Former President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis are both rolling into New Hampshire on Tuesday, and Team DeSantis wants Granite State Republicans to know: It’s not rolling over.
“People who are talking like this fight is over know nothing about New Hampshire politics or actual primary voters,” said House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, a DeSantis supporter. “Stop reading the national press. Come knock on some doors.”
DeSantis backers are frustrated with national press coverage of the governor’s Granite State campaign, suggesting it is stuck in the mud or mired in controversy. For example, Politico and other national media outlets picked up on a tempest in a teapot regarding the New Hampshire Federation of Republican Women’s annual Lilac Luncheon fundraiser on Tuesday. Trump is the featured speaker, and the Republican women’s group accused the DeSantis campaign of disrespecting it by scheduling his Hollis, N.H. town hall the same morning as its annual Lilac Luncheon fundraiser.
The story may have caught the eye of D.C. insiders, but Granite State locals gave the whole thing an eye roll, pointing out there is nothing new or unusual about overlapping candidate events during the First in the Nation primary. And GOP state chairman Chris Ager, whose job it is to protect that primary and would like to see the state’s highways jammed with campaign buses, issued a pointed statement that candidates were welcome here anytime, anywhere.
Sources close to the DeSantis campaign say the brouhaha actually reveals the current state of the campaign in a microcosm: Trump works the national press for a headline in Politico while Team DeSantis is on the ground in New Hampshire knocking doors and taking names.
“Gov. DeSantis is working tirelessly to ensure his message of restoring sanity to this country and leading our Great American Comeback reaches every last primary voter in New Hampshire. We have a top-notch organization in the state to help him do that,” said DeSantis campaign press secretary Bryan Griffin. “We are confident that the governor’s message will resonate with voters in New Hampshire as he continues to visit the Granite State and detail his solutions to Joe Biden’s failures.”
Meanwhile, the pro-DeSantis Never Back Down PAC has been doorknocking and doing voter ID and says the effort is ahead of schedule in New Hampshire. Its strategy is to concede the headlines and the cable news punditry while instead focusing on actually building a grassroots campaign.
Greg Moore, state director of the free-market group Americans for Prosperity-New Hampshire, says that is a smart strategy.
“People misunderstand what makes Trump effective. They think he knocks his opponents out with the goofy nicknames and by taking shots at them on social media,” Moore said. “No. He knocks them out by sucking all the oxygen out of the room. They take him head-on, and he just suffocates them.
“For a candidate who wants to run on message, who thinks they have the right message for New Hampshire primary voters, they have to find a way to bypass Trump and get their message right to those voters,” Moore said.
“You can’t beat Trump on personality.”
The question is whether DeSantis or any Republican, can beat Trump right now. The latest NHJournal/coefficient poll gave Trump 47 percent support against the field, with DeSantis at 13 percent and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at nine percent.
In a head-to-head match-up, Trump led DeSantis 49-23 percent, with 28 percent undecided.
And a new NBC News national poll also showed the “rally around the flag” effect for Trump in the wake of his indictment by the Biden Department of Justice. Trump was at 51 percent and DeSantis at 22 percent.
At the same time, polls consistently show a majority of Republicans are open to a non-Trump alternative. And given that Trump has hardly mentioned the other two Republicans who will be campaigning in New Hampshire Tuesday — former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy — Trump continues to make it clear which potential “alternative” he has on his mind.
On Monday, DeSantis rolled out his plan for border security, including a return of the Remain in Mexico policy and a review of America’s “birthright citizenship” policy. It took just an hour or so for the Trump campaign to release a statement touting their candidate’s border policies, including his claim to have completely secured the border as president and pledge to impose the death penalty on drug smugglers.
DeSantis supporters see that as a sign the Trump campaign knows the Florida governor has put himself in a place that’s dangerous for Trump: Solid on the issues that motivate Trump voters but still acceptable to the 25 percent or so of Republicans who are ready to dump Trump.
Trump backers respond that “second place is first loser,” and DeSantis is welcome to stay in their slipstream as long as he wants. Trump isn’t slowing down.
Which is why, while the under-the-radar, grassroots strategy may be wise, some Republicans say it is time for a throwdown.
“When DeSantis scheduled that town hall, his message was, ‘I’m not ceding a single day of this campaign to anybody,” said Matt Bartlett, a native Granite Stater and longtime GOP operative.
“He is planting a flag in New Hampshire, showing that he is willing to work for every vote. Tuesday is a big day and a big test. Good candidates get better, and DeSantis has another shot to show what kind of candidate he is.”
Asked about going toe-to-toe with DeSantis in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Trump campaign advisor Jason Miller replied, “Maybe they’re talking about punching back at their SuperPAC for declaring open warfare against the campaign?” He included a link to a Vanity Fair article claiming Jeff Roe, who runs the Never Back Down Super PAC, “has complained privately about how the DeSantis campaign is performing” and “is frustrated the campaign isn’t getting more press coverage.”
That article also included the PAC’s spokesperson, Erin Perrine, calling the suggestion “bullsh*t.”
“Our voters don’t hear this stuff,” said Osborne. “It’s early, they’re not really paying attention yet, and that’s not what they care about. Ron DeSantis is a governor who cuts taxes and cares about parents’ rights. And he just released a plan to get tough at the border.
“In a Republican primary in New Hampshire, that’s where you want to be.”