Trump in Manchester: 5 Things to Watch

The president's first official reelection campaign rally in New Hampshire has some layers. Let's unpack them.

As you’ve no doubt heard, President Trump will be in Manchester for a rally Thursday evening. The event marks his first official reelection campaign stop in New Hampshire. But, as you might imagine, the political implications of his visit are much broader.

Here are five things to keep an eye on as Trump takes the podium:

1. Lewandowski’s Senate Thirst

Trump fired his first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, shortly after cinching the Republican nomination in 2016. But the two have remained close and are expected to be together in Manchester. That’s a big deal because Lewandowski has signaled a strong desire to run for U.S. Senate in 2020.

When asked whether he plans to announce his candidacy during Trump’s visit, Lewandowski kept coy, noting that “there’s a lot of time to make decisions about running,” as The Hill’s Max Greenwood reported. But he also hinted at a possible surprise: “Sometimes the president is unpredictable,” he said. “Having had the opportunity to serve next to him in several capacities, I’ll be prepared for any comments he makes.”

If the president were to offer an explicit sign of support for Lewandowski’s possible campaign, it wouldn’t be universally pleasant for the Granite State GOP. Some in the establishment—including Gov. Chris Sununu, former state Attorney General Tom Rath, and former Sen. Judd Gregg—are worried, as Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reported:

Tensions over Lewandowski are spilling into the open, with the state GOP establishment in near open revolt over the Trump loyalist’s prospective campaign. Some are voicing concerns about his personal baggage, pointing to everything from his March 2016 physical run-in with then-Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields to his messy property dispute with a neighbor.

And with the party waging an already uphill effort to unseat two-term Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, [longtime GOP strategist Dave Carney] and others in the swing state worry that he would do little to help the party expand its base beyond the group of voters that Trump is already expected to attract.

Carney reportedly called Lewandowski “a political hack” and the idea of his candidacy a “joke.” But members of the Trump team disagree.

Lewandowsi wouldn’t be the first GOP candidate in the race for Shaheen’s seat. Retired brigadier general Donald Bolduc and former New Hampshire House Speaker Bill O’Brien have already declared. And they could soon be joined in the race by Bryant “Corky” Messner, a trial lawyer and retired Army Ranger, as Paul Steinhauser reported for Seacoast Media Group.

Lewandowski has said he would prefer to run in an uncontested primary, but Bolduc told Steinhauser that’s not going to happen.

2. Presidential Primary Politicking

Trump is running in his own contested primary, with one challenger: former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who campaigned in Hudson and Belmont last weekend even as his odds are looking pretty slim.

"My strategy is not a secret. It's to enlarge the electorate, not shrink it,” Weld told WMUR’s Mike Cronin. “So the more millennials that vote, the more women that vote, the more LGBT folks, environmentalists, the better for me."

In an email to supporters, Weld’s campaign said Trump’s decision to rally in New Hampshire “shows we’re clearly on his mind.” Polling conducted last month by the University of New Hampshire and CNN, however, suggests Trump is on track to beat Weld in the primary by a formidable 79-point margin. So, at this point, if the incumbent refers to his challenger as a threat, it’s almost certainly sarcasm.

Even so, Trump could seize an opportunity to weigh in on any of the more than two-dozen campaigns mobilizing in New Hampshire to replace him.

3. Electoral Loose Ends

The last time Trump stood in the SNHU Arena, where his rally is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., was the day before the general election in 2016. He ultimately lost the state to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by fewer than 2,800 votes, less than 0.4% of the state’s tally.

We don’t expect that’s going to happen again,” said Republican state Rep. Fred Doucette of Salem, who co-chaired Trump’s campaign in New Hampshire during the 2016 cycle, as the New Hampshire Union Leader’s Josie Albertson-Grove reported.

Trump is expected to highlight the promises he’s kept and signs of a strong economy, including the Granite State’s low unemployment rate. “We are confident that President Trump will win the states he won in 2016 and add even more to his column in 2020, New Hampshire included,” said campaign deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews, as The Eagle-Tribune’s Madeline Hughes reported.

Crowd size point of reference: The SNHU Arena’s seating capacity maxes out at about 11,770, according to the venue’s website.

4. Liberal Counter-Programming

There are pretty much always protesters following Trump around to his rallies. But with so many Democrats vying for the Granite State’s attention, Trump’s visit is sure to spark a volley of reactions from the Left.

Democrats have been holding news conferences all week to highlight what they say are “campaign promises Trump has not kept,” as the Union Leader reported. That’s a direct challenge to Trump’s expected message.

5. Any Rhetorical Shift

Odds are that Trump will reprise at least some of his typical rally rhetoric, which has been known to stoke anti-press, anti-immigrant, and even racist sentiments. But, in the wake of a hate-fueled mass shooting that left 22 dead in El Paso, Texas, some Granite State leaders are hoping Trump will tame his tongue.

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig—who is facing a challenge from Republican candidate Victoria Sullivan—said she hopes Trump will use his platform to highlight areas where diverse people can work together toward a common cause.

“While in Manchester, I hope that the President takes the opportunity to demonstrate how he can be a collaborative partner and work with us to address challenges we all face instead of focusing on issues that continue to divide us,” Craig said, as the Union Leader’s Kevin Landrigan reported.

Others seem less optimistic. An editorial published earlier this week by The Concord Monitor accused Trump of exploiting the public’s fear, described him as “more illusionist than statesman,” and urged the public to question his fear-mongering showmanship:

Trump didn't create racism in this country, but he is the bellows on a glowing ember. He isn't the cause of the climate crisis, but he sows economic fear to assure inertia. He is not the shooter, but far too often he pushes the buttons that incite hatred. […]

He doesn't need the myths—an invasion by bad hombres at the southern border, an influx of terrorists masquerading as Syrian refugees or a House of Representatives controlled by women of color who hate America—to become fact. He only needs supporters to see the world as falsely as he does and to act in accordance with their fears.

By the way: Manchester’s police chief says his department won’t bill Trump’s campaign for any expenses associated with Thursday’s rally, as NHPR’s Sarah Gibson reported.