Is The NHGOP Still ‘Trump Country?’
Donald Trump won his first ever election here in New Hampshire almost seven years ago.
Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) had all the endorsements, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush had the family name and money, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) had the conservative credentials, and Gov. Chris Christie (RN.J.) had the affection of the media.
But Donald Trump had the voters — the GOP’s alienated, ignored “deplorable” base.
It wasn’t even close. Trump’s total of 100,735 votes was more than double second-place Kasich’s and more votes than Bush, Cruz and Christie combined. And he did it without the support of any of the Granite State GOP’s big names or the support of the party establishment.
By the following November, Trump was closer to carrying New Hampshire than any Republican candidate since George W. Bush, who won it in 2000. Trump has never reached 50 percent or more here. But for Republicans, New Hampshire was “Trump Country.”
Fast forward to today. The first-in-the-nation primary is about a year away, and the Trump conversation among grassroots Republicans is very different. Instead of the excitement of an uprising, there is confusion and weariness. Yes, there are still some die-hard Donald fans, but it’s also clear that many of his ardent supporters are now more “wait and see” primary voters.
It’s not 2016 again.
And there are signs that Trump’s feelings about the Granite State may have changed, too. Trump’s first major campaign event since his poorly received campaign launch will be held in South Carolina, not New Hampshire, according to a new Politico report. Trump is hiring more staff in this southern hub — as well as in Iowa, where “Trump has also hired two Iowa-based strategists, Alex Latcham and Eric Branstad, to champion Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status for his caucuses and ran a full-page ad in the Iowa GOP’s annual Legislative Breakfast program,” Politico reported.
In New Hampshire? Not as much. The Politico article makes only passing mention of one Granite Stater, outgoing party leader Steve Stepanek. Many in the state party believe Stepanek, who was Trump co-chairman and congressional delegate in 2016, will be a key figure in his campaign today. But on Sunday night, Stepanek lost the election of the city’s GOP committee to represent it as a voting delegate at the state convention. The days of simply “being trump enough to win” may be fading.
Bob Burns, who was Trump’s delegate to the Republican National Convention, disagrees. He says Republican insiders and talking heads have turned against Trump, but the base is still with them. When asked about the lack of local excitement surrounding Trump’s third White House campaign, Burns said he was patient.
“I expect his campaign to be active here soon. If you go to the North Country you will see many Trump flags still flying. Insiders are against Trump, but Republican voters are still behind him. Check out my race.”
Burns’ bid for the second congressional district nomination was based solely on his embrace of Trump and Trump’s brazen political style. And while he narrowly won the nomination, he did it with just 35 percent of the vote. Several longtime Republicans from Granite State — who spoke on the background out of concern about backlash from Trump supporters — said they heard at their city and county assemblies that some Trump-supporting Republicans regretted losing such a strong Trump in the September primary -friendly list to have nominated.
“We were probably going to lose anyway,” said a local GOP activist, “but we lost and we looked crazy doing it.”
When speaking to Trump supporters of 2016, the most common response to their plans for 2024 is “wait and see.” State Assemblyman Fred Doucette, another delegate to Congress in 2016, gave a response that could be construed as very cautious: “He’s the only announced candidate, right? So of course I support him.”
Political professionals say three events have influenced the Granite State GOP’s view of Trump. One was the 2022 Republican breakout in the midterms. The swing from waiting for a 2010-type red wave to wiping out all federal nominees — and nearly losing the New Hampshire House — left many Republicans shocked. New Hampshire Republicans may like Trump, but they really hate losing.
The other was Trump’s latest stunt related to the release of NFT trading cards featuring self-aggrandizing images of the former president.
“It was impossible to drown out the amount of flak President Trump generated with his ‘grand announcement,’ which was not a major political initiative but instead attempted to sell Trump superhero digital action cards,” said Jason Grosky, GOP Rockingham County Chairman. “He is the one who decided to declare his candidacy for president so early. He’s got so much ammo to work with and a lot of attention that he’s trying to generate, but I don’t see him taking the opportunity.
“And that is contrary to what Gov. [Ron] Desantis (R-Fla.) does while not running for President.”
The third was under the radar but perhaps the most damaging: the release of a statement blaming pro-life Republicans for the midterm election debacle.
“It wasn’t my fault that Republicans didn’t live up to expectations at MidTerms,” Trump posted on Truth Social earlier this month. “I was 233-20! It was the abortion issue, mishandled by many Republicans, especially those who firmly insisted on no exceptions, even in the case of rape, incest, or maternal life, that lost large numbers of voters.
“Also, the people who fought so hard against abortion for decades got their wish from the US Supreme Court and just disappeared, never to be seen again.”
Trump’s support among evangelicals has been one of the pillars of his strength in the party. There was immediate opposition from those social conservatives who have always been strange political bedfellows to a candidate like Trump. And with the fall of Roe v. Wade, what “transactional” deal can Trump offer to win back their support?
Still, some Granite State Republicans told NHJournal they’re still all in.
“I still support President Trump more than ever, and his grassroots supporters are behind him 100 percent,” said 2016 Trump delegate Paula Johnson of Nashua. “It may be slow to roll out, but it will increase quickly. Many of us say we need a Trump rally or two (or three!). A lot of people can’t wait to be part of the Trump campaign again.”
And sources close to the Trump national campaign say a Granite State event is in the works.
Still, 2016 delegate Josh Whitehouse, who was also a Trump aide, admits the former president has some work to do to get the grassroots back on his side. “The basis is currently mixed. But when Trump returns to his embassy, they will be back on board.”