It’s no secret that President Trump’s poll numbers in New Hampshire aren’t great. His approval rating is in the low 40s on a good day.
At the same time, he came closer to winning New Hampshire than any Republican POTUS candidate since George W. Bush in 2000. Even New Hampshire strategists who aren’t Trump fans concede he could win in 2020, depending on who the Democrats nominate.
Which is why Trump’s appearance in Manchester Thursday night is so important. It’s possible he could make a difference in the final Electoral College vote count in what’s shaping up to be a “270 Election.” The question is how Trump can maximize the impact of his New Hampshire appearance.
Some of this is beyond Trump’s control: The wildly gyrating stock market, a police shooting in Philadelphia, insane Republican members of Congress saying idiotic things about rape, etc. Trump’s message could get muddled by exigent events.
What Trump can control is what he talks about during his rally. Or can he?
From Politico: “Trump Was Supposed to Give a Speech on Energy. He Went Way Off Script.”
“President Donald Trump on Tuesday headed to a Shell petrochemicals plant being built outside Pittsburgh to give what was billed by the White House as a speech on ‘America’s Energy Dominance and Manufacturing Revival.’
“But the hourlong address was light on energy policy and heavy on stump speech material and off-script riffs, as Trump touched on everything from his love of trucks to his assessment of his potential 2020 rivals.”
Yep, sounds like Trump.
So what should Trump talk about? And, perhaps more importantly, what topics should he avoid? What word should never come out of his mouth while on stage in Manchester?
(Our choice: “Lockbox.”)
We asked political pros and activists from both sides of the partisan aisle.
From Spencer Kimball, director of polling at Emerson College:
“He should definitely mention ‘tax cuts.’ He should not mention ‘Paul Manafort.’”
“The one thing President Trump should talk about is the economy but temper that with an understanding that sometimes his volatile statements concern the business community,” Bruce Berke, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses told NHJournal.
And the word to avoid? “Tariffs.”
NH GOP consultant Dave Carney’s advice for President Trump: “Say ‘The economy is booming.’ Don’t say ‘Bill Weld.’”
Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley offered some surprisingly serious advice when NHJournal reached out:
“He should be addressing the opioid crisis — but not saying things like calling New Hampshire a ‘drug-infested den,’ Buckley said. “He shouldn’t say anything that would incite those with troubled minds to act in a violent manner.”
Conservative activist Kimberly Morin, president of the pro-2A Women’s Defense League of New Hampshire, says Trump should focus on the economy.
“New Hampshire has the lowest poverty rate of any state. Entry-level jobs are paying $10-$12/hour and up, and employers are still having a hard time finding enough employees,” she says.
“He should steer very clear of gun control. New Hampshire also happens to be one of the safest states in the country,” Morin says. “A majority of Granite Staters, including Democrat voters, are against gun control and treasure their freedom to practice their fundamental human right to self defense.”
Rich Killion of Elevare Communications summarizes a smart Trump message this way:
Republican strategist Tom Rath, on the other hand, had just one simple line for the president to deliver:
Several of the political pros NHJournal talked to suggested that Corey Lewandowski is a topic President Trump should avoid during his rally. Lewandowski is expected to time his announcement that he’s entering the GOP primary for U.S. Senate around Trump’s visit. He’s even flying into Manchester with his former boss on Air Force One.
But there are (at least) two other Republican candidates in the primary and having President Trump endorse one of them is not viewed as a smart move. At the same time, it’s also viewed as all but inevitable. In fact, Trump all but endorsed Lewandowski on a New Hampshire radio show Thursday morning.
Which is why GOP consultant Jim Merrill is giving the president this advice:
“Mr. President, you definitely should talk about how much of a winner Tom Brady is and how much Bill Belichick likes you. You definitely should not talk about either ‘drug-infested dens’ or ‘Corey.’”
In the end, nobody knows what President Trump is going to say once the energy and excitement of the rally begins.
Least of all Donald Trump.