As he prepares to leave office — and perhaps become the only president convicted by the U.S. Senate in an impeachment trial after leaving office — will New Hampshire Republicans remain loyal to Donald Trump? Or is it a Granite State case of “How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?”
Granite Staters are getting mixed messages from inside the NHGOP. The state’s Republican National Committeeman Chris Ager was on WMUR with Adam Sexton this weekend defending President Trump against the “persecution” he’s suffering at the hands of the Democrats. Ager pointedly avoided assigning any blame to the president over the ransacking of the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.
Ager has repeatedly said he sees a future for Trump in the GOP
On the same show, Trump state co-chair Rep. Fred Doucette said “absolutely, 100 percent,” when asked if Trump is the leader of the GOP and will continue to be.
And NHGOP party chairman Steve Stepanek agrees, telling WMUR, “I think [Trump’s] going to be significantly involved going forward in getting Republicans elected to the House and Senate and to governor’s offices.”
But Ager’s counterpart, New Hampshire Republican National Committeewoman Juliana Bergeron, had a very different message: “In this world, I think there’s lots of room for the Republican Party. I’m not sure there’s room for the Republican Party of Donald Trump.”
And last week in the Union-Leader, longtime NHGOP strategist Jim Merrill penned an anti-Trump op-ed declaring, “Character is destiny.”
“It is easier to remain quiet, but I cannot because the inflammatory words of a Republican president of the United States led to this shameful and dangerous moment in our country’s history,” Merrill wrote in response to the Capitol attack.
“Over the past two months, President Trump has provided the kindling, lit the match and stoked the fire leading to a violent mob taking over the U.S. Capitol, disrupting an essential constitutional process and shaking the foundations of our republic, all because he cannot accept the simple fact that Joe Biden won and he lost.”
Setting aside the question of who is right about Trump’s character, what is the right thing for the NHGOP to do going forward? Is Trump’s continued involvement with the GOP good for the party here in New Hampshire?
While there are no recent local polls — and political polling regarding Trump is notoriously unreliable — they show a trend of collapsing support for the president since the riot.
“Donald Trump is leaving the White House with the lowest job approval of his presidency (29 percent) and increasingly negative ratings for his post-election conduct,” Pew Research reports. They also found 68 percent of Americans don’t want the current president involved in America’s future politics. Just 29 percent of Americans want Trump to stay.
Other polls, including Ipsos, Morning Consult, and Quinnipiac all have him in the 33-35 percent range, the lowest numbers of his presidency.
So what should the NHGOP do with a politician who the average voter hates by their grassroots activists love?
The most common answer NHJournal got from NHGOP insiders and activists was “wait him out.”
“It all goes away on January 20th,” a key GOP player told NHJournal. “Nothing to gain at this point.”
This approach is based on the theory that once Biden is sworn in and starts governing, Republicans will be too busy fighting off tax hikes, student loan forgiveness and amnesty for illegal immigrants to wax nostalgic for Trump.
“Republicans like Trump, but they dislike what Democrats are doing even more,” the Republican said.
The counterargument is evidenced in the relative lack of media coverage for Biden’s COVID-19 spending plan last week, while stories surrounding Trump and the Capitol attack dominated the news. The fact is, Trump’s a far more compelling story for the press than Biden’s Obama 2.0 placeholder presidency. And if Trump’s next 12 months are anything like his past two, that could be a disaster for the GOP.
So what should the NHGOP do?
Some Republicans say the answer is to go local, local, local.
“I would say New Hampshire Republicans, ‘pay no attention to polling -national or local- and concentrate on the basics.’ What matters in New Hampshire is what dictates our politics. All politics is indeed local,” says political strategist Tom Rath, a longtime Republican who backed Joe Biden in November.
Another GOP insider echoed Rath’s sentiment. “Publicly focus on state issues and state personalities — I’d rather talk about Sununu over Trump any day of the week. Indeed, for the time being, this should be the Republican Party’s exclusive focus.”
Other Republicans, like state Rep. Al Baldasaro and grassroots Trump supporters, say the NHGOP abandons Trump at its own peril. He’s threatening to leave the party if it doesn’t stick with Trump. His message is amplified by Trump supporters across social media.
But some Republicans are beginning to ask: Now that he’s leaving office, what’s in it for us to stick with him? If Trump voters are only loyal to Trump, they aren’t going to show up in 2022, anyway, and attempting to appeal to them will continue to cost the party the college-educated suburban voters they need to win.
“I see no evidence that Trump can help other Republicans win,” said the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley. “Republicans lost the House on his watch, they lost the Senate on his watch and he failed to get re-elected.”