the stops to smear Trump — but only after he wins the nomination. It’s plain that the Democrats would much rather face Trump in a general election, having beaten him once already. But Republican voters will make the final determination about who the Democrats face, and whether it’s Trump or not, they have a miserable record to defend.