NASHUA, N.H. – Donald TrumpDonald TrumpPresident Trump an anti-Semite? Talk about #FakeNews... Thiel company helped support NSA spy program: report How Democrats can rebuild a winning, multiracial coalition MORE is turning the New Hampshire primary model on its head.
The Republican front-runner's large rallies are calling into question the importance of “retail politics” -- the quintessential diner visits, town halls and house parties that define the first-in-the-nation primary.
On Monday, on the eve of the first winter storm in the state, roughly 1,000 Trump supporters filled a middle school auditorium and overflow rooms with “Make America Great Again” trucker hats and campaign swag, rowdy and eager to hear the Donald speak.
A traffic jam clogged streets in all directions leading up to the Nashua, N.H. rally. Law enforcement guided cars to completely fill surrounding parking lots, streets and even overflow to a nearby church.
“I love it. I love it ... We have got to get out and vote. Remember that, folks. No matter what’s going on in your life. If you’re feeling miserable, if you’re depressed, if you’re down, if you’re whatever the hell, if you lost your job ... you have to get out and you have to vote.”
After speaking off the cuff for 68 minutes, the Republican presidential front-runner left the stage without taking questions from the media – or the voters he so desperately wants to show up at the polls.
This is not a scene from a normal New Hampshire primary event, especially for a non-incumbent.
New Hampshire voters, proud of their early state status, have long joked they won’t decide who to support until they’ve met each candidate a half-dozen times and have had opportunities to ask each of them policy questions.
Candidates historically win the hearts of the Granite State voters by wooing them at small, intimate events, taking question after question from voters. As momentum increases for a contender, so, usually, does the size of the crowds – slowly – over time.
But Trump, who has attracted as many as 30,000 people at rallies around the country, didn’t have to work up large crowds in New Hampshire.
The day after he announced his candidacy on June 16, 200 people showed up for a rally at Manchester Community College.
Two weeks later, he stood in the rain at a back yard house party that attracted 150 guests.
That, by Trump standards, was intimate.
By mid-July, his rally filled the 500-person main venue and an overflow room with 500 more.
A Politics and Eggs event in November began as a small gathering, but the venue quickly moved because of the large crowds expected. Former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonChafee: Negative coverage of Trump ‘tiresome’ Poll: Clinton voters like award show speeches, Trump voters find them too political Protester at GOP rep town hall: You wasted a lot of money investigating Benghazi, waste a little on Trump MORE had held the record for the largest crowd at the iconic Politics and Eggs breakfast at 400, but 600 attendees came to hear Trump speak.
Hope Hicks, press secretary for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign attributed the venue size of Trump’s events to high demand.
“There are so many people in New Hampshire that support Mr. Trump and his message to Make America Great Again,” Hicks told The Hill. “We often incorporate smaller events and private meetings on each visit prior to the rallies, but do not include press.”
Trump, who has never campaigned in the state for two consecutive days, has stopped in New Hampshire for 26 events in the past two years, according to the NECN candidate tracker – by far the lowest number of any Republican candidate except Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, neither of whom are making big plays in the Granite State.
Compare that to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has stopped in the state 131 times, businesswoman Carly Fiorina at 119 stops, Ohio Gov. John Kasich at 108, former New York Gov. George Pataki at 101 andKentucky Sen. Rand Paul at 84.
If Donald Trump does win in the Granite State, it questions the importance of “retail politics,” said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.
If Trump wins in the Granite State without abiding by the traditions of small, intimate campaign events, Scala thinks it would hurt the credibility of the first-in-the-nation primary.
“If he wins, I think a lot of Republican elites [in New Hampshire] will see that as a black eye on [historical traditions of the] primary,” he said. For right or for wrong, “there will inevitably be finger pointing at New Hampshire to say, ‘Well look, they talk about their tradition of retail politics, but look at what Trump managed to do.”
Although different from typical New Hampshire campaign stops, Trump’sMonday rally did draw very enthusiastic supporters.
Trump bashed the media, Democrats and his Republican rivals – and the rowdy crowd continuously cut him off for opportunities to chant, “USA, USA, USA,” “TRUMP, TRUMP, TRUMP” and to shriek in approval.
Partway through his remarks, a protester caused a scene yelling, “fascist!” A mix of law enforcement (and Trump attendees!) escorted the young man down the bleachers and out the door to a collective booing.
Enthusiastic crowds aside, Scala said the real measure of Trump’s success with this unconventional method of campaigning in New Hampshire will be whether the supporters at his rallies will come to the polls on Feb. 9.
“A big question for the Trump campaign is how much of the Trump rally [attendees do vote] ... Is it the iceberg or is it the tip of the iceberg?”