It began as Emily Post, but it’s becoming Bluto Blutarsky.
President Donald Trump’s upcoming appearance at the New Hampshire Federation of Republican Women’s Lilac Luncheon has turned into a political food fight, and at least two members have tendered their resignations over the organization’s handling of the event.
The incident indicates how contentious the 2024 First in the Nation Primary campaign is likely to be, particularly between Trump and his leading challenger, Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The NHFRW was all smiles on Monday when it announced the upcoming Lilac Luncheon fundraiser with Trump next week in Concord will be a record-setting sell-out.
“We are so excited President Trump will speak to a sold-out crowd, many of whom are empowered female leaders in our organization,” President Elizabeth Girard said in a statement on Monday. “President Trump will speak to the largest Lilac Luncheon crowd in NHFRW history dating back to our founding in 1944. We are proud to host this highly coveted event.”
But those smiles turned upside down when the DeSantis campaign announced Tuesday it would hold a town hall event the same morning as the luncheon, about an hour away in Hollis.
“Decline is a choice. Success is attainable. And freedom is worth fighting for… And Gov. DeSantis is in that fight!” the campaign said in a statement announcing the event.
In response, the NHRFW — which has had an open-door policy to all the Republican candidates — took the unusual step of criticizing the DeSantis campaign, accusing it of an “unprecedented” breach of protocol by scheduling a campaign event so close to their own.
“The Lilac Luncheon is the preeminent fundraiser of the largest grassroots Republican women’s organization in the state,” Girard said in a statement. “This attempt to pull focus from our Lilac Luncheon only diminishes the efforts of the Republican women in New Hampshire.”
“It has always been a New Hampshire hallmark to be considerate when scheduling events,” added Christine Peters, the group’s events director.
“To have a candidate come in and distract from the most special event NHFRW holds in the year is unprecedented.”
NHFRW’s decision to call out the DeSantis campaign, in turn inspired a member of its leadership team, Kate Day, to resign.
“I vehemently disagree with the NHFRW statement released today regarding the DeSantis event. Although not consulted, as PR Chair, I would have advised against any negative statement against a candidate, thereby violating our NHFRW neutrality policy,” Day said in a public message to the organization’s leadership.
“I enthusiastically support our NH First in the Nation primary and will continue to promote this 100-year tradition and protect its integrity. Effective immediately, I resign my position on the NHFRW board as PR Chair.”
Another member, former state Rep. Melissa Blasek, also resigned.
“Clearly, this is motivated by the Trump campaign, and it is bewildering to me that our president would take part in such a cheap campaign stunt,” said Blasek, a DeSantis supporter.
The harsh tone of the day’s communications from members of an organization known for comity caught many in New Hampshire politics by surprise. Just as surprising, political professionals told NHJournal, is the suggestion by the NHFRW that conflicting candidate events are somehow problematic in the FITN campaign season.
“Where were these women in 2016?” responded one campaign veteran when told about the NHFRW statement. “We had 17 people campaigning in a small state, and nobody was waiting for permission to campaign. You couldn’t park your car without backing into a former governor running for president in the parking lot.”
Fergus Cullen, a former NHGOP state party chair, also dismissed the group’s claims of outrage. “It is common for candidates to do events at the same time as other candidates. Can you imagine if this ‘non-compete’ idea applied to the last week of the primary?”
Current state party chair, Chris Ager, had a very simple, direct, and telling statement. “The New Hampshire Republican Party welcomes all Presidential candidates to speak to whomever they want, whenever and wherever they see fit.”
Still, the Trump campaign was happy to stir the pot, feeding the notion that Team DeSantis had committed a campaign faux pas.
“Ron DeSantis scheduled an event in New Hampshire at the same time the NH Republican Women are hosting their major, historic fundraiser. Rude!” tweeted MAGA Inc. spokesperson Karoline Leavitt. “Kudos to the ladies from the NHFRW for pushing back!”
Speculation was rife Thursday that the entire kerfuffle was a creation of Team Trump, who nudged the notoriously non-confrontational NHFRW into a political squabble in hopes of embarrassing the DeSantis campaign. Sources close to Team DeSantis shrugged off the story, insisting that its job is to campaign where the voters are, not where the Trump campaign wants them.
And at least one Republican wondered why a women’s organization would host Trump in the first place.
“I have no idea why an organization that has and continues to work so hard to advance women would host Donald Trump—a devout womanizer and jury-determined sexual assaulter—to their event,” said veteran GOP communications professional Alicia Preston Xanthopolous. “It seems antithetical to their long history of hard work of empowering women.”
And another longtime GOP operative unaffiliated with any campaign said the NHFRW is missing the silver lining and focusing on the dark cloud.
“Given the relative lack of visits to NH by any candidate so far, we should be grateful rather than cranky about this kind of attention from top-tier contenders.”