If you had to name a state where Donald Trump’s political rise has caused the greatest disruption, New Hampshire would be a good pick. Trump has led every poll taken there since June – while tearing up the traditional Republican playbook for winning in New Hampshire.
Trump has avoided the retail politicking that most other campaigns view as a must-do in favor of large rallies. He’s never even spent two days back to back in the state campaigning.
And then there’s Trump’s open disdain for some of the state’s traditional Republican powerbrokers, including the New Hampshire Union Leader, the only statewide paper well-known for its blistering front page conservative editorials.
The hostility is mutual, especially since the paper endorsed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Trump’s been a regular target in the paper’s editorial pages and branded a bully by publisher Joe McQuaid. Trump has called McQuaid a “lowlife” and made his paper stump speech fodder during campaign stops in the state.
“The famous paper right, you know. Your little paper, the Union Leader. It’s really a dishonest paper, it’s terrible. It’s a rag,” said Trump at a recent rally in New Hampshire.
“In matters large and small about the Union Leader, he lies through his teeth,” said McQuaid.
Whatever the case may be, Trump’s spat with the paper hasn’t hurt him. Polls show Trump getting approximately one third of the vote in New Hampshire, far ahead of the next nearest candidate.
For Karl Zahn, a longtime watcher of New Hampshire politics who backs Trump, the whole thing – a Republican candidate taking the fight to the Union Leader and possibly winning, seems almost surreal.
“You know we were at the thing in Nashua a couple of weeks ago, and he spent twenty minutes just excoriating Joe McQuaid and I turned to a friend of mine and said pinch me, this is like an Ambien dream I’m having. This is crazy,” said Zahn.
The Union Leader is just one of Trump’s high profile targets in New Hampshire.
There’s also former Governor John Sununu, a White House Chief of Staff to President George H.w. Bush, and a top adviser to Mitt Romney in 2012. He is also the patriarch of what is probably New Hampshire’s most prominent Republican family. One of Sununu’s sons was a US Senator, another is running for governor. Sununu has criticized Trump in print and on television and Trump has gleefully returned fire.
“John H. Sununu, has been known, he was fired by Bush. He was fired like a dog. He was fired viciously, and he’s such a dumb guy that he didn’t even know he was fired,” said Trump at a rally.
During a recent apparent on Bloomberg TV, Sununu warned nominating Trump would doom local Republicans in November.
“Here in New Hampshire if Donald Trump is the nominee we will not get a Republican governor. We will lose the New Hampshire state senate, and we could lose the New Hampshire state house. It is that bad and we could lose Senator [Kelly] Ayotte,” said Sununu.
If those Republicans running for office here share that view, they aren’t letting on. When asked about Trump, Ayotte, who’s being challenged by Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democratic, offered a practiced response and the sense she’d rather talk about something else.
“Well, listen. I mean, I think it’s a favorite question of the press to ask us about Trump. I plan to support our Republican nominee but I think there’s a long way to go until that decision is made,” said Ayotte.
Chris Sununu, the Sununu hoping to be governor, claims he’s not paying attention to his father’s spat with Donald Trump or what Trump’s style of politics may mean for Republicans down ballot.
“Donald Trump is just another candidate. I don’t worry about it too much because I try to control the things I can control,” said Sununu.
Sensible advice, perhaps, even if Donald Trump is proving to be anything but just another candidate.