This week has been somewhat of a novelty on the campaign trail for Donald Trump. He has actually managed to get out and hold two large scale rallies whilst avoiding any more legal trouble (at least for now).
Pickens County rally
Trump stopped in two early primary states in recent days – South Carolina and Iowa. Kicking off the July 4th weekend, he held a large-scale rally upstate South Carolina. Trump hasn’t hosted rally like this since March in Waco, TX, with his campaign focusing on smaller invite only events. Thousands flocked to the small town of Pickens to hear him speak.
In an event POLITICO characterised as a “show of force,” it was the biggest of the 2024 primary so far with no other candidates managing to draw anything close to the local police – an estimated 50,000 people who descended on the main street of this community of 3,000. Voting Democratic just once since 1960 and going for Trump by a 50-point margin 2020, Pickens County represents part of the critical upstate battleground in South Carolina which is a rural Trump heartland.
The race in this state is made more complicated by the presence of senator Tim Scott and former governor Nikki Haley, both native South Carolinians and both polling at least 10% in the last couple of SC polls.
As such, this event served as a shot across the bows from Trump to his competitors, a clear visual that his base is still fired up and ready to vote, with the winding queues, overnight campers, heat-exhausted supporters and MAGA street vendors reminiscent of the last two general election campaigns. The heat proved to be an issue, with the crowd waning by the time Trump came on stage having been preceded by lieutenant governor Andre Bauer and a roundly booed senator Lindsey Graham.
Trump predictably spent much of his 80-minute speech railing against his seemingly endless criminal indictments whilst also mixing in a dash of his well-rehearsed falsehoods on the subject of the 2020 election. He also celebrated the recent decisions of the Supreme Court on affirmative action, LGBTQ+ rights and student loans, celebrating his appointments to the court but, like the other candidates, avoided mentioning abortion. He also called for more tax cuts, attacked attempts from other republicans to cut medicare and social security and hit Ron DeSantis on opposing higher tariffs on China.
Trump heads to Iowa
After almost a week, Trump re-emerged in Iowa, holding another rally in Council Bluffs near the border with Nebraska. Speaking to another rural audience, he leant heavy into farming issues, specifically the issue of ethanol. Ethanol is a perennial bone of contention in all Iowa political contests given that that its farmers are heavily reliant on the frequently threatened federal ethanol mandate which requires the use of ethanol in gasoline. Iowa leads the nation in ethanol production and as such crops up time and time again in political races.
Trump has taken a firm stance in favour of ethanol production and deregulation of the substance. In contrast to South Carolina, he went on the attack in Iowa, using ethanol to bash Ron DeSantis once again, claiming that he “totally despises ethanol.” DeSantis did indeed co-sponsor bill aiming to eliminate the mandate back in 2017. It will be interesting to see how he addresses this important issue which sits far away from his culture war dominated platform.
For the first time since this series began, we have got through an entire week of Campaign Diaries without having to note a new update in the legal life of Donald Trump. Whilst we wait for further updates on that front we can now take a closer look at how Trump is approaching his campaign. He has now returned to the old-school Trump rallies, although they are now filled with much more personal grievance than in 2016.
Still, he has made some coherent indications towards his policy agenda which remains firmly populist. He is definitely not leaning into culture war issues as much as DeSantis, choosing to pay lip service when needed rather than making it central to its campaign. The bits of economic policy that he has mentioned focus on tax cuts and protecting key government benefits.
Ron DeSantis remains the main target of his ire, although Chris Christie also draws some attention. Polling remains exceptionally strong and if this lull in legal news continues whilst he continues to hold rallies reminiscent of the ‘good old days’ for MAGA supporters he may well continue to consolidate his support in the coming weeks.