Trump’s Supporters in New Hampshire Really Do Exist

I know. I saw them!

Donald Trump.
Donald Trump takes a selfie with one of those mythical supporters at Stevens High School on Jan. 5, 2016, in Claremont, New Hampshire.

Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images

FARMINGTON, New Hampshire—Trump denialism has taken a comical turn in New Hampshire.

The Republican Party gatekeepers who fancy themselves as controllers of vast voting blocs are baffled by the polls consistently showing Trump way out in front. Trump eschews the typical Granite State retail politics of diner meet-and-greets for a tarmac campaign focused on popping in, hosting a big rally, and then promptly flying back to New York. Can this strategy truly be working in the way that poll after poll suggests it is? Some Republicans have their doubts, because they don’t see any Trump voters.

The Washington Examiner’s Byron York reports on the burgeoning Kaelism among Republican poobahs who were gathered at Saturday’s First in the Nation Town Hall in Nashua. “Most of the politicos in Nashua didn’t deny that the polls are what they are,” York writes. “They just explained that they haven’t personally encountered evidence that the Trump-dominated polls are accurate.” As one “very well-connected state Republican” says, “I don’t see it. … I don’t feel it. I don’t hear it, and I spend part of every day with Republican voters.” Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu and his wife, after racking their brains to come up with a single Trump supporter they know, say that yes, “there’s a guy down the street from them who does.”

I can attest that there are indeed, more Trump supporters than the fellow down the street from the Sununus. I saw a raucous thousand or two of them fill a high school gymnasium in Farmington on Monday night. (As another reporter who’s been following Trump said, a high school gymnasium counts as “intimate” by Trump standards.)

One party official surmised to York that they don’t know Trump voters because Trump voters are “not Republicans.” Indeed, I spoke with Trump supporters last night who have either switched allegiances or been drawn into the political process through Trump’s candidacy.

“We pretty much listened to everybody talk, and their bullshit, and decided there was really nobody else that would stand to the values that we were looking for in a president,” said Michael Cassell, of New Durham, attending the rally with his wife Lisa. What issues made the decision so simple? “A lot of it’s the economy, the [border] wall, the military, welfare, the people that are on welfare, and all the immigrants, and just trying to get the world straight.” Like many Trump supporters—though not all, I found—Cassell considers Jeb Bush’s campaign pathetic. He “leaves his last name off all his signs” because he’s “embarrassed,” Cassell said.

So who did the Cassells support in the previous election?

“It was Obama.”

Sandy Woodmansee, a Trump supporter and volunteer from Epping clad in a tan suit and bowtie, has helped set up and break down every Trump event in New Hampshire “except for Laconia.”

“I’ve never been involved in politics ever before,” Woodmansee said. “I think politicians as a whole have been screwing the middle class, both the Republicans and the Democrats. The bottom line is that I want a businessman to run the country. I can’t agree with everything Donald has said, but I think he speaks from the heart and he speaks the truth.”

And Trump’s routine Monday evening was filled with many honest-to-goodness, heart-rending truths, largely about how wonderful he is. It began with the traditional Reading of the Polls, a roughly three-minute procedure. “Zogby just came out, 45 to 13, can you believe that one?” he began, to howls of approval. He briefly interrupted his list of conquests to remind the assembled that the only poll that counts is on Feb. 9, so “you people” must remember to vote. “In New Hampshire: Trump 33—this is Franklin Pierce, we all know Franklin Pierce—then you have Cruz, Kasich and … oh, there’s Bush.”

Trump effectively killed Bush over the summer and fall, but he still can’t resist hacking away at the guy’s corpse just for fun. “What is he doing?” Trump mocked. “What is he doing wasting all that money? Such a waste of money! What. Is. He. Doing?” Then he laid off for a few minutes. “My poll keeps going up, his poll keeps going down,” he said, despite all the money Bush is spending. “He attacks and loses; he doesn’t win.”

“He’s low-energy, low-energy,” he added for old times’ sake. “We don’t need low-energy.”

From there Trump began his Sen. Ted Cruz segment. “The Canadian!” someone in the crowd offered upon mention of Cruz’s name.

“The Canadian, that’s right,” Trump said. “That was very good! ‘The Canadian.’ ” He reiterated his call for Cruz to go to court to get a declaratory judgment on his eligibility for the presidency. Later in the event, when Trump was using his support of the Keystone XL pipeline as a shield against attacks on his support for eminent domain—eminent domain “is a taking,” he conceded—he mentioned how the pipeline was going from “Canada, the birthplace of Ted Cruz,” to Texas, the state Cruz represents in the Senate. “I don’t know, is there something going on there?”

Trump supporters in New Hampshire aren’t just real; they’re committed and there’s nothing you can do to tell them to reconsider. This may be why New Hampshire Republican operatives don’t see them: Because when they’re not at Trump’s rallies, they’re in the privacy of their own homes with their minds made up.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the GOP primary.