A Hard Day’s Work
Candidate events in the Granite State show how much work remains to be done in rebuilding the United States.
The ground campaign for the presidency began in earnest this week as half a dozen hopefuls took part in Independence Day festivities in New Hampshire, the first state to hold a primary election.
At the Fourth of July parade in Merrimack, the long-shot GOP challenger Ron DeSantis marched alongside long-long-long shots Tim Scott, Doug Burgum, Will Hurd, and Perry Johnson, as well as hippie-left spirit guide Marianne Williamson.
The holiday festivities marked one of the highest concentrations of contenders yet seen in one place and time in the ’24 campaign.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and Vivek Ramaswamy—respectively Donald Trump’s best and most likely pick for vice president—had been in the state just a few days earlier as featured speakers at PorcFest (the Porcupine Freedom Festival), an annual convention of the Free State Project that bills itself as among the largest libertarian gatherings in the world.
The summer drive in the Granite State is traditional, and the reasons for it are fairly obvious. New Hampshire votes first, so the race there is especially vital for upstarts hoping to gain early momentum. And the state’s size—forty-first by population and forty-sixth by area—makes it an ideal proving ground for campaigns and candidates still working out how to play crowds and press flesh.
New Hampshire is not determinative, of course. If it were, Patrick Buchanan would have eked out a victory in 1996. Iraq would not have been razed, and a whole host of other disasters might have been averted.
Alas, the nation does not follow New Hampshire. In 2020 even, the man who eventually claimed victory in the presidential race came fifth in his own party’s primary, with just over 8 percent of the state’s Democratic vote.
Nonetheless, trends in New Hampshire are well worth watching.
Trump—busy as the target of a few political show trials—was notably absent from the Fourth of July campaigning. Still, he seems set to run away with the bulk of the state’s delegates. In a crowded field in 2016, Trump established his dominance here with more than double the votes of second-place John Kasich. Up against nominal opposition in 2020, he racked up strongman numbers. Even the closest poll this time shows Trump a solid twenty points ahead of DeSantis, the likely runner up in the Republican primary.
The picture across the aisle is even more dramatic. No presidential incumbent has ever lost New Hampshire, but Joe Biden seems intent on being first.
Convinced by 2020 that race-baiting is the key to victory, Biden is smashing precedent to move South Carolina up to first in his party’s primary schedule. The black vote there secured his eleventh-hour win last time, and he hopes that the ongoing polarization of the U.S. along racial lines will ensure a repeat in 2024.
This snub coupled with a few other major missteps may be enough to kill the incumbent’s nine-point lead over Trump in current polling. Biden’s historic combination of incompetence and overreach will not win him much favor in a state that is intensely, self-consciously libertarian. As the Granite State grows ever more wealthy and more educated, though, the sheer force of the Establishment should not be undervalued. Biden, for all his populist posturing, is an Establishment creature through and through.
In a general election, New Hampshire has voted for the Republican for president just once in the last thirty years. In 2016, though, Donald Trump trailed heavy favorite Hillary Clinton by just 2,736 votes—about as close as margins get in a presidential race.
It is worth considering the simple factors that drive New Hampshire’s unusual outcomes, not the least of which is the fact that a state that was once a worldwide industrial powerhouse saw its factories shuttered one by one as the twentieth century drew to a disappointing close. Combined with the freedom-loving culture that draws RFK Jr. and a few thousand other eccentrics every year, as well as the peculiar character of its northern mountain people, it is not hard to understand why New Hampshire swings the way it does.
At the 1992 Republican National Convention, four years before the state delivered his first electoral victory, Patrick Buchanan remembered in a now-famous passage:
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There were those workers at the James River Paper Mill, in Northern New Hampshire in a town called Groveton—tough, hearty men. None of them would say a word to me as I came down the line, shaking their hands one by one. They were under a threat of losing their jobs at Christmas. And as I moved down the line, one tough fellow about my age just looked up and said to me, “Save our jobs.”
Then there was the legal secretary that I met at the Manchester airport on Christmas Day who came running up to me and said, “Mr. Buchanan, I’m going to vote for you.” And then she broke down weeping, and she said, “I’ve lost my job; I don’t have any money, and they’re going to take away my little girl. What am I going to do?”
My friends, these people are our people. They don’t read Adam Smith or Edmund Burke, but they come from the same schoolyards and the same playgrounds and towns as we come from. They share our beliefs and convictions, our hopes and our dreams. They are the conservatives of the heart.
They are our people. And we need to reconnect with them. We need to let them know we know how bad they’re hurting. They don’t expect miracles of us, but they need to know we care.
Whistle-stop tours might get us halfway there, especially with a candidate who draws base support as devoted as Donald Trump’s. But a real fulfillment of this unrealized vision requires a great deal more: wars ended, work reclaimed, culture restored, borders secured, clocks effectively turned back three or four generations.
In a state prone to surprises, America may find cause for cautious hope.