Trump’s farce of a campaign is struggling in South Carolina, an early Presidential state

Advisers to Donald Trump have blanketed South Carolina Republican officials with pleading phone calls in recent weeks in an effort to drum up endorsements and attendees for the former president’s first campaign swing of the 2024 cycle next week.

But the appeals have run headlong into a complicated new reality: Many of the state’s lawmakers and political operatives, and even some of his previous supporters, are not ready to pick a presidential candidate.

They find themselves divided between their support for Trump, their desire for a competitive nomination fight in the state and their allegiance to two South Carolina natives, former governor Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott, who have taken steps to challenge Trump for the nomination. Both are said by people close to them to be seriously considering a bid, and Haley is expected to announce in the coming weeks, South Carolina operatives said.

The result foretells a Trump launch event in the early primary state — with an expected endorsement by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and a reaffirmation of support from Gov. Henry McMaster (R) — that positions the former president as a serious contender but stops short of demonstrating the dominance that he once enjoyed.

“Nikki Haley is probably our first South Carolinian since we voted for George Washington that has really had a chance of being president of the United States,” said former South Carolina GOP chair Katon Dawson, a supporter of the former governor, explaining the challenge. “And I think the Trump folks are going to run into that history.”

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Dave Wilson, president of Palmetto Family Council, an influential evangelical group, said “there is more than a little bit of softening” of Trump support in South Carolina, saying many had been turned off by some of his recent comments, including questioning the loyalty of evangelical voters. Wilson said many evangelicals in the state wanted to wait and see who got into the race.

“A lot of people recognize the importance of the Trump presidency who are stepping back and are saying, ‘Is there another standard-bearer for the party and the issues we believe in?’ Someone who can carry us not just four more years, but eight more years and create momentum,” he said.

State party chairman Drew McKissick will not be attending the Jan. 28 Trump event, because of the RNC meeting next week in California, and Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), a close ally of both Trump and Haley, has a prior commitment on Jan. 28 that he may not be able to break to attend the rally, according to their advisers. Hope Walker, executive director of the state party, recently turned down a job offer from the Trump campaign because she has decided to stay in her role for the cycle.

Several other state lawmakers have also told Trump’s team that they will not be able to make it, according to people familiar with the conversations, who like others for this story requested anonymity to describe private conversations. Graham has been trying to rally support for Trump, three people familiar with the calls said, telling people they should get on board because he is likely to be the nominee.