MILFORD, N.H. — Donald Trump returned to New Hampshire on Tuesday night with the stakes as high as ever for his presidential campaign, determined to showcase his political resilience after his second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses and rouse his supporters with a rally that was a raucous return to form.
There was swagger, curses and confidence, and thousands of people packed into an athletic center, all bundled up in winter coats and many toting signs.
Speaking for more than 55 minutes, Trump revived the talking points that have defined his campaign: He slammed former Florida governor Jeb Bush. He promised to crack down on illegal immigration, build a wall on the border and bring back jobs from overseas. He criticized career politicians and accused them of selling their influence.
And the crowd roared when he cursed as he pledged to aggressively target Islamic State terrorists. "If we are attacked, somebody attacks us, wouldn't you rather have Trump as president if we're attacked?" he asked. "We'll beat the [expletive] out of them."
But first came a little reflection — and a few digs at the pundits who have described the Iowa victory by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) as a humbling and disappointing moment for the mogul.
“I think we had a very good result yesterday. It could have been a little bit better, could have been one notch better,” Trump said at a news conference here. “They say, ‘Oh, couldn’t you have done better?’ But I think the result was quite good, especially for the amount of time I spent and the amount of money I spent.”
When given an opening to knock Iowans, Trump resisted. “Great people,” he said. “They are terrific people.” He expressed confidence that he would do well in next week’s New Hampshire primary, which he said “probably suits me better.”
When it comes to setting expectations for New Hampshire, Trump was careful about whether the state was a must-win contest for him. “I’d love to finish first,” he said. “Again, it would still not be horrible” to come in second “because you’re competing against a lot of talented people that have been politicians all of their lives. I’ve been a politician for six months.”
Trump was dismissive when asked about any lessons learned from defeat: “It's not a question of learning. I just want to continue to do well.” He noted that “my brand is doing great.”
He took repeated swipes at the press for its coverage of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), an establishment favorite who finished a strong third in Iowa. “You mention the person, Marco, good guy, but he came in third,” Trump said, shaking his head. “They make it sound like he had a victory and I didn’t. I came in second.”
Turning to Cruz, he accused the Texan of being behind efforts that have damaged Ben Carson’s campaign. He added that a mailer in Iowa sent by Cruz’s campaign that revealed neighbors' voting participation was malicious: “He insulted Ben Carson by doing what he did to Ben Carson. That was a disgrace…. He’s a man of insult.”
Trump firmly stood by his decision to skip the Fox News Channel debate last week after clashing with the network over its treatment of him. “If I had to do it again, I would have done the exact same thing,” he said. “The reason is — do you know why? — because I raised $6 million for the vets in one hour.”
Trump did say that he would attend the upcoming Republican debate in New Hampshire.
A day after his campaign drew criticism for being out-organized in parts of Iowa by Cruz, Trump said he was not planning to revamp his strategy in New Hampshire. There would be intimate events, he said, but big rallies would still drive his bid.
To highlight his support in a state where he has led the polls for months, Trump appeared at the news conference alongside Scott P. Brown, the moderate former Massachusetts senator with blue-collar roots who ran for Senate in New Hampshire two years ago. In effusive remarks, Brown endorsed Trump.
Earlier, there was a surprise stop at his campaign’s bustling headquarters in Manchester, a short drive from where he and his aides — and his daughter, Ivanka — arrived at dusk in Trump’s Boeing 757.
As Trump stepped into a phone bank decorated with homemade posters and wooden slabs of his initials, “DJT,” he flashed a thumbs up — and he introduced Brown to a crowd of people in sweatshirts. While Trump signed autographs, Brown played the role of photographer, tapping his finger on glass screens for volunteers.
A young man piped up as Trump posed for selfies, reminding him that “you once said the winners are separated from the losers by how they respond to each new twist of fate.”
“You better believe it. Very good!” Trump said.
Trump griped that he is partly self-funding his campaign and, in his mind, not getting enough credit. “I just don’t know if the voters care.” His smile dropped and staffers quickly shouted “We care!” and broke into applause as if to cheer him up.
When another man spoke up and said Trump would win New Hampshire, Trump nodded and smiled wryly as he analyzed his chances.
“I think now we’re going to go first,” he said. “You’re right. It’s going to be great. We’re going to have a great thing in New Hampshire.”
“You’re going to love New Hampshire!” the man replied.
“Everyone’s in love, right?” Trump said. He glanced at the rows of idle phones.
“We’ll leave you alone. Good luck everybody; we’re going to be back a lot. Okay? Back a lot.”