Concord, N.H. — Donald Trump received a hero’s welcome here at the statehouse Wednesday morning when he became the first Republican candidate to file for the primary ballot in the “must-win” state of New Hampshire — and demonstrated an organizational savvy to match the grassroots enthusiasm surrounding his presidential bid.
The Trump campaign said it didn’t anticipate such an atmosphere, but they certainly seemed well prepared for it. Having announced Monday that Trump would file to be included on New Hampshire’s ballot as soon as registration opened on Wednesday, his campaign capitalized on the headlines touting him as first to the punch in this first primary state. In the courtyard, at the foot of the Capitol building, a bank of microphones awaited Trump — as did a horde of reporters and cameramen.
The spectacle siphoned attention away from opponents Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, who were campaigning nearby. Hundreds of supporters crowded the steps of the Capitol and lined the sidewalks awaiting Trump’s motorcade. Many were clad in shirts emblazoned with his name and hoisting signs — distributed by campaign volunteers on site — that read “Make America Great Again” and “The Silent Majority Stands with Trump.”
All were abuzz about having a front-row seat to the Trump show, and the front-runner didn’t disappoint, throwing insults at rivals Rubio (“His credit cards are a disaster”) and Bush (“He can’t even debate”) from the moment he exited his black SUV. (Two hours later, after Rubio’s event in Manchester, the senator fielded multiple questions about Trump’s attacks on him this morning.)
Trump seemed to relish the atmosphere, taking an unusual amount of time to sign autographs, pose for pictures, and interact with voters as the mob migrated slowly toward the steps of the statehouse. Onlookers chanted his name. They screamed, “I love you, Donald!” And a woman stopped Trump in his tracks when she grabbed him to say, “Thank you for doing this.”
Trump held her gaze, then glanced at the crowd. “I am not going to let you people down,” he said.
If seriousness of purpose has been a question mark surrounding Trump’s campaign, he showed it Wednesday — not only with his comments, but with the expertly choreographed event his team put together.
There were at least a dozen members of his entourage present, fanned out across the campus, Trump pins affixed to their lapels. Amid the scrum, they demonstrated the sudden professionalism other campaigns have taken notice of, communicating with local officials to expertly navigate logistical challenges and ensure their candidate could check all the boxes — handshakes with state senators, photos with schoolchildren on a field trip, and a high-profile signing ceremony with Secretary of State Bill Gardner.
‘I think they’re all must-wins. We want to win them all. But New Hampshire, it’s a special place, [and] these are special people. It’s very important to me.’
— Donald Trump
Trump had business back in New York City later in the day, his campaign said, so he wasn’t sticking around the state for additional campaign events. But it hardly seemed to matter. Even with Bush and Rubio barnstorming New Hampshire Wednesday, holding a flurry of events across the state, the local and national media were concentrated on Trump at the Capitol. The news of his ballot qualification will almost certainly lead local newscasts later today — a tactical victory for Trump in the state where his organization and poll numbers are strongest.
In a brief interview with National Review inside the statehouse, Trump acknowledges that New Hampshire is a “must-win” for his campaign because of his standing in the state. Then he stops himself. “I think they’re all must-wins. We want to win them all. But New Hampshire, it’s a special place, [and] these are special people. It’s very important to me.”
#share#The affection was mutual Wednesday: New Hampshire residents arrived early and stayed late to get a glimpse of Trump, nearly all of them wearing or carrying some of his campaign swag.
Desi Northup, a 62-year old local entrepreneur, wears a Trump yard sign around his chest and boasts of recently publishing an e-book entitled “Mr. Trump Should Be President.” He says he supported Mitt Romney in the 2012 GOP primary but was disappointed to see him “take the high road” in his campaign against President Obama.
New Hampshire residents arrived early and stayed late to get a glimpse of Trump, nearly all of them wearing or carrying some of his campaign swag.
“He speaks his mind,” Northup says. “He’s not wishy-washy. If someone asks a question, he says yes or no. We need someone like that, and we need someone business-minded to set the country straight. It’s being run by a bunch of paper-pushing bureaucrats, and they’re going to bankrupt us.”
Not everyone in attendance is committed to Trump. Nick Lauquan, a 39-year-old sales manager who voted for Obama in 2102, turned out Wednesday because he’s a longtime fan of Trump’s business brands and thinks his “marketing genius” is transforming American politics. He likes Hillary Clinton and says he’s only recently begun considering Trump seriously.
“I’ve always been a Trump fan, but I didn’t think I’d vote for him,” says Laquan, sporting a New England Patriots pullover. “He’s the greatest salesman I’ve ever seen, and he’s selling himself. Remember, this was all a joke — nobody was going to vote for this guy.”
He arches an eyebrow. “It’s not a joke anymore.”
Laquan and several of his friends underwent a transformation upon Trump’s arrival — from grown men joking about the size of the crowd to star-struck fanboys racing to the top of the statehouse steps to shove items at Trump for an autograph.
Before he got there, Trump held court at the foot of the building, fielding questions on his rivals (they’re falling apart), eminent domain (it’s necessary for growth), and money in politics (he doesn’t have a super PAC.) At several points the swelling crowd, towering behind him in tiers on the statehouse steps, interrupted reporter’s questions they didn’t like. One man shouted, “Show some respect for President Trump!” The candidate grinned and jabbed a thumb in the air.
He took a plodding journey up the statehouse steps, turning in every direction to give autographs and answer questions as a crush of supporters and security and reporters enveloped him. When he’d finally mounted the top step and was being ushered through the doors by his entourage, Trump paused to take one more question. It was from twelve-year-old Annabelle Watson, a homeschooled student accompanied by her mother, who asked Trump about the benefits of fracking versus using wind energy.
“Well, the windmills look nice,” Trump told her. “But they kill a lot of birds. Did you know that?”
#related#The little girl stared ahead. “You wouldn’t believe what they do to the birds,” Trump added, shaking his head.
And with that, the candidate squeezed through the front door and into the building, swarms of media and voters on his heels. Soon he would make his way through the main corridor, climb a spiral staircase, and register for the primary ballot in Gardner’s storied second-floor office.
Outside, the crowd had thinned, but many were still gathered on the steps, reveling in what they’d experienced and wondering if they would catch another glimpse of The Donald.
Watson, whose mother has been bringing her to ask questions of all the presidential hopefuls, says she’s met 13 so far. Asked what it was like to meet Trump, she can only grin.
— Tim Alberta is chief political correspondent for National Review.