Former President Donald Trump came to the bluest corner of New Hampshire on Saturday and reminded Republicans that when it comes to drawing a crowd, he has no competition.

The more than 4,000 Trump supporters at the Whittemore Center burst into rock concert-style screams when he took the stage. About halfway through his speech, they began spontaneously chanting “We love you” as the former president beamed.

“Nobody else in the race could do this, could they?” a national reporter commented as he watched the spectacle from the stands.

Several Republicans in the audience who are longtime Trump supporters told NHJournal the Saturday rally had the feel of 2016 all over again. That was when Trump won one of the biggest political upsets in U.S. history, running an anti-establishment, outsider race powered by passion and enthusiasm. Trump’s first victory in that campaign came in the New Hampshire primary.



On the floor of the arena, however, Trump campaign strategists Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita were telling a different story — about a Trump campaign utilizing data and targeting it to turn out voters. It’s a tool Trump never fully utilized in his previous campaigns.

Asked if Trump will have traditional campaign turnout mechanisms in Iowa and New Hampshire instead of relying on their base’s enthusiasm to drive voters to the polls, Wiles replied, “Yes. Only better.”

LaCivita was also confident about the campaign’s data-based voter outreach strategy. “We have so many people identified as Trump people. All we have to do is turn them out.”

Wiles said the core Trump message for 2024 is “the economy, inflation, safety, and security, along with a comparison of how it was, how it is, and how [Trump] thinks it will be.” On stage, Trump delivered that message, along with the sarcastic asides and political attacks his supporters have come to expect.

A Trump supporter shows off her yard sign and her Israel flag patch at a rally at the University of New Hampshire on Dec. 16, 2023.

His most frequent target was “Crooked Joe Biden,” whom he called “low IQ” and “the worst, most incompetent, and most corrupt president in the history of our country.” Trump hit Biden’s apparent infirmity, his confused public comments, and his “breathtaking weakness” on the international stage.

Interestingly, Trump left Hunter Biden’s troubles — including his indictment on tax fraud charges just days ago — largely unmentioned.

Nor did he spend much time targeting his Republican competitors, Nikki Haley or Ron DeSantis. He mocked media reports that Haley and DeSantis are “surging” or enjoying a “bounce,” even as he continues to hold a 25-point lead (or more) in most Iowa and New Hampshire polls.

“With Nikki, they talk about the ‘surge,’ and with Ron DiSanctimonious, they talk about the ‘bounce.’ They’ve been talking about it for six months,” Trump said. “But the only one who’s had a ‘surge’ and the only one who’s had a ‘bounce’ is Trump.”

Trump did spend a couple of minutes kicking New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, whose endorsement of Haley inspired a wave of national media coverage last week. “He’s like a spoiled brat,” Trump said. “He’s endorsed someone who can’t win.”

Trump also accused Sununu of being “selfish” for not running for U.S. Senate last year against Democrat Maggie Hassan. “He’s a selfish guy. He could have run for Senate, and we would have a majority,” Trump said. “Now, he couldn’t run for dogcatcher.”

Trump’s decision to focus on Biden and shrug off his Republican competitors is yet another sign his team feels confident about the primary.

Top Trump campaign strategist Susie Wiles talks to reporters at a Trump rally at the University of New Hampshire on Dec. 16, 2023.

“Remember: the only way Nikky Haley makes this race competitive is if she drastically increases the number of independents and Democrats who vote in the Republican primary,” LaCivita said. “That’s why Chris Sununu literally went on TV and said, ‘If you’re a conservative Democrat or an independent, come vote in our primary.”

According to LaCivita, Trump is winning among unaffiliated voters in New Hampshire, though it is much closer than his massive lead among registered Republicans.

The story is similar in Iowa, LaCivita added, where he said the Trump campaign has at least two caucus captains at every voting location across Iowa’s 99 counties. The strategy is to pad Trump’s lead by bringing in Republicans who aren’t regular caucusgoers.

“If you poll just caucusgoers, we’re up by about 15 [points]. But if you poll people who’ve never voted in a caucus but say they’re going to this time, we’re winning by about 30. People were surprised when they saw polls showing Trump going up to 50 percent, 51 percent, because they just assumed we had a ceiling.

“But it’s everyone else who has a ceiling,” LaCivita said. “We don’t.”

Trump has added another tool to his 2024 toolbox: his explicit embrace of populist economics.

Trump has been a populist from the beginning, but his 2016 campaign’s economic message focused heavily on trade and jobs lost due to unfair competition from China abroad and from illegal immigrants here at home. At UNH on Saturday, parts of Trump’s speech sounded like they were leftover from the last Sen. Bernie Sanders rally of 2020, accusing Wall Street, banks, and big business of economic inequity.

“While the stock market is making the rich richer, Biden’s inflation catastrophe is demolishing your savings and ravaging your dreams,” Trump said. He also accused “Biden’s handlers” of “making the banks much richer and making you much poorer. Banks discriminate against conservatives. They discriminate against religion — because they are afraid of the radical left.”

And in an oblique reference to Haley, Trump said, “You don’t want candidates who do the bidding of Wall Street, the Washington Establishment, the Fake News Media, the Deep State, and the military-industrial complex.”

Attacking the stock market, bankers, and Wall Street isn’t the usual fare of a Republican primary campaign, but Trump isn’t talking to the usual Republicans of the past.

Ronnie Witham is a Trump supporter who traveled to Durham from another university town — Keene, N.H. He said he gets plenty of blowback for being a Trump voter, but he is not going anywhere.

“Trump served our country well for four years, he kept taxes low, inflation was low,” Witham told NHJournal. Asked why his Keene neighbors don’t like Trump, Witham said, “Because he tells the truth. He tells it like it is and doesn’t beat around the bush. And he supports the American people.”