Donald Trump's 2024 campaign: Fewer rallies, more court dates

He has held only a dozen campaign events in Iowa so far this year.

September 8, 2023, 1:03 PM

Former President Donald Trump has never been one to avoid the spotlight.

In his previous presidential campaigns, he has repeatedly bragged about filling auditoriums and stadiums across the country with overflow crowds.

But in a cycle dominated by his legal troubles, as Trump faces 91 felony counts across four criminal cases, his third run for the White House features as many courtroom appearances as rallies with his unofficial theme song -- "YMCA" -- blasting out over throngs of die-hard supporters. (Trump has denied all wrongdoing and entered not guilty pleas in the four cases against him, saying they are all politically motivated.)

Former President and 2024 presidential hopeful Donald Trump arrives to speak during a campaign rally at Windham High School in Windham, New Hampshire, Aug. 8, 2023.
Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

Especially since his fiery appearance at the Iowa State Fair last month, the former president has kept his public appearances to a minimum, hosting private fundraisers, dialing in to interviews with friendly conservative radio shows, and posting on his social media platform.

On Friday, after nearly a month-long campaign hiatus, Trump is slated to rally with the South Dakota Republican Party in Rapid City, his first public campaign event since he turned himself in to have his mug shot taken at the Fulton County Jail last month.

On Saturday, Trump will attend the college football rivalry game between Iowa State and Iowa, part of outreach from the campaign to engage with younger and less politically active voters.

Former President Donald Trump, 2024 Republican presidential candidate greets attendees while touring the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, Aug. 12, 2023.
Rachel Mummey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

But 10 months into his third presidential bid, Trump has held only 12 campaign events in Iowa and just five in New Hampshire, while some of his top GOP primary challengers, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, have been swarming the two key states with dozens of campaign events over the last few months.

In total, Trump has held 42 campaign events across the country, a stark contrast from DeSantis and Ramaswamy each having hosted well over 100 campaign events so far this year.

His month-long hiatus since the Iowa State Fair this year is also notable compared to his non-stop campaign in the later half of August 2015 during his first presidential bid, when he was hitting rally after rally, jumping from New Hampshire to Alabama to Iowa to South Carolina to Massachusetts in just two weeks.

For Trump, who was a political newcomer during the 2016 election, was a sitting president campaigning in the midst of the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic during the 2020 cycle, and this year, is now seeking his second term after losing to President Joe Biden, every presidential bid has looked drastically different from each other.

During the 2020 cycle, Trump, who didn't face any major primary challenger, spent much of the early half of 2019 holding big rallies once a month, and gradually ramped up his campaigning later in the fall, filling up several stadiums in battleground states a week.

Booking photo released by the Fulton County Sheriff's Office of former President Donald Trump, Aug. 24, 2023.
Fulton County Sheriff's Office/AFP via Getty Images

Now, during his 2024 campaign, Trump and his campaign have claimed his legal proceedings are interfering with his presidential campaign.

"I'm sorry, I won't be able to go to Iowa, I won't be able to go to New Hampshire today because I'm sitting in a courtroom," Trump said at a campaign rally in New Hampshire in August, just days after he appeared before the federal court in Washington, D.C., to plead not guilty to criminal charges of election interference brought by special counsel Jack Smith.

That month, as his primary contenders were ramping up their campaigning in the early voting states, Trump faced two indictments -- the federal indictment in Washington and a Georgia indictment brought by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump holds an umbrella as he arrives at Reagan National Airport following an arraignment in a Washington court, Aug. 3, 2023 in Arlington, Va.
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

But even as Trump skips out on holding early state campaign events as he splits his time between courtrooms and the campaign trail, he has continued to show strength in both the crowd he draws and in the polls.

At the Iowa State Fair, Trump was the only Republican who didn't participate in the fireside chat with Iowa GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds or spend all day walking around the fairground and mingling with voters.

Yet, his brief appearance at the famous Steer N' Stein bar drew out the biggest crowd the fair had seen all week.

Though Trump is currently benefiting from name recognition and record in the early stages of the campaign cycle, some argue it may not be enough to win the early primary state without holding more events.

"I think ... they're making the assumption that the rules don't apply to them the same way they do other campaigns, and they may be right, but I do think if there's any place in the country that will penalize the campaign for not putting in the work, it'll be Iowa and New Hampshire," said Republican strategist David Kochel.

Kochel added other candidates could start to make Trump's lack of retail politicking in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire a central part of their campaign messaging.

"There still is, I think, an expectation among caucus goers that, you know, you can't take their vote for granted just because you're the former president. Doesn't mean that you don't have to earn it. And I think that's what the other candidates are counting on," Kochel said.

Friday's South Dakota rally in Rapid City has caused one longtime supporter, Blake Marnell, to travel all the way from San Diego to show support for the former president after his county jail surrender, while a former supporter Ed Huminick of Salem, New Hampshire, who just hosted several GOP primary contenders at his lodge for an annual Labor Day picnic, is disappointed to not see Trump on the ground as much.

"He's got to understand he's got to win, and he doesn't win by not going after the independent voters -- and it's by doing the picnics," Huminick said.

"I think it's important for people to meet the candidates one-on-one, face to face," Huminick said. "It's one thing to watch them on TV, it's another to hear them speak. Everybody likes to get their picture taken and shake their hands and it shows the average citizen that these are real people like them."

ABC News' Will McDuffie, Hannah Demissie, Will Steakin and Kendall Ross contributed to this report.