Drive into downtown Wolfeboro, N.H. and you might notice a trail of Donald Trump signs leading to Gary’s Barber Shop. Another sign, this one on the front porch, greets customers: “It’s time to stand up and say NO more to CORRUPT GOVERNMENT and CORRUPT POLITICIANS.” Inside owner Gary Brockney, 77, wears a “Team Trump” T-shirt as he stands beside one of his vintage barber shop chairs. There’s a picture of one of his sons, a Marine, and a “Semper Fi” sticker on his mirror, next to a few baseball cards and a “NO SNIVELING” bumper sticker. Patrons stroll in and out, happily chatting with him and his wife and business partner, Lucy, 69, about local happenings and, of course, Donald Trump.
I had come to this part of central New Hampshire, hard by the Maine border, to understand what continues to energize Trump supporters. Despite a crowded field, the former president is polling at just over 44 percent here, according to the FiveThirtyEight average, trailed by Nikki Haley at about 19 percent. Republicans have no shortage of Trump alternatives, all with less legal and political baggage. In Haley they have electability, in Ron DeSantis they have what many see as the proven success of anti-woke governance in Florida, and in Vivek Ramaswamy they have a polished version of someone that, in his own words, “goes further” than Trump. Couldn’t another Republican candidate tackle inflation and the border crisis without dragging the party into another general election loss?
New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu — who’s been seen with just about every Republican candidate on the trail but Trump — seems to think so. Outside a Haley rally in Londonderry on Nov. 2, he told me that Trump fans need to understand the primary is “all for naught if we can’t win in November.”
But to many New Hampshire Republicans, the answer to the electability question seems clear: They are sticking with the former president, warts and all. They point to the current levels of inflation, the price of gas and groceries, the immigration crisis, and war abroad under the Biden White House as proof that Trump exhibited more positive leadership. At a cafe in the town of Salem in southern New Hampshire, Steve Goddu, 64, Rockingham County commissioner, told me that he was “thrilled with [Trump’s] policies....He kept us out of wars, we had a great economic situation, [and he] worked as hard as he could to close that border.”
Towns near Lake Winnipesaukee, like Wolfeboro and Alton, are particularly good places to measure Trump’s stock. Though the former president lost New Hampshire to Biden by seven points in 2020, these towns stuck with him (though Wolfeboro by just under 20 votes).
Gary Brockney told me that many people who come into the barbershop vent about being “so frustrated” and “worried for their kids.” While getting a trim, Wolfeboro resident and mechanical engineer Bob Batson, 77, told me that he’s worried about housing prices for his granddaughter. “My first mortgage on that house that I bought was $191 a month. That’s what the youth are being cheated out of when you have inflation that is just out of sight.”
Loss of industry is an especially large concern. Batson asked “when’s the last time we built refineries?” Brockney chimed in: “When’s the last time we built anything?” According to consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, the state lost over 20,000 jobs since the passage of the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement and the founding of the World Trade Organization. Trump renegotiated NAFTA achieving stronger labor protections under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Practical concerns outweigh Trump’s conduct. Goddu said he doesn’t “think that Trump’s personal behavior is so wonderful” but that he’s exactly what you would expect — “a wiseguy billionaire developer from Queens.” At a debate watch party with the Tri-County Republicans in Alton, State Representative Peter Varney told me that people in New Hampshire like Trump “because he speaks our language.”
Almost all Republicans dismissed the criminal cases against Trump as Democratic Party political theater. Indeed, Trump’s legal and political troubles have energized his base. But it would be wrong to say that Trump’s legal baggage and personal crassness didn’t give some of these Republicans pause. But only a pause.
Goddu is supporting Ramaswamy in the primary, calling him “Trump without the drama.” Varney is also backing Ramaswamy in the primary — mostly to “take out DeSantis,” he said. And Batson is considering DeSantis “because I believe all this stuff has just tied [Trump] up so much…there will be so many false battles.” Nevertheless, all three said they will stand with the former president if he is the Republican nominee.
The mainstream media is a central part of the establishment they so dislike. Hunter Biden’s laptop and his business dealings in Ukraine often came up , with Trump supporters asking, not unreasonably, why the media hasn’t covered that scandal nearly as much as Trump’s.
“Try and find articles where they don’t call Republicans or conservatives some type of name…instead of just reporting the facts,” Batson said. “Lucy and I threw our television set out 10 years ago,” Brockney said. Lucy Brockney told me they get calls saying they’re “running a cult.”
Toward the end of my visit to Gary’s, I noted that while Trump has made his campaign about grievances with the political establishment, they’ve largely been his grievances — his political troubles, the people that have crossed him, the media that treats him unfairly. So, I asked Brockney, is he much different than the other self-serving politicians the Brockneys and his clients so deplore?
“We have to concentrate on America right now, not what happened four years ago,” said Brockney. Batson pointed out that Brockney was being “inconsistent” and the two men laughed. “You’re all for Trump but he’s looking back,” Batson says.
Brockney went back to cutting Batson’s hair. “He’s kinda screwing himself sometimes with his speech, and it puts him back again,” the barber says. “But not for me.”
Carine Hajjar is a Globe Opinion writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.