WEARE, New Hampshire Jan 27 (Reuters) – When Donald Trump defeated his Republican rivals in the New Hampshire primary in 2016, the stunning victory announced to the rest of the country that the TV host was a strong contender. Trump went on to capture the Republican nomination and then the White House.
But as the former president begins his bid to retake the White House in 2024 and speak in New Hampshire on Saturday – his first event in the primary – he will find politics more treacherous than he did six years ago, according to party activists, members and experts in the government.
In an interview with 10 New Hampshire Republican Party officials and members, some who worked on the Trump campaign in 2016 and all who have been supporters of Trump in the past, Reuters found only three who support him this time – including the state. chair, a Republican who is very happy with Trump is coming down on Saturday to help his campaign.
Others cited fatigue with Trump’s controversies, frustration with the constant drama, and a desire to avoid losing to Trump in 2020 with a new face they think might have a better chance of winning in 2024.
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Publicly complaining about the former president is difficult for Trump. A loss could hurt his chances of winning the presidential election, experts say, because New Hampshire often gives a competitive advantage when he goes to other states.
The former president’s lack of interest and his hopes of winning in 2024 could hurt Trump because the party’s lobbyists form a vital base for candidates, such as door-knocking and making phone calls to raise money and mobilize voters.
Most of the New Hampshire party members who have settled on Trump said they would prefer Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as the party’s carrier, although DeSantis has not yet said whether he will launch a bid for the White House.
“Donald Trump right now is a distraction for the Republican Party in trying to move forward. Donald Trump has run his course,” said Brian Sullivan, 60, a member of the Hillsborough County Republican Committee who supported Trump in the 2016 primary.
“I would love to see someone, like Ron DeSantis, run,” Sullivan said.
While he likes Trump’s policies and appreciates his accomplishments in office, “he has a lot of baggage. I don’t think he has what it takes to win the White House again,” Sullivan said.
Three Republicans still supporting Trump say his New Hampshire base is still happy, he has a solid track record, and that many Republican voters like what he has accomplished while in office, giving him a solid reputation to carry on, unlike other potential candidates.
The Trump campaign, in an email to supporters, cited a January 24 poll from Emerson College Polling showing the former president leading DeSantis nationally among Republican voters, 55% to 29%.
Yet the willingness of members of the Republican Party to criticize Trump in an interview with Reuters is surprising. Other Republican Party officials and members who have broken with Trump in the past have faced backlash and online backlash from his supporters.
Lori Davis, 67, entered Republican politics because of Trump. Back in 2015 when he announced his candidacy, he was encouraged. He took part in his first campaign in New Hampshire, knocked on his door, encouraged everyone he met to vote for him.
Not this time.
“I love Donald Trump. But he’s gone too far polarizing. It’s going to be an uphill battle for him in the primary because of his divisiveness. People are tired of the drama,” Davis said at his home over burgers.
“I see that people want DeSantis. He has a lot of Trump’s wisdom, but he’s not dangerous, he’s not attacking people 24/7. People are tired of it. It gives them a headache,” Davis said.
“PEOPLE WANT A WINNER”
It’s not just New Hampshire where Trump is facing a storm. The multi-billion dollar donors who funded his previous campaigns have yet to contribute. They include hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah Mercer. He has already donated to DeSantis’ political committee.
New Hampshire has a large stake in the selection of presidential candidates because it is the second-choice race after the Iowa caucuses.
Although the winner of the New Hampshire Republican primary has not won the state in a general election since George W. Bush in 2000, it is still seen as the most difficult test for the election.
Chris Maidment, chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Committee, described the sentiment among many members as “Trump fatigue,” and added: “I have an open mind this time.
Most of Trump’s nominees endorsed competitive races in congressional elections that were lost to Democrats. During the four years of President Trump’s victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, Republicans lost control of both chambers of Congress, before losing the 2020 elections to his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.
“People want a winner and the elections are for the future. Republicans want someone who can win and who is not a left-wing extremist. Trump has represented that in the past but I’m not sure he represents it now,” Neil said. Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College.
In a survey of likely New Hampshire Republicans by Levesque before last November’s election, Trump trailed DeSantis by 38% to 47%. Overall, 50% of voters in the state had an “unfavorable” opinion of Trump, with only 22% “very favorable”.
Another thing that has been troubling Trump all along is that independents can vote in New Hampshire’s Republican and Democratic primaries. If Mr. Biden runs again, the Democratic primary may not be contested, and many independents may choose to vote in the Republican primary where their vote will have a greater impact.
“Independents are going to take action. Many independents will vote against Trump. And this is not good news for him”, Tom Rath, a Republican strategist in New Hampshire, said.
Polls in New Hampshire and elsewhere show Trump is unpopular with many independents.
Despite his signs of fatigue with Trump, he would have been the top candidate in the New Hampshire primary, some party experts said.
“He’s still starting 2023 as the leader. He has an ID name, a strong base of supporters. His influence is still very important,” said Jim Merrill, a New Hampshire Republican Strategist.
Trump is the only Republican who has announced his candidacy so far, though the field of contenders is likely to grow this year. Others expected to jump into the race include DeSantis, Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, and Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina.
USE IS REAL
For Steve Stepanek, the former state representative who was first elected in New Hampshire to endorse Trump in 2015 and is the chairman of New Hampshire’s Republican Party, his potential challengers may be true role models.
He remains a staunch supporter of the former president and is about to step down as party chairman because he wants to take part in Trump’s latest campaign, he told Reuters.
A successor will be chosen at the party’s convention on Saturday, where Trump will be the keynote speaker. It remains unclear whether Stepanek’s departure will free up Trump’s power over the party machine.
Stepanek accused Republican opponents of being Republican infiltrators, not ordinary voters who make up their minds in primary elections.
“Do you believe the person who says I’m going to continue Trump’s policies — or the person who has Trump’s policies?”
Tim Reid reports in Weare, New Hampshire; Edited by Ross Colvin and Suzanne Goldenberg
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