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Supporters Cheer For Trump's 'Greatest Hits' At New Hampshire Rally

Dan Tuohy / NHPR

The scene outside the SNHU Arena in Manchester looked pretty much like every other Trump rally you’ve seen on TV: thousands of people in bright red hats, street vendors selling Trump gear.

But the difference was the line of people who wound around Elm Street - many wearing Red Sox shirts matched with their Make America Great Again hats.

"I’m too old to be going to rock concerts, so this is the next best thing," said Mark Borun from Auburn. And he’s right - there is definitely a rock concert feeling at this event. 

Derry resident Keith Renaldi said he was hoping Trump would play his "greatest hits":

"Hear him bash the media, hear him bash the Democrats. Come up with some new nicknames for some of his competitors."

Many supporters said they were here first and foremost to show support, but they also wanted to feel the energy they’d heard so much about. And Renaldi says that is how Trump can win New Hampshire in 2020 - the thousands of people inside the arena feeling that energy.

"They’ll go home and all talk about the rally they went to and it’s grassroots, they spread the word," Renaldi said.

For many Trump fans from left-leaning Massachusetts - and there were a lot of them - this was a chance to let their Trump flags fly proudly.

Melissa Hayes and her friends were decked out in Trump gear for the rally, but at home Hayes says she tries to be more subtle. 

"Like she’s got a Trump sticker on the back of her car and I’m like you are so brave! Because I’d be so afraid someone would trash my car!"

And as these ladies wind their way toward the front door of the arena, Hayes and her friends say they me they can protect their president from "haters" they say are lying about his character.

"I’ve watched Donald Trump for 30 plus years and never was he a racist. He was a womanizer."

"Yeah sure, most guys are," added her friend Lisa Walpole.

"But he was never a racist until he ran for president," Melissa continued, "And it’s to me it’s disgusting, the way - I feel that he’s the most harassed person in the universe."

Many people said the rally brought an experience of community, a "we’re in this together" vibe.  

- Lauren Chooljian

Inside the arena

Donald Trump's New Hampshire rally amounted to the official kickoff of the president's local reelection effort, and from the start, Trump was out to stress he still understands the state where he notched his first win during the 2016 GOP primary.

“Are we sure we are in New Hampshire? You now you have a reputation – I know it’s not true because I know you too well – for being very staid, very elegant people. You are not acting it tonight and that’s good.”

The crowd responded as if on cue when Trump derided his Democratic rivals, promised to defend gun rights and appoint more conservative judges.

But it was the economy, the local economy in particular, which got the most stress.

"Since my election, the number of businesses starting in the great state of New Hampshire have skyrocketed by almost 25 percent," he said.

Credit Josh Rogers | NHPR
Governor Sununu signs a Make America Great Again hat at Donald Trump's rally in Manchester

All night long - accurately or not - Trump worked to make New Hampshire a kind of case in point for GOP policy goals. That included restricting voting laws, when Trump referenced his narrow loss in the New Hampshire’s general election.

"We should have won New Hampshire - that was taken away from us. That was taken away."

On tighter borders, he noted the state’s drug problem as justification.

"You just seem to have a bigger problem, and by the way, the wall is being built. We’re going to stop a lot of it.”

And for a president prone to hog any available credit, this was a night when certain allies in the room got a good deal of praise.

“He’s been a great governor, Chris Sununu, with a great father too.”

Trump went onto name-check key GOP state officials. He gave quick boost to the possible 2020 senate run by former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, and near the end of his speech, he went for the ultimate - if clichéd - Granite State reference.

“Our hearts beat to the words of the New Hampshire state motto: Live Free or Die.”

Unoriginal, perhaps. But fitting for a rally the Trump campaign hopes will persuade local voters they and the president are in this together.

- Josh Rogers

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
Lauren is a Senior Reporter/Producer for NHPR's narrative news unit, Document.

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