As Haley and Ron DeSantis scramble to gain traction in the race, Trump is acting as if he has already won — stomping his way over everything and everyone.
“It’s like the scorpion riding the frog’s back across the river,” said Fergus Cullen, the former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party, “he can’t help himself but to sting you along the way.”
After walking back his comments about being a “dictator” for one day in Iowa, Trump in New Hampshire told voters that one of the most important issues of the election is ensuring that, if he is made president again, he has free rein.
Asked by Fox News’ Sean Hannity what his closing message to the people of New Hampshire would be, Trump said “Make America great again.” And then added one other issue: presidential immunity.
“If you take immunity from the president, so important, you will have a president that’s not going to be able to do anything,” Trump said.
On Friday evening, ahead of a rally in Concord, he posted the message again in all caps on Truth Social: “A PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES MUST HAVE FULL IMMUNITY, WITHOUT WHICH IT WOULD BE IMPOSSIBLE FOR HIM/HER TO PROPERLY FUNCTION.”
This was Trump on the doorstep of vanquishing his last two Republican opponents in as little as a matter of days, all while probing the limits of both the judicial system and what early state voters would accept — bridling at any institutional constraints. This was Trump who had rolled up the endorsements of former rivals Vivek Ramaswamy and Tim Scott and
a majority of GOP Congress members in recent days.
This was Trump announcing to the world that this primary contest is firmly in his grip, that he knows it, and that nothing or no one can stop him.
“Look, he’s very confident,” said Jim McLaughlin, Trump’s pollster, when asked about the former president’s unusual closing message.
In court this week, at his second civil trial related to the charge that he defamed the writer E. Jean Carroll, Trump called the case a “witch hunt” within earshot of the jury. That prompted U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan to admonish him and threaten to throw him out of court.
“I would love it. I would love it,” Trump said.
“I know you would. I know you would,” Kaplan
replied. “You just can’t control yourself in this circumstance, apparently.”
He could not. And it may not even matter — at least not with his own voters ahead of a general election. In
entrance surveys, 64 percent of Iowa Republican caucusgoers said he would still be fit to serve as president even if convicted of a crime.
“Nearly 7 out of 10 voters say the indictments are politically motivated against Donald Trump, nearly 7 out of 10,” McLaughlin said. “So what does that mean? That means there’s a lot of Biden voters in there that say these are politically motivated.”
The fact that there are also a significant number of Republican voters who, according to the Iowa data, do not think Trump would be fit for the presidency if convicted is a significant problem for the GOP. It cannot afford to shed support from conservative-leaning but Trump-skeptical voters in November. To underscore the point, nearly two-thirds of New Hampshire voters said in a
poll released Friday that Trump should not receive immunity from criminal prosecution for actions he took as president.
But in the primary, Trump’s legal entanglements — and his renewed bravado in New Hampshire — do not appear to be hurting him. He’s
polling comfortably ahead of his rivals in the state. And if Haley, the candidate closest to him in New Hampshire, can’t stop him there, it may be lights out on the nominating contest.
That is, without question, how Trump sees it.
“If she doesn’t win in New Hampshire,” McLaughlin said of Haley, “it’s over.”