WASHINGTON, United States, (AFP) – Donald Trump will hit the campaign trail Saturday for the first time in a stuttering third bid for the US presidency overshadowed by intensifying criminal investigations and a firestorm of political controversy.
The twice-impeached Republican, whose party lost the White House and both chambers of Congress during his term, makes his case for another four years with appearances in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Some 650 days ahead of the next election, Trump remains the Republican frontrunner, but his grip on the rank-and-file has loosened during his two years in the wilderness since exiting the Oval Office.
"Mr Trump's conduct since announcing his candidacy for the 2024 Republican nomination has weakened his credibility within his party," Brookings Institution senior fellow William Galston said in a recent commentary.
The 76-year-old Trump has been unusually low-key since announcing his latest presidential run on November 15, cocooned at his Mar-a-Lago beach home in south Florida and declining to hold a single public event.
But he heads onto the stump facing simmering discontent over midterm elections that saw a series of extremist candidates he had backed rejected in crucial battleground states.
The former reality TV star also has riled establishment Republicans over a dinner he hosted in Florida with a notorious Holocaust denier and the anti-Semitic, Hitler-admiring rapper formerly known as Kanye West.
His continued election denialism and a call in December for the termination of the Constitution to reinstate him to office also sparked a chorus of opprobrium.
- 'Narrow path' -
Trump will address Republicans in the New Hampshire commercial hub of Salem on Saturday morning, before leading a rally in South Carolina's capital, Columbia.
His first two locations are no accident: the states hold outsize influence as two of the first in every presidential election year to hold nominating contests -- known as "primaries" or "caucuses," depending on local custom.
Both cemented Trump's frontrunner status in 2016 after a lukewarm start while South Carolina rescued Democratic President Joe Biden's floundering campaign in 2020.
In Congress and around the country, some Republicans are openly suggesting the party is ready for a younger, fresher face -- someone who is less polarising and unencumbered by the constant drip of scandal.
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