On Friday night, former president Donald Trump took the stage in South Dakota for a state Republican Party fund-raiser.
It was the first time in exactly a month that Trump spoke at a major political event. On Saturday, he plans to attend the Iowa versus Iowa State football game but not make any formal remarks.
Amid four separate criminal indictments and all the court maneuverings involved, Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination, isn’t actually, you know, campaigning.
Weeks go by when most of his campaigning is done via press release, linking to stories and polls that show Trump in a favorable light. Then there are the endless videos, one after another, where Trump positions himself between two American flags and weighs in on his latest poll numbers, the Biden administration, and whatever else is on his mind.
Before South Dakota, the last time Trump appeared onstage for a political event was Aug. 8, when he held a rally at Windham High School in New Hampshire. Four days later, he made a very brief appearance walking through a crowd at the Iowa State Fair.
Granted, Trump is no doubt busy meeting with lawyers, but his lack of engagement on the campaign trail makes sense given his overwhelming dominance in the polls. His lead over the rest of the Republican field has actually grown over the past month; staying home might be the right strategy for him.
It is, however, a bit ironic. Trump spent most of the 2020 campaign mocking his opponent, Joe Biden, for campaiging from his basement during the early months of the pandemic. Now Trump is campaigning in much the same way.
Indeed, it’s been this way since he launched his 2024 bid in November. Trump only participated in 30 events through June, Axois found. By then his rivals — who’d only recently entered the race — had attended double that.
Consider that over Labor Day weekend, Vivek Ramaswamy attended 11 events in New Hampshire alone. In the past week, former vice president Mike Pence did seven events in three days. Next week, former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley will hold six events over two days in Iowa, and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie is set to have four events in New Hampshire on Monday and Tuesday.
All this, combined with Trump skipping the first Republican primary debate in Milwaukee, is further proof that he’s acting as if he’s an incumbent president seeking reelection rather than a challenger digging in to win back the White House.
Of course, President Biden isn’t campaigning either. He hasn’t held a single campaign event in an early primary state, including South Carolina, a state he pushed to be first on the Democratic National Committee calendar. (Okay, Biden did visit the state to tout his economic agenda in July.)
As for why Trump would decide to visit rural western South Dakota, which isn’t an early primary state and where he dominates in the polls, well, reporters there wondered the same thing.
South Dakota Republican Party chairman John Wiik answered the question this way: ”Why not?”