President Trump, in a private telephone conversation with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto earlier this year, described New Hampshire as a “drug-infested den” and said that the state’s opioid addiction crisis helped propel him to victory there.
“We have a massive drug problem where kids are becoming addicted to drugs because the drugs are being sold for less money than candy,” Trump said, according to a transcript of the Jan. 27 call published by The Washington Post on Thursday. “I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den.”
Trump’s first electoral victory was in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary. He lost the state in the general election.
The president’s comment enraged New Hampshire’s leading politicians — Democrats and Republicans alike — some of whom called the characterization “disgusting” and “unacceptable.”
Republican Governor Chris Sununu, who has defended Trump in the past, said, “It’s disappointing his mischaracterization of this epidemic ignores the great things this state has to offer.”
Trump’s statement about New Hampshire is the latest example of controversy erupting over comments he never intended to be made public. Just this week, Sports Illustrated published a report that said the president told members of the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey that he frequents the club because “that White House is a real dump.” Trump has disputed the report.
And during the presidential campaign, Trump was forced to grapple with a recording of a 2005 conversation in the back of an “Access Hollywood” bus in which he was heard to brag about groping women.
New Hampshire is struggling to contain an opioid abuse epidemic that has hit it harder than in most other states. New Hampshire ranks second in the number of opioid-related deaths per capita in the nation, according to data at the Centers for Disease Control. The synthetic opioid fentanyl and its derivatives are now the leading cause of drug overdose deaths in New Hampshire.
In polling, the issue remains the most important one facing the state. New Hampshire officials have poured resources into treatment and recovery centers, stepped up law enforcement efforts, and increased public awareness of the problem over the past several years.
“We are already seeing positive signs of our efforts as overdoses and deaths are declining in key parts of the state,” Sununu said.
New Hampshire’s drug crisis became a major topic of debate in the 2016 presidential campaign — in part because the state has been so hard-hit, and in part because New Hampshire’s contest comes early in the nominating calendar, giving candidates an early look at a crisis felt across the country.
Trump, along with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, both said during the campaign last year that they didn’t fully understand how widespread the opioid crisis really was until they began campaigning in the state.
During the closing weeks of the campaign, Trump said he was unsure why people in a state so naturally beautiful would have a drug crisis.
“I said, ‘How does heroin work with these beautiful lakes and trees?’ ” Trump said during a September 2016 rally in Bedford, N.H. “More than any place, this state, I’ve never seen anything like it with what’s happening with the drugs, more so than in other places and other places are a disaster. But we’re going to turn it around for New Hampshire.”
On Thursday, New Hampshire politicians were quick to condemn what they saw as an insult to their state.
Senator Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, called Trump’s description of New Hampshire “disgusting.”
“As he knows, N.H. and states across America have a substance misuse crisis,” Hassan wrote on Twitter immediately after the Post story came out. “To date, @POTUS has proposed policies that would severely set back our efforts to combat this devastating epidemic. Instead of insulting people in the throes of addiction, @POTUS needs to work across party lines to actually stem the tide of this crisis.”
Senator Jeanne Shaheen tweeted that Trump should apologize to the state and “then should follow through on his promise to Granite Staters to help end this crisis.”
“It’s absolutely unacceptable for the President to be talking about NH in this way — a gross misrepresentation of NH & the epidemic,” she wrote.
Congresswoman Annie Kuster, a Democrat, said she was “appalled by President Trump’s ignorant and insulting comments.”
Backing Trump was GOP state Representative Al Baldasaro, one of Trump’s most outspoken defenders, who advised him on veterans issues in the campaign. Baldasaro said the state had a “major drug problem before [the 2016] election, many overdoses.”
James Pindell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics:http://pages.email.bostonglobe.com/GroundGameSignUp