For all that has been unusual about 2021, one thing has been very normal: Potential presidential candidates have made their way to New Hampshire to introduce themselves to party activists, try out some applause lines, and raise their national profile.
With Donald Trump’s potential run looming in the background, roughly a dozen high profile Republicans visited New Hampshire this year to plant a flag: They want their name in the conversation as the potential 2024 primary field takes shape.
This group includes former vice president Mike Pence. On Wednesday, Pence will make his second trip to the state this year. He is scheduled to have a full day of four events, including closed-door fund-raising events, a speech to home builders and contractors, and an event sponsored by a national conservative think tank.
His trip to New Hampshire follows other travel this year to early presidential primary states. He has been to Iowa twice and also made stops to South Carolina and Nevada.
The Pence visit follows one on Friday from Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who also had a day-long tour that included small events capped off by a keynote speech to county Republicans in Keene.
Others who have visited the state this year include Florida Senator Rick Scott, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, Texas Representative Dan Crenshaw, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, and Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney. Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie has attended virtual events with New Hampshire Republican audiences.
Of course, one Republican who hasn’t been to the state this year is former president Donald Trump. While Trump has hired a couple of consultants in Iowa and visited the state earlier this year, he has not been to New Hampshire since a pre-election rally in 2020.
In poll after poll, Trump has topped lists of candidates in a hypothetical New Hampshire Republican primary. The most recent poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire in October, notably had Trump with under 50 percent support among likely Republican primary voters.
Trump had 43 percent of support, well ahead of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at 18 percent. and All others polled in single digits.
Early, quiet visits to New Hampshire are not a new concept. Former Arizona senator John McCain made his first 2008 campaign stop in the state two weeks after the 2004 presidential election. The first year that Donald Trump was in office was an especially busy time in New Hampshire with visits by Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, and many others. Even former Ohio governor John Kasich visited the state that year to kick the tires on another run -- and to sell a new book.
But there are two things that are different this time. No modern politician has seen a former president loom so large over a potential primary field like Trump has loomed over this one, and certainly no one has seen a failed candidate for re-election continue to lead the party the way he has.
Second, Republicans are not using their time out of power to find a new message or fight internally for the soul of the party. The soul part is figured out: it’s Trump.
So instead what these potential candidates, like Pence, will likely do is talk about what they are against, namely, Biden, inflation, “wokeness,” critical race theory, and vaccine mandates. So far in this environment, it is earlier for them to say what they’re against than to take affirmative stances about how they would uniquely lead, or where they want to take the party.