Residents of this formerly famously chatty first-in-the-nation presidential primary state have gone laconic. Granite-jawed, even. They simply don’t want to share their political sentiments — and when they do, they often won’t give their full names because they fear harassment or retaliation.
Most of the Republicans or Republican-leaners who did talk to me recently were seeking an alternative to Donald Trump, with some expressing first-date interest in Nikki Haley, erstwhile UN ambassador and former governor of South Carolina. One Republican who was willing to use his full name seemed to sum up the sentiments of many non-Trump GOPers.
If the GOP nominates Trump again, “the Democrats win,” said former New Hampshire House speaker Doug Scamman, who with his wife, Stella, also a former representative, had come to Exeter to check out candidate Asa Hutchinson. But it’s too soon to sign on with an alternative, he said, because “it’s too early to know who is up and coming.”
The Trump backers, who probably tally more heavily among the taciturn, have their candidate, of course. Several recounted heated, even friendship-ending, arguments about Trump but dismissed as nonconcerns his criminal indictments and myriad other controversies.
The take from Asa Hutchinson
Let’s start today with a new line of argument that Hutchinson is making against Trump.
During a Seacoast Media Group/USA Today Network event on Tuesday at Exeter’s historic Town Hall, he highlighted Trump’s call for a 10 percent tariff on all imports for what it is: a $300 billion annual tax on consumers that would cost the economy some 500,000 jobs, he said, referencing a study by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation.
“Talk about inflation going out the roof,” Hutchinson told a gathering of 40 or so. Later, the genial Arkansan told me that he thought he may have “made some news” there. Um, good issue, governor, but it’s time to get a tad more emphatic.
‘Anybody but Trump’
A couple weeks ago, I spent an afternoon in Portsmouth, trying to interview New Hampshire voters. One, a 66-year-old political independent who does contracting work with the federal government, originally gave me his first name, an initial for his last, and his town.
His choice? “Anybody but Trump, with a capital ANYBODY,” he said. He later emailed to ask that I not use the initial for his last name; he lives in a small, Trumpy community and worried that might make it easy for residents to attach his identity to his sentiments.
On Tuesday in Rochester, Len, 73, a retired medical-sector manager and onetime ticket-splitter, told me he was disgusted by the way the Republican Party has spiraled into fractious Trumpism.
“I don’t understand how people are that stupid, idiotic, and totally clueless,” he said, but stipulated those sentiments were on a first-name-only basis. Otherwise, he said, he might be subject to social media harassment. Or worse. “There are a lot of crazies out there,” he said.
In Dover, Don, a retired Portsmouth Naval Shipyard worker and “Rockefeller Republican,” panned most of his party’s candidates — though he did approve of former New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s sharp criticism of Trump — and then asked that his last name not be used.
“I just don’t want to take a chance,” he said.
At least a dozen others declined interviews with quick shakes of the head.
“I don’t know enough about it at this point,” said a man waiting at a food truck outside Home Depot in Rochester.
A 20-something in Stratham had another reason for declining: “The world is just kind of screwed,” he said.
Principles and choices
It’s always an instructive if somewhat delicate exercise to probe the difference between a voter’s professed principles and their political choices. That was the case with Heather, a retired shipyard worker from Dover, who described herself as a constitutionalist — and then declared she was firmly behind Trump. That had cost her a cherished lifelong friendship.
How could a constitutionalist support a man who had pushed his vice president to disregard certain states’ Electoral College votes?
“That’s fake news,” she replied.
Well, Mike Pence, Trump’s theretofore loyal vice president, has said that in pushing that scheme, Trump put himself above the Constitution.
“I don’t think much of Pence,” responded Heather, contending (erroneously) that Trump had only wanted to ensure all the Electoral College votes were legitimate.
How, then, did she account for the fake-Electoral College slates Trump and his team pushed allies to create? She hadn’t heard about that. Nor was she aware of his declaration, on his Truth Social media platform, that the Constitution should be suspended to restore him to power.
Kim Doucette of Somersworth, another retired shipyard worker and a Republican-leaning independent, said the economy was better under Trump. Her best friend insisted Trump had triggered the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol, but she blamed the stormers themselves. After all, she said, everyone was responsible for their own actions.
Everyone but Trump, that is — or so it often seems when talking with his supporters.