Former President Donald Trump turned his attention to the general election on Thursday, using his first campaign appearance since President Joe Biden launched his own re-election bid to boast of his poll numbers and suggest that he has no need to debate his Republican rivals.
Trump’s appearance in New Hampshire marked his first return to an early voting state since his legal troubles increased. He spoke on the same day that his former vice president, Mike Pence, testified before a federal grand jury investigating efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election. Meanwhile, writer E. Jean Carroll testified Thursday that she was raped by Trump in the 1990s, a charge he denies.
“We are a nation in serious decline, a nation that has lost its way,” Trump said at a downtown Manchester hotel, a smaller venue than his typical, large-scale rallies. “We are led by a hopeless person, but we will win in 2024 and make America great again. We can do it. It’s not too late.”
In a nod toward his 2016 race, Trump said that he’s retiring the “crooked” nickname he used to define Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and will now instead apply it to Biden. He pledged to take back the White House and “settle our unfinished business” in a potential 2024 rematch with the current president.
Biting nicknames have been a mainstay of Trump’s campaigns, delighting his supporters and helping to define his rivals including “Crooked Hillary” Clinton, “Little Marco” Rubio and “Low-energy Jeb” Bush.
Trump’s New Hampshire appearance came two days after Biden kicked off his own long-expected re-election campaign, presenting himself as he did in 2020 as a buttress against Trump and his Make America Great Again political candidacy. Biden’s campaign launch video included snapshots of Trump and warned of “MAGA extremists” working to erode freedoms including voting rights and abortion rights.
Trump is considered a front-runner for the GOP nomination, though more Republicans are expected to jump into the race soon, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Trump’s campaign this week started airing its first television ad, which assails DeSantis. In the ad, Trump takes credit for DeSantis’ political rise and shows the governor yoking himself to the former president, including clips from a 2018 gubernatorial campaign ad in which he uses some of Trump’s catchphrases like “Build the wall” and “You’re fired.”
Trump, who has mused about skipping primary debates, pointed Thursday to his sizable polling lead and asked, “Why would you do that?”
Two weeks ago, Trump appeared with several other announced and potential presidential candidates at the National Rifle Association convention in Indianapolis. Last weekend, he spoke by video to a gathering of evangelicals in Iowa that marked the unofficial start of the state’s 2024 caucus campaign.
“It doesn’t feel good to have Republicans that are so conservative and great fighting each other,” said Kathy Holmes, a 69-year-old retired teacher from Chichester, New Hampshire. Holmes, who said she plans to vote for Trump in the state’s leadoff primary, wore homemade buttons with Trump’s face with fuzzy blonde hair glued on to his Manchester event on Thursday.
Holmes said she’d like to see DeSantis run for president in 2028, but for now, he’s needed as governor of Florida.
Even as the campaign season moves ahead, Trump’s legal worries aren’t abating.
Earlier this month, he pleaded not guilty in New York to a 34-count felony indictment charging him with a scheme to bury allegations of extramarital affairs that arose during his first White House campaign.
A civil rape case against him went to trial in Manhattan this week. A former magazine columnist testified Wednesday that she was raped by Trump in the dressing room of a luxury department store in 1996. Trump has called the claim fiction and has not yet attended the trial, though his lawyers say he could decide to testify.
On Monday, a prosecutor in Atlanta investigating whether Trump and his allies illegally interfered with the 2020 presidential election in Georgia said she expects to announce charging decisions in the case this summer. She requested that law enforcement officials prepare security measures in the case of a strong public reaction.
Trump is also facing ongoing probes from the U.S. Department of Justice over top secret documents found at his Florida estate and his efforts to undo the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Trump has dismissed all accusations of wrongdoing and has insisted the investigations are politically motivated.
New Hampshire is a political swing state, though voters in the state rejected Trump in the 2016 and 2020 general elections. It was, however, the first state Trump won in the 2016 Republican presidential primary contest, propelling him into GOP dominance that he maintains to this day.
The former president made one other visit to New Hampshire earlier this year, stopping in Salem as part of his first appearances on his latest White House campaign.