Ahead of South Carolina rally, Trump struggles to regain momentum with GOP

Joseph Bustos and Alex Roarty, The State on

Published in Political News

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Donald Trump’s still-new presidential campaign has yet to attract the kind of deep and broad support among Republican voters that the conservative icon could once take for granted, both in South Carolina and across the country.

Just how vulnerable that makes him in next year’s Republican presidential primary is a matter of debate.

The former president returns to South Carolina on Saturday for an event in the statehouse, his first visit to the Palmetto State since declaring late last year that he would once again seek the presidency. Trump is trying to become the first man since Grover Cleveland in 1893 to be president in two nonconsecutive terms, and so far is the only major Republican candidate to formally enter the 2024 field.

Jumping into the race first, however, hasn’t stopped speculation that Trump will face a serious primary challenge next year, even in a deep-red state like South Carolina.

“I do think his support is obviously not near the levels it was the last time around,” said Warren Tompkins, a veteran GOP strategist in the state. “And I don’t think he’s nearly as strong in South Carolina as he once was.”

A poll of GOP presidential primary voters in the state, conducted by the South Carolina Policy Council and released this week, found that 37% of party voters thought the party should nominate Trump, compared to 47% who thought Republicans should nominate someone else.


In a head-to-head matchup with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump received just 33% support, according to the survey. Fifty-two percent of state GOP voters said they’d back the Florida governor.

However, a January poll of 450 likely primary voters in South Carolina conducted for the Conservative Policy Research Network found Trump leads individual head-to-head matchups against DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.

Trump also gets a 41% plurality of the support when respondents were asked who they would support if the field included the former president, Haley, DeSantis, Scott and former Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump remains a formidable force in the Republican Party, of course, and even GOP strategists who say he’s lost support still readily acknowledge he remains the primary’s clear front-runner. He’s also faced and overcome pervasive skepticism about his candidacy before, including during the 2016 campaign, in which few top Republicans and pundits ever thought he could win.


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