DERRY, N.H. — Former president Donald J. Trump used a campaign rally here on Monday to take shots at President Biden, as well as his rivals in the Republican primary field, hitting on familiar themes of immigration and national security as he made his first appearance in weeks in the first-in-the-nation primary state.
Speaking against the backdrop of intensifying conflict in Gaza, and the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, Trump painted a picture of disasters both foreign and domestic — and laid the blame for all of them at the feet of his likely general election rival.
“Our country’s in trouble, really big trouble, probably like it’s never been before,” Trump told a crowd waving red, white, and blue campaign flags. Biden’s poor strategy and weak posture, Trump claimed, “caused the attack on Israel.” If Trump had been in office, he claimed without offering evidence, ”Russia would never have attacked Ukraine . . . You wouldn’t have any inflation.”
“But this is what we’re dealing with, we’re dealing with stupid people,” he said of Biden’s advisers.
If elected, he pledged, he would “prevent World War Three.”
“Together, we saved America once before — and we will save America once again,” he said.
Trump’s remarks on the Israel-Hamas war were decidedly more on script Monday than comments the former president made just days after the deadly Hamas attacks against Israel. Earlier this month, Trump criticized Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and called the militant group Hezbollah “very smart,” sparking an unusually strong round of criticism from his GOP rivals.
On Monday, Trump promised to stand with Israel “100 percent” and ensure “the terrorist group Hamas is defeated, dismantled, and permanently destroyed.” He also pledged to reinstate sanctions on Iran, which has longstanding ties to Hamas.
Responding to the event, a Biden campaign spokesperson slammed Trump for his “praise of terrorists who are warring with Israel.”
“Once again, Donald Trump demonstrated that he is too dangerous to be commander in chief,” said the spokesperson, Ammar Moussa. “For the sake of the safety of the American people and our allies around the globe, we must ensure Donald Trump can never have his hands on the reins of America’s foreign policy agenda ever again.”
Trump, who has remained dominant in early-state and national polls of the GOP field, wove together blustery foreign policy promises, and his characteristic campaign mockery, with brief diversions to crack jokes about everything from electric cars (“nobody wants ‘em”) to the news network he said would be better known as “MSDNC.”
And in the roughly 100-minute speech, he also set aside ample time to attack rival presidential candidates Nikki Haley and especially Ron DeSantis, who he said was “falling from the sky . . . like a wounded and very badly hurt birdie.”
“Did you ever see a campaign that was so bad as this one?” he cracked of DeSantis to a near-capacity crowd at the New England Sports Center, which local officials said accommodates 2,400 people.
Haley, recent polling shows, has ascended to second place in New Hampshire, at least for now eclipsing DeSantis as she builds on a pair of notable debate performances and a slew of campaign stops in the early state.
On a favorite campaign theme, immigration, Trump promised a hard line, pledging to implement “strong ideological screening for all immigrants” and launch “the largest domestic deportation operation in American history.”
He also called for beefing up the country’s defenses with a “state-of-the-art missile defense shield.”
“Americans deserve an Iron Dome, and that’s what we’re gonna have,” he said, referring to Israel’s antimissile defense system. Speaking on the defense weaponry, he promised, “a lot of it’s gonna be made in New Hampshire.”
Trump on Friday was fined $5,000 for a “blatant violation” of a gag order imposed this month that bars him from attacking court staff, in a New York case in which Trump is accused of fraud in his business empire. But he seemed minimally chastened by that Monday. During his winding address, he called out as unjust the many legal challenges he faces, saying he wears his indictments “as a great badge of honor.”
During his first visit to New Hampshire in two weeks, Trump also traveled Monday to the State House in Concord to formally file for the ballot. Speaking to the crowd in Derry later, Trump called out his “tremendous relationship with New Hampshire,” thanking the state for the 2016 primary victory that propelled him to the nomination.
“You know who kept you first in the nation, right?” he said, calling out the “evil forces out there” that had tried to wrest the slot from New Hampshire. At Biden’s direction, the Democratic National Convention has sought to force New Hampshire to reschedule its primary until after South Carolina.
Trump has maintained his lead here despite eschewing the packed schedule of retail politics that has been New Hampshire’s signature. Before Monday, he had made just one visit to the state since Labor Day — far less than the 33 events held during the same period by businessman and rival GOP contender Vivek Ramaswamy and the 11 by Haley, according to a candidate tracker maintained by NBC Boston. Trump, who spoke to supporters in Wolfeboro, N.H., on Oct. 9, was the only major GOP contender to skip a summit held earlier this month by the state GOP.
The crowd lined up outside Monday’s event included both Trump devotees and some voters still shopping for a 2024 candidate.
Domenic Lupoli, 73, of Londonderry, said he wasn’t sure yet who he’d vote for, but “it’ll definitely be a Republican.”
Lupoli dismissed Trump’s legal troubles as the result of a “two-tiered justice system.”
“If he wasn’t running, I don’t think he’d have any kind of problem,” Lupoli said.
Indeed, Trump’s legal troubles — most recently, the fine for violating the gag order — seemed only to strengthen the resolve of his staunch supporters, and did little to dampen the interest of other voters still considering him among other options.
“In my opinion, all that other stuff is just a distraction,” said 32-year-old Jeremy Southgate, a law student at the University of New Hampshire who said he is still undecided. “I consider the issues first.”