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Trump takes his 2024 campaign to S.C., where his support isn't what it once was

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump will take his 2024 campaign on the road this weekend with a rally in South Carolina. Now, he easily carried that state in 2016 and 2020. And Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolinian and one of Trump's closest allies, is expected to support Trump. But Trump's political fortunes in the Palmetto State are not a sure thing. Other state leaders are noncommittal, and a couple may even run against him. Here to talk more about this is Dave Wilson. He is president of the Palmetto Family Council. That is an influential evangelical group in South Carolina. Dave Wilson, welcome.

DAVE WILSON: Mary Louise, thanks so much. I appreciate being here.

KELLY: I'll open with the basic question. Does the former president have your support for 2024?

WILSON: I believe in having a marketplace of ideas, Mary Louise. I think it's very important for us to recognize that South Carolinians know and understand the importance of the role that we play in American politics. And so that's where we are.

KELLY: So have you not made up - you have not made up your mind yet?

WILSON: I have not made up my mind yet. As a matter of fact, I really want to be able to hear from as many people as possible because that is an important part of the role that we know in South Carolina that we play in politics.

KELLY: Give me a little bit of visibility into how this conversation may be playing out in the circles you're moving in in South Carolina. I saw where Trump recently accused evangelical leaders of disloyalty - his word - for withholding support for his campaign. And I'm curious how that comment is playing out among evangelical leaders and voters.

WILSON: It's not sitting very well right now. It becomes very disingenuous-feeling when you are said that you're disloyal because you're not jumping on the bandwagon right away. This is a one-year job interview, and we expect candidates to show up.

KELLY: Although we all have a pretty good sense of who Donald Trump is and what he stands for at this point, in a sentence or two, can you tell me what it is you would want to hear from him that would win your vote in 2024?

WILSON: I think one of the most important things for anybody to understand for South Carolina voters, especially evangelical voters, is that our faith matters. We want somebody who is going to be standing on the religious freedom that we have in America and wants to embrace that, not just give it a tacit recognition in passing.

KELLY: Do you have concern about his electability, about his ability to win? I mean, setting aside what his policy or politics may be, do you want somebody on the Republican ticket who has a shot at the White House?

WILSON: It's very interesting because I actually just had polling information come across my desk of Republican and Democratic primary voters in South Carolina. And when the question was asked, would you think that we're better off with neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump elected, 54% of likely South Carolina voters agreed with that statement. I think you have a younger, vibrant group of potential leaders for our country who have yet to jump into the race but, I think, are standing right there on the edge. And they're just waiting for the right moment to do so. I think you've got people like Nikki Haley. You've got Tim Scott, both of whom are South Carolinians.

KELLY: You just threw in two names - Senator Tim Scott, former Governor Nikki Haley - both South Carolinians, as you nodded to, both reportedly contemplating runs for the Republican nomination and both of whom were once staunch Trump allies. What would a Haley or a Scott campaign mean for Trump's political viability in South Carolina?

WILSON: I think Donald Trump will have a core group of voters. I think you've got another group of conservative voters, though, who are asking a bigger question of, where are we going to be not for the next four years but the next eight years, the next two decades? And who's going to be the next standard-bearer for the conservative movement in our country?

KELLY: Dave Wilson is president of the Palmetto Family Council. That's a conservative advocacy group in South Carolina. Thank you very much for your time.

WILSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Megan Lim
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
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