When a president decides to come to town, typically there are just a few basic questions, such as where will he go, how will security work, who will greet him at the airport, and who will get to introduce him on the stage.
But the announcement from President Trump’s campaign that he plans to hold an outdoor rally in New Hampshire this weekend, in the middle of a pandemic, brings a whole host of other relevant questions — some of which will need to be answered before Trump even lands at Portsmouth International Airport on Air Force One.
Here are three:
1. How will New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu shape the event when it comes to public health restrictions?
Up to now, Sununu has been a very savvy Republican politician from a purple state when it comes to his relationship with Trump. He is officially supportive of Trump and fully endorsing him for another term. But at the same time, he does find areas of disagreement in a way that both satisfies some critics but doesn’t draw Trump’s ire.
For example, Sununu opposes the Trump administration’s lawsuit to fully repeal the Affordable Care Act and has been on the record opposing some of Trump’s most inflammatory remarks, such as when he said Black Lives Matter protesters needed to be “dominated.”
And when Trump told governors to “reopen” their states in mid-April, Sununu flatly refused.
However, Saturday’s rally is a whole new test of how far the governor will bend. First of all, if Sununu were to enforce his own executive orders, Trump, since he is not from New England, would be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days before being in public.
But in a statement on Monday, Sununu signaled he won’t stop the rally from taking place, which he said is consistent with his lack of intervention in, say, Black Lives Matter rallies. And he is glad the Trump campaign has said it will take some precautions.
“As governor. I will always welcome the president of the United States to New Hampshire,” Sununu said. “I am pleased to see the campaign will be handing out face masks and hand sanitizer to all attendees, as has been true at all public gatherings in New Hampshire where social distancing is hard to maintain. It is imperative that folks attending the rally wear masks.”
Sununu also said in his statement that when he greets Trump on Saturday he will be wearing a mask.
One other point on this: When Trump held his first COVID-era in-person rally two weeks ago, in Tulsa, Okla., his campaign agreed with the owner of the stadium about how social distancing would be handled. The campaign reportedly did not adhere to the agreement on the day of the event. Since then, some campaign aides and others have tested positive for coronavirus.
Since it is pretty clear that Sununu will allow the event to take place with some social distancing and masks, the question is what will happen, if as in Tulsa, the promised public health measures don’t end up happening.
2. How big will the crowd be? And what will be considered successful?
Trump’s campaign said a million people signed up to attend the Tulsa rally, yet Trump addressed a less than half-full stadium with a capacity of 19,000.
That was in deeply Republican Oklahoma. His rally in New Hampshire is his first in a swing state since March that is surrounded by traditionally Democratic states, including Massachusetts.
Trump may not make the mistake of bragging about how many people have signed up for his event. But considering it will be outdoors at an airport, there is endless capacity. It will be difficult to judge just how big of a crowd will be considered big enough to be successful.
Clearly, the decision to hold the event outside was meant to calm some concerns from potential rally-goers about catching the coronavirus. But the New England summer poses another risk: Thunderstorms are forecast for the night of the rally, which begins at 8 p.m.
3. How will Trump affect local politics?
There are two local people who are really looking for an over-the-top Trump shout-out, and two others who are probably nervously hoping the president never utters their names.
Last month, Trump weighed in on two competitive Republican primaries in the Granite State, backing Corky Messmer, who hopes to win the GOP nomination to take on incumbent Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, and Matt Mowers in the First Congressional District, who hopes to win his party’s nod to run against freshman Democratic congressman Chris Pappas in November. Both would probably love for Trump to say their names and bring them on the stage so they can use the moment in campaign ads ahead of the Sept. 8 primary.
However, two other pols are probably hoping Trump forgets them. One is Maine Senator Susan Collins, who is running for reelection and trailing in the polls. Trump is basically campaigning in two states at once with his choice to hold a rally in Portsmouth, right on the Maine border. Given that Collins is arguing she has a separate identity from Trump’s, she certainly doesn’t want a rhetorical hug from him now.
The other local elected official who probably doesn’t want the biggest shout-out is Sununu. He is considered a lock for reelection, but if he wants to preserve the option of running for the US Senate in the future he probably hopes Trump doesn’t say something about him that could be used in a negative ad down the line.