Trump, Pence trips to N.H. not just about 2018 policy, but also 2020 politics

  • Vice President Mike Pence and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu team up in Manchester on Thursday at a fundraiser for Sununu’s 2018 re-election campaign. Paul Steinhauser—

  • Gov. Chris Sununu (left) rides in a limousine with President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump as they depart Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in Manchester on Monday. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

For the Monitor
Published: 3/23/2018 5:34:41 PM

The stops by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence this week to New Hampshire mainly focused on 2018 issues.

But not so subtly, the first visits to the Granite State by both men since the 2016 presidential election were also very much about the next race for the White House. And for the Vice President, possibly the 2024 election.

The trips allowed Trump and Pence to plant an early 2020 flag in New Hampshire, which is not only the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state but also a crucial battleground state in the general election.

The main purpose of the president’s trip to Manchester on Monday was to announce his long awaited plan to combat the heroin and opioid epidemic.

In his dozens of campaign stops during the 2016 primaries and the general election, candidate Trump often vowed to take action to help Granite Staters deal with the state’s epidemic. New Hampshire has been hard-hit by the crisis and has one of the highest rates of opioid-related deaths in the country.

Trump argued that he kept his promise, saying “I see what you’re going through. It’s about as bad as there is anywhere in the country. And I said I would be back and we are back.”

The president also reminisced about his convincing victory in New Hampshire’s 2016 GOP presidential primary, which launched him towards winning his party’s nomination and eventually the White House.

Monday’s event on opioids was held in the same hall at Manchester Community College where Trump held his first campaign rally the day after declaring his candidacy in June of 2015.

“It’s great to be back here in the great state of New Hampshire,” Trump said. “This is the room, right here, so I like this room. This has been a good room.”

While the event was far more about policy than politics, it had the feeling of a 2016 campaign reunion, as the audience was packed with scores of Granite Staters who worked on the Trump’s White House bid.

“Everything’s about 2020,” said David Carney, a New Hampshire based GOP consultant and veteran of numerous presidential campaigns.

Carney added that the trip was an “opportunity for the president to fulfill one of his major New Hampshire promises.”

Steve Duprey, the longtime Republican National Committee member from New Hampshire, called the president’s move to visit the state “very smart.”

“You’re just sending a signal that you have a lot of strength here, a lot of supporters here, and you have a lot of resources should anybody want to have a primary,” said Duprey, a former state GOP party chairman and a veteran of Sen. John McCain’s 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns.

The president arrived in the Granite State three days after retiring Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona – one of the president’s top Republican critics – blasted Trump at a stop at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. Flake – who has not ruled out a primary challenge against Trump – spoke at the Politics and Eggs series, a must-stop for White House hopefuls.

The trips by Trump, Pence and Flake come two weeks before Ohio Gov. John Kasich returns to New Hampshire, for a speaker series at New England College. Kasich, a rival during the 2016 primaries who never endorsed Trump, remains another top critic of the president. His return to the Granite State has sparked more speculation that he’ll launch a 2020 primary challenge.

“The president’s trip to New Hampshire did not happen in a vacuum,” New Hampshire Institute of Politics executive director Neil Levesque said.

“With two major possible opponents on the horizon, he came to the Granite State with a strong package of reforms targeting the number one issue on the minds of New Hampshire voters,” Levesque added. “I would suspect that over the course of the next year there will be more official policy trips which send the message to voters that President Trump means action. That was clearly his message on Monday.”

Duprey pointed out that “there’s always a primary challenge. Sometimes it’s a serious primary challenge like when Ronald Reagan challenged sitting President Ford. Other times it’s not nearly as serious. But it’s a very smart move for any sitting incumbent administration to visit New Hampshire a few times relatively early on in the cycle just to send a signal that you can campaign here vigorously if needed.”

Flake told the Monitor the timing of Trump’s visit likely had little to do with the senator’s trip to New Hampshire.

Carney agreed, arguing that “no one takes Jeff Flake or John Kasich as a serious opponent.”

Pence touched down in the Granite State three days after Trump, ostensibly to tout the new tax reform law, which Republicans hope will be a winning issue for them in this year’s midterm elections. Pence’s other mission was to headline a fundraiser for Gov. Chris Sununu, the state’s first GOP governor in a dozen years.

The fundraiser raked in a minimum of $300,000 dollars for Sununu’s 2018 re-election campaign. And Pence – at both events – repeatedly praised Sununu.

Pence gave Sununu a shout out for “eliminating 1,600 job killing regulations in his first year in office alone.”

And he predicted that “your governor is just getting started on delivering for the people of New Hampshire.”

“Pence is looking towards the future as well and it’s not bad to have a friend in the Corner Office at the State House,” Carney said.

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