Will the Race Against Trump End in New Hampshire?

Last Tuesday, with a week to go before the New Hampshire primary, Donald Trump was in a Manhattan courtroom, sulking and grumbling through jury selection in E. Jean Carroll’s second defamation trial against him. Trump has described Carroll’s case, like his four federal indictments, as a “Biden-encouraged witch hunt,” but he has apparently found it

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Last Tuesday, with a week to go before the New Hampshire primary, Donald Trump was in a Manhattan courtroom, sulking and grumbling through jury selection in E. Jean Carroll’s second defamation trial against him. Trump has described Carroll’s case, like his four federal indictments, as a “Biden-encouraged witch hunt,” but he has apparently found it politically advantageous to juggle court appointments with campaign stops. Though he had shown up at jury selection of his own volition, he bemoaned the timing in a series of posts on Truth Social: “I should be in New Hampshire . . . but for now I had to spend time in a Federal Courthouse with a Trump Hating, Radical Left Judge.”

The same afternoon, people were lining up in the snow outside a country club in Atkinson, New Hampshire, for a Trump rally scheduled to start at 5 P.M.—his first since his thirty-point victory in the Iowa caucuses. Voters planted themselves in camping chairs, shielding themselves from hail with “LIVE FREE OR DIE” signs as salesmen paced up and down the line, hawking Trump-themed pom-pom beanies. Inside, as the crowd spilled down a carpeted staircase into a sunken ballroom, the mood was buoyant—more fan convention than campaign gathering. A grizzled man in dad jeans offered to photograph a family in “Vietnamese Americans for Trump” T-shirts. Paula Petrou, a seventy-seven-year-old with a thick New England accent, had come to town on her birthday, decked out entirely in red. “It’s just an honor to be in the presence of Donald Trump,” she said.

The race for the Republican nomination was shaping up to be a one-on-one between Trump and Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor, even before the contest moved to the Granite State. The adage there is that Iowa picks corn and New Hampshire picks Presidents. ​​Since the states staked out the nation’s first two nominating contests, some fifty years ago, no Republican non-incumbent has won both. After a third-place finish in Iowa, behind Governor Ron DeSantis, of Florida, Haley entered New Hampshire in dire need of fresh momentum. As she told voters earlier this month, in the town of Milford, “You know Iowa starts it. You know that you correct it.” But recent New Hampshire polls show her trailing Trump by double digits.

The grim marvel of the campaign thus far is, as ever with Trump, his utter imperviousness. He has remained the decisive front-runner despite the G.O.P.’s midterm losses, despite his myriad legal troubles, despite his decision to sit out every Republican debate. As one voter, a “fairly conservative” registered Democrat, put it in New Hampshire last week, “Whatever happens to him, and whatever he does, it doesn’t seem to matter. People just viscerally love him.” Whereas Haley’s crowds include a fair share of policy wonks—political tourists from neighboring states, neutral envoys from the New Hampshire A.A.R.P.—Trump’s audience comes for him and for one another. In Atkinson, the fervor was such that no one seemed to mind that their candidate, en route from New York after court, was running egregiously late. A Coast Guard veteran had the crowd chant the Pledge of Allegiance. Someone else recited the Lord’s Prayer, tacking on “Make America great again.” Half an hour passed, then another. The Village People’s “Macho Man” played from the speakers for a second time.

“He’s always late,” Kelley Roderick-McNulty, a blond mom in a black sweater proclaiming “HE’LL BE BACK,” told me, sounding almost impressed. Her twin, Jennifer Roderick, a jeweler wearing gold bangles from her business, gestured toward the packed house, like a beaming parent at a school play: “It’s snowing, and it’s a weekday. Can you imagine if it wasn’t?” (Later, the sisters posted a selfie on Facebook: “1src hours at the Atkinson CC waiting to see our guy! Worth every Tito’s and soda!”)

Trump finally arrived at 7 p.m., waving off his tardiness: “If you think that it was easy to get here tonight, you are wrong.” He was accompanied by Vivek Ramaswamy, a last-minute guest who, after finishing fourth in Iowa, had repurposed his stump speech as an endorsement. “There is not a better choice left in this race than this man right here,” he told the crowd. Trump looked on, lips pursed, as Ramaswamy riled up the audience, condemning gender fluidity and open borders, exalting fossil fuels and the nuclear family. A young woman in a leopard-print sweaterdress got on the shoulders of a guy in a trapper hat and wraparound shades and stuck a lollipop she was holding in her mouth, freeing her hands to film the stage.

For all the anticipation of Trump’s arrival, the audience seemed to flag as he went on, blathering about tar in Venezuela and bragging—incorrectly, it turns out—that he’d been indicted more times than Al Capone. Talk of tax breaks and low gas prices got predictable rounds of applause (“Your net worth will skyrocket as soon as we come in!”), but fewer people thrilled to his insults aimed at the Fulton County D.A., Fani Willis. Trump, rather than carry out one of his “two-hour beauties” as he had in Iowa, stopped speaking short of the sixty-minute mark. “Even though we’re leading by a lot, you have to go out and vote. You just have to do it—if it’s cold, if it’s hot, I don’t care what the hell it is,” he said, drawing to a close. A stream of listeners had already begun to make their way toward the exit, seeming a bit sheepish that they needed—or wanted—to leave.

For a long time, the worst Nikki Haley would say of Trump is that “rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him.” Last week, when asked on CNN how she felt about a jury finding Trump liable for sexually abusing Carroll, Haley demurred, offering only, “I haven’t paid attention to his cases, and I’m not a lawyer.” Though she lingers after rallies to take selfies with her supporters, she doesn’t often take questions. (When she did at a New Hampshire town hall in December, she prompted a backlash for failing to mention slavery as a cause of the Civil War.) Until Friday, she hesitated to quash speculation that she’d join a Trump ticket as Vice-President, and one of her recent attacks—a two-minute montage of nice things that Trump said about her while she served in his Administration—could have doubled as a bid to be his running mate. Trump, meanwhile, has pummelled Haley with invective, mocking her given name and promoting lies about her eligibility to be President. “That’s what he does when he feels threatened,” she told Jake Tapper during a CNN town hall in New Hampshire, sounding a bit like someone making excuses for her wayward pitbull.

Bruce Pomerleau, a burly sixty-nine-year-old who voted for Trump in the last two elections, told me at a Haley rally in Rochester, New Hampshire, this past Wednesday, that he was disappointed she didn’t mention the Second Amendment. “The stuff she talked about tonight is the same stuff I’d heard about on TV,” he said afterward, as he rushed to beat the crowd to the parking lot. Haley’s prospects in New Hampshire may depend less on picking off members of the MAGA base than on courting the forty per cent of voters there who are unaffiliated with either political party. “I vote for the individual,” one guest at a Haley event last week told me. “There’s no black and white.” Mary Hopkins, a stay-at-home mom from Dover, was “a proud Republican” until Trump came along. “When the Party made him the nominee—and then defended him at all costs—that’s when they lost me,” she said, waiting for a photo with Haley in Rochester. Hopkins left her ballots blank in the last Presidential election, but now she was all in for Haley. So was her fifteen-year-old son, Willie, a young Republican engagé. “I really, really, really wanna watch her go against Biden,” he said.

Haley’s most potent rhetorical move, in her campaign, has been appealing to voters’ dread of a Trump-Biden rematch. A new television ad that her team released in New Hampshire has called them “the two most disliked politicians in America,” a pair consumed by “negativity and grievances of the past.” On the trail, she advocates for term limits and competency tests for anyone older than seventy-five. “I’m not being disrespectful when I say that—we all know seventy-five-year-olds that can run circles around us,” she said at a meet and greet in Hollis, New Hampshire. “And then we know Joe Biden.” It was a bright, icy morning, and people crowded into a wood-panelled banquet hall at the Alpine Grove Events Centre, trailing sleet onto the floral carpeting. A gray-haired man held his phone in both hands and texted someone Haley’s applause lines one by one: Congress is the “most privileged nursing home in America!” On a “good day,” Haley told the crowd, Trump is up by only a couple of points against Biden in the polls. “We’ve gotta make sure we’re not going to another nail-biter of an election!”

Chris Sununu, New Hampshire’s governor and Haley’s attendant at campaign events in the state, has been reminding voters of the puny numbers behind Trump’s so-called Iowa landslide: fifty-six thousand caucus-goers in a state of three million. “Does that dictate the future of this country?” he asked crowds last week. “Heck no!” Sununu urged people to get out the vote by appealing to “the weird uncle that you normally only wanna deal with on Christmas.” Marsha, an undeclared voter, said the problem was that her uncle reminded her of Trump: “Great guy, personable, but makes everything about him.” She had shown up to see Haley after working a night shift for a lottery call center. (“My best tip?” she joked. “Don’t play.”) Biden was a no-go for her, and she had some concerns about Haley’s proposed reforms to Social Security and Medicare. But Haley “seems honest,” Marsha added. “Not a mean person, or a blowhard.” Debbie Nutter, a grandmother with highlights in her pixie-cut hair, told me, “She’s my girl.” An independent, Nutter was confident that Haley could prevail in New Hampshire—not that she’d have Nutter’s vote. She lives in Pepperell, Massachusetts, ten minutes south of the border.

Even if Haley manages a win in New Hampshire, Trump is on track to dominate the next race, in Haley’s home state of South Carolina. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican whom Haley appointed to fill a Senate vacancy, in 2src12, flew with Trump to one of his New Hampshire rallies last week to endorse him. Haley brushed off the snub (“The fellas are gonna do what the fellas are gonna do . . .”), but by the end of the weekend some Republicans were calling Trump the “presumptive nominee.” On Sunday, after decamping from New Hampshire to South Carolina for a last stand, DeSantis suspended his campaign and, trotting out a faux Winston Churchill quote (“Success is not final, failure is not fatal. . . . ”), threw in his lot with Trump: “We can’t go back to the old Republican guard of yesteryear, a repackaged form of warmed-over corporatism that Nikki Haley represents,” he said. (“May he rest in peace,” Trump said, of DeSantis, to a crowd in Manchester.)

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