WASHINGTON – After two months of social media, campaign meetings and political struggles, 2024 presidential candidate Donald Trump is preparing to return to the public stage with messages aimed at potential Republican opponents – and potential criminal prosecutors.
The former president has lined up appearances in South Carolina and the Washington, D.C., area, designed in part to demonstrate support in the face of prominent Republicans who may run against him, including former Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Trump also enters a new campaign phase as prosecutors in Atlanta and Washington consider whether to seek indictments over his handling of classified information and efforts to overturn his loss of the 2020 election to President Joe Biden.
Also: His political support is dropping, at least according to a variety of polls.
Stay in the conversation on politics: Sign up for the OnPolitics newsletter
Warning Republican opponents
Trump is scheduled to travel to Columbia, South Carolina, on Jan. 28 to unveil his “South Carolina Leadership Team.”
In early March, Trump will address CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, a coalition of conservative activists who helped fuel his political rise. The CPAC meeting is March 1-4 at National Harbor, Maryland, near Washington.
While polls show a softening of support for Trump, his supporters in South Carolina include prominent names like Gov. Henry McMaster and Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Falling Trump?:These charts show how Trump’s 2024 bid is losing steam
The Columbia event will be Trump’s first campaign event outside of his home base of Florida since he announced his 2024 campaign back in mid-November.
Steven Cheung, the campaign’s communications director, said the South Carolina appearance and other planned events “will show there is significant support behind him.”
Trump must also try to answer Republicans who say he can’t win a general election and that the party should try to move past him.
Many Republicans blame Trump for the party’s disappointing performance in last year’s elections. The GOP won the House by less than 10 seats, and Trump-backed candidates lost potentially winnable Senate races in Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Arizona, costing Republicans control of the Senate.
There have been other struggles. Shortly after his announcement, Trump found himself under fire for hosting a dinner that included antisemites and white nationalists.
A USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll last month showed a drop in Republican support for the former Republican president.
“By 2-1, GOP and GOP-leaning voters now say they want Trump’s policies but a different standard-bearer to carry them,” USA TODAY reported. “While 31% want the former president to run, 61% prefer some other Republican nominee who would continue the policies Trump has pursued.”
Targeting the prosecutors
Opponents also point out that Trump may become the first major presidential candidate in history to campaign while under indictment.
Trump has spent months attacking prosecutors as politically biased.
Trump’s legal travails: Jan. 6 Capitol attack 2 years later: Trump still plagued by multiple investigations
Prosecutors in Atlanta are investigating him over pressuring Georgia election officials to reverse his loss of the state to Biden; in New York, over his past business practices; and in Washington, over his handling of classified documents.
Special counsel Jack Smith, a frequent target of Trump’s venom, is also investigating his actions in and around the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
What Trump has been doing
Trump and his allies are quick to point that he still leads Republican polls and still has the most campaign money and highest name recognition within his party.
Trump and his campaign have hired staff and set up an office in South Florida.
The special counsel factor:2024 presidential race has a new player: A special counsel investigating Donald Trump