Jan 29, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Trump's sleepy start to 2024


Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

SALEM, New Hampshire — Former President Trump's first campaign swing of the 2024 campaign generated little of the excitement that has long defined his glitzy political rallies.

Why it matters: From party officials to state legislators, there wasn't a visible show of support for Trump's 2024 bid among rank-and-file New Hampshire Republicans in attendance.

  • In contrast to the large rallies that propelled him in 2016 and 2020, the New Hampshire event — timed to the state party annual meeting — was held in a compact high school auditorium, with about 400 people in attendance.
  • The most organized show of Trump support was about a dozen fans standing outside the parking lot, who weren't credentialed for the event.

Driving the news: In a long-winded, hourlong address, Trump recalled what he says are his greatest successes as president — from cracking down on illegal immigration to stunting the spread of ISIS and launching the Space Force.

  • About one-third of the crowd loudly applauded as outgoing state party chairman Stephen Stepanek introduced Trump by endorsing his campaign. (He will be serving as Trump's top New Hampshire adviser.) But the speech overall drew a lukewarm reaction from the attendees.
  • Trump's biggest applause came 45 minutes into his speech, when he introduced a new proposal to crack down on critical race theory in public school classrooms. He also drew an enthusiastic response when he proposed a constitutional amendment for congressional term limits.
  • Noting that pundits have panned the former president's low-key schedule since announcing his 2024 presidential campaign, Trump responded: "I have two years. I’m more angry now and I’m more committed than ever.”

What they're saying: "Trump has not been mortally wounded but was damaged by the results in the midterm election," said former Republican state party chairman Wayne MacDonald, a state lawmaker. "Trump lost the 2020 election, and the number of people who still hold onto the belief that he didn't are a dwindling minority."

Between the lines: Signs of enthusiasm for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis were notable throughout the event. The pro-DeSantis efforts were led by the super PAC Ron To the Rescue, which set up shop inside the GOP meeting. A second DeSantis supporter was selling T-shirts at a stand.

  • A life-sized cutout of DeSantis stood just outside the auditorium. Only a smattering of visible signs of Trump enthusiasm — red MAGA hats from his most devoted supporters — were present in the high school's hallways.
  • One Republican in attendance estimated to Axios that about half of the party rank-and-file in the room were Trump supporters in general, while another half wanted the party to move on. Another said there were "pockets" of Trump support within party leadership, but it was not widespread.

Reality check: Trump's base of support has always been with ordinary Republican voters who don't participate in grassroots political events. Last year, Republican primary voters rejected candidates backed by popular GOP Gov. Chris Sununu in favor of MAGA-oriented candidates.

By the numbers: Two new polls of New Hampshire Republicans paint a mixed picture of the state's GOP electorate. The University of New Hampshire's Granite State Poll showed DeSantis leading Trump, 42%-30%, in a multi-candidate ballot test.

  • But a Coefficient survey conducted for the New Hampshire Journal found Trump up 11 points over DeSantis (37%-26%), with Sununu tallying 13%. 43% of GOP respondents said they'd prefer Trump to an alternative, while 42% would prefer someone else.
  • An informal Reuters survey of 10 onetime strong Trump supporters in the state found only three of them backing him again in 2024.
  • Sununu said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that DeSantis would win the New Hampshire primary today "without a doubt."

The bottom line: Trump's support is soft in New Hampshire. The widespread sentiment among Republicans there is that Trump served the country well, but he's unelectable in 2024.

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