The Granite State may not seem to be Donald Trump country, but the momentarily less offensive reality TV star is polling far ahead of any of his rivals there. Even Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who won the Iowa primary by four percent, lags behind Trump by more than 20 percent in New Hampshire. Why is Trump so popular in a relatively moderate New England state?
A third of New Hampshire Republicans cite terrorism and foreign affairs as this election’s most important issue. Trump’s war-criminal rhetoric has found a receptive audience among Republicans, who favor the sort of military adventurism reminiscent of the Bush administration. He has promised to commit extrajudicial assassinations of the families of terrorists, even if innocent. “You have to take out their families. When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” he said on Fox and Friends.
That’s a lot of tough talk coming from Trump, whose own military service record suggests he didn’t have any personal appetite for waging war in some distant land with no clear objective. He cites unrepentant Iraq War accomplice John Bolton as someone whose foreign policy views he values.
While Cruz shares Trump’s disdain for international law and foreign policy nuances, the Texas senator got bogged down in arguments over how much time was needed to defeat ISIS (he thought 90 days was realistic), what American foreign policy should be in the Middle East (intervention only when Christians are persecuted) and whether or not to bother with religious reconciliation between Sunnis and Shias (ancient hatreds can’t be resolved, so why bother). He doesn’t offer simple, blanket solutions like taking ISIS’s oil or just banning all Muslims from entering the U.S.
But wanton disregard for facts and standards is not enough to explain Trump’s popularity. The economy, a constant source of anxiety for the American populace, is the other big determinant among Republicans. A substantial percentage of New Hampshire Republicans cited jobs and an economic plan were their top concern. Again, Trump provided them and the press with outlandish pronouncements and impossible promises.
New Hampshire lost much of its industrial capacity to cheaper labor in the South a century ago, long before cheaper labor overseas accelerated deindustrialization in American factories following the postwar boom. But Trump says he has a plan to protect more American jobs from outsourcing. He promised to punish American companies for building new plants outside the country and to slap a huge tariff on goods from China (where he made his own branded neckties).
“Let me give you the bad news: every car, every truck and every part manufactured in this plant that comes across the border, we’re going to charge you a 35 percent tax — OK? — and that tax is going to be paid simultaneously with the transaction,” Trump said at a rally in June. “They are going to take away thousands of jobs.”
Ignoring the disastrous potential consequences of this hypothetical plan, the tax runs contrary to NAFTA, which is the reason Ford and numerous other car companies have factories in Mexico. Further complicating Trump’s economic revival plan is that taxes are legislated by Congress, not proclaimed by the president.
Even with Trump’s seemingly unassailable lead in the polls, his victory is not guaranteed, no matter what he promises. More than 40 percent of the state’s voters are registered as undeclared, according to WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station. New Hampshire’s voters tend to register as independents, allowing them to vote for one party in the primary and another in the presidential election. Polls show these independent voters are leaning most heavily to Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and John Kasich. And on the back of Cruz’s surprise victory in Iowa, Trump is looking more vulnerable than at any time in recent months.