PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Even as Republicans around the country denounce him, many of Donald Trump’s backers in the first-in-the-nation primary state on Tuesday remained steadfast in their support for the GOP front-runner after his controversial call for a ban on Muslims entering the country.
In more than two dozen interviews with voters around New Hampshire, supporters repeatedly expressed fears about the recent string of terrorist attacks and what they saw as a need for the United States to protect its borders.
“He’s my guy,” said Steve Ball, a 37-year-old from Rochester, N.H. “That needed to be done. Look what’s happening in Europe, what happened in France.”
Many other Republican voters expressed dismay at the remarks by Trump, who remains a divisive figure in New Hampshire and the country.
Jeff Frost, a retired American Airlines pilot who was supposed to fly to Los Angeles on Sept. 11, 2001, called Trump’s remarks “irresponsible and un-American.”
“It’s like doing the Japanese internment camps all over again,” said Frost, 60 and a registered Republican from Alexandria now working in real estate. “You can’t single out Muslims. That would be like saying because Timothy McVeigh was Catholic we should outlaw Catholics from coming into the United States. We’ve had plenty of homegrown terrorists who, like McVeigh, weren’t Muslim.”
The terrorist attacks in Paris and mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., have sent jitters through the country and reshaped the political debate as the presidential primaries approach. In the latest sign of the growing political concern over immigration, the US House voted Tuesday to require visas for anyone who has visited Iraq or Syria in the last five years.
Trump set off a firestorm Monday evening by calling for sealing US borders to Muslims “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” He continued to stand by his comments on Tuesday.
A wide range of political figures — and many other likely GOP voters — criticized Trump’s proposal. Among them were Republicans Jeb Bush, Governor Charlie Baker, former vice president Dick Cheney, and US House Speaker Paul Ryan.
But his supporters in New Hampshire applauded the Trump proposal.
“As a temporary, drastic move, I’m OK with it. Because with all of the infiltration, we are prone to setting ourselves up for disaster,” said Yvette Gaumont, a 78-year-old retiree and Trump supporter from Salem. After voting for President Obama in 2008 and 2012, she said, she had been upset by the terrorism emanating from the Middle East.
“Sometimes you just have to face the junkyard dog, the bully,” she said while leaving her morning workout in a Salem strip mall. “It’s time for action. It’s time to show them. And we can always pull back later.”
Toby Carroll called Trump’s call for a moratorium on Muslims entering the United States “outside the box” but something worth considering.
“We’re involved in a war we don’t know how to fight and even though [Trump’s] approach might seem like a dangerous one, he’s at least concerned for the public — which is different from what I’m hearing from the left,” said Carroll, a 39-year-old IT manager from Hillsborough.
‘Sometimes you just have to face the junkyard dog, the bully. It’s time for action. It’s time to show them.‘Yvette Gaumont, 78, of Salem, N.H., and a Donald Trump supporter
Carroll has been looking for a new candidate to support since Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin dropped out of the race in September. And although Trump’s stance on Muslims is “harsh,” Carroll said it is not a deal-breaker.
“I do appreciate that he’s thinking differently than other folks,” he said. “People are frustrated. They’re very upset about what’s going on and they need someone who’s willing to go against the status quo.”
Many Republicans interviewed condemned Trump’s plan.
Trump’s language and approach vexed Ken Murphy, a 55-year-old Republican from Portsmouth, who wondered how the mood has changed since President Bush’s remarks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
At the time, Bush stood before the country and said: “The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them.”
“Contrast that with what happened yesterday,” Murphy said of Trump’s call to keep Muslims from entering the US. “It’s crazy. I understand the frustration, but he’s not the answer. No matter what, I won’t vote for Donald Trump.”
Trump is scheduled to make a swing through New Hampshire on Thursday, when he will be a guest of honor at a meeting of the New England Police Benevolent Association in Portsmouth.
Trump has led the GOP field in every New Hampshire primary poll since July, drawing on the antiestablishment fervor of voters fed up with the current political system.
The most recent survey, conducted Nov. 30 through Dec. 7, showed Trump leading the GOP field with 32 percent, followed by Senator Marco Rubio with 14 percent, and Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey with 9 percent.
While he tops surveys in New Hampshire, his edge in Iowa has slipped, with a new poll showing him in second place.
This is why 60-year-old Charles Larson suspects Trump’s plan was released.
“He’s a grandstander. He’s got nothing to do with government. He’s an idiot,” the Rochester resident said while waiting for a bus in downtown Portsmouth.Jim O’Sullivan of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents Carol Robidoux, James A. Kimble, and Meg Heckman contributed to this report. Akilah Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.