Former President Donald Trump received a warm welcome from the 500 or so New Hampshire Republicans at their state party committee meeting on Saturday. But if he was hoping his appearance would fire up his 2024 presidential bid, he may want to book a return flight to the Granite State.
The president gave a subdued — his supporters said “disciplined” — speech to the Trump-friendly crowd. But other than a few passing references to a handful of new policy proposals from his campaign, he mostly talked about the past. It was a performance that played well among the Trump supporters in the crowd but left others in the room of Republican activists less than inspired.
“Scattered,” said Paul Lange of Belmont. “He didn’t have any real message to the speech, it was all over the place.”
The good news for the Trump team was he largely avoided relitigating the 2020 election which he still claims to have won.
He began his declaration of support for the First in the Nation primary with the observation, “As someone who has won the New Hampshire Republican primary not once, but twice — and, by the way, I believe we won two general elections as well — I know what a special role this state has and the people have.”
And Trump definitely had the crowd on his side when he pledged to use the power of the presidency to ensure New Hampshire keeps its first-in-the-nation status. “You have it, you’re first, and you’re going to remain first.”
He also scored points when he mocked President Joe Biden for stripping the state’s Democrats of their primary after his “humiliating fifth-place defeat.”
“Now he’s taking revenge on voters of this state by cruelly and disgracefully trashing this beloved political position,” Trump said.
The less good news was that while Trump stayed out of the “stolen election” sandtrap, he still focused on the past. He rolled through a familiar litany of his foils — Adam “Shifty” Schiff, “Crazy” Nancy Pelosi, and Hunter Biden’s “Laptop From Hell.” He recounted a funny story about flying to Iraq in the dark of night. He talked about the border, but with a story of how he pressured Mexico into agreeing to the “remain in Mexico” policy, not a set of plans to solve the problem in the future.
At one point, Trump seemed to acknowledge the question of whether he was all in for another run.
“To save America …. we need a president who’s ready to hit the ground running, and boy am I ready,” he said. As for complaints that “he’s not campaigning, maybe he’s lost that step,” Trump said, “I’m more angry now and I’m more committed now than I ever was.”
His fans believe him, and in the past, Trump has had plenty of fans in the New Hampshire GOP. His approval rating among Granite State Republicans has consistently been above 80 percent in the past.
“You see that crowd in there, they’re still with Trump,” said his 2016 RNC delegate Paula Johnson. “You be sure to report that.”
Thad Riley, an evangelical activist who ran against Gov. Chris Sununu in the GOP primary last year, called the speech “phenomenal. He’s talking about the issues we care about like CRT. ”
Asked if he thought Republicans who backed Trump in 2016 and 2020 will stick with Trump in 2024, Riley said, “I think he’s actually going to build beyond that.”
But a new poll from NHJournal/coefficient released Friday found Republican primary voters evenly split, with 43 percent saying they supported Trump and 42 percent picking “someone else.” In a head-to-head with Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump led but with just 37 percent of the vote to DeSantis’ 26 percent.
“What was his message? There was no real direction he was taking us. He was all over the place,” said Mike Bordes of Laconia.
One county GOP official summed up the speech as “the same Trump show on repeat. People have seen this episode and it’s not getting the same ratings as when it first aired.”
In a sign that New Hampshire is likely to be hotly contested in the primary, there were two different tables in the lobby promoting a Ron DeSantis presidency.
“It’s a testament to DeSantis’ strength that before he even launches a campaign, in places like New Hampshire he’s so popular,” said Alex Olson, a strategist for the Ron to the Rescue SuperPAC. “People want fresh blood. Republicans want to win.”
And both Lange and Bordes said they are hearing fellow Republicans discussing a DeSantis candidacy, as well as former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and former Vice President Mike Pence.
That was about what GOP strategist Mike Biundo said he expected at this point in the primary process.
“The NHGOP delegates don’t dislike Trump but are extremely open to others. The unofficial DeSantis operations were getting a lot of traction. The chatter about other candidates was prevalent. My discussions with delegates left me believing they are open to others.
“Republicans want the policies without the drama. Once candidates start filling the void here and in Iowa, the landscape will shift.”
Trump was introduced by state party chairman Steve Stepanek, who was replaced by Chris Ager in a vote of the committee Saturday morning. Trump announced Stepanek will play a senior role in his New Hampshire campaign.
Ager defeated businessman Lou Gargiulo, who was Trump’s 2020 state co-chair.