PORTSMOUTH, N.H.— Donald Trump insisted at a rally here Thursday that he does not need the Republican presidential nomination. He said he hasn’t coveted it for years — and that he’d be happy if he had to retreat to one of his luxury resorts on a white-sand beach.
“I’ll be hit in the face with a beautiful salt-water wave,” Trump said. “It’s okay.”
But for now, the Republican front-runner is making an urgent, cuss-filled plea to the working-class voters who have been the heart of coalition for months: go vote.
“It’s very important. February 9. You’ve got to get out and vote. Don’t think we’re going to win, don’t think we’re going to win. Just go out,” Trump said, appearing in a packed gymnasium at Great Bay Community College. “No matter how you feel, I don’t give a damn.”
Trump’s latest pitch reflects the urgency within his campaign to win New Hampshire — a state that seems a natural fit for the populist critic of illegal immigration — days after he placed second in the Iowa caucuses.
Trump’s speech was the final event of a busy day on the campaign trail, following a town-hall meeting in Exeter, N.H., and a series of smaller stops in the state that included visits with police officers and business leaders.
“I’ve done five of these today,” Trump said, putting an emphasis on the number. “Do you think this is fun? This is fun? I don’t know.”
Trump’s sharp shift to retail campaigning, after months of focusing on big events, continued during Thursday evening when his advisers announced another town hall in New Hampshire scheduled for Friday afternoon. Instead, it was a closing argument of sorts — a return to the core themes of a campaign that began with low expectations.
Trump recalled how he “came down an escalator” at Trump Tower last June unsure of how his bid would unfold. He then spoke of how he seized on the issue of illegal immigration, casting himself as the most hard-line voice in the race.
“We want people to come into our country but they have to come into our country legally,” Trump said as the crowd roared its approval. When he pledged to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, people stomped their feet.
Watching the raucous response, Trump noted that while he is “tough” on immigration, it doesn’t mean he is mean-spirited. “I have a heart,” Trump said. “People don’t know this, I am much warmer than other people. Much warmer.”
Trump is one of several Republicans over the decades who have used concerns over immigration to propel their candidacies in New Hampshire. Pat Buchanan, running on a similar platform, won the state’s 1996 presidential primary and finished a strong second here four years earlier.
Turning to trade and underscoring his desire to win over blue-collar independents and conservatives, Trump spoke of seeing “factories that are empty” in New Hampshire. “Hate to tell you, you have more companies leaving.”
Trump then blamed both the Obama administration and Republican leaders for enabling what he sees as American economic decline and a rigged system in Washington. “We’re led by stupid, stupid people,” he said. “Crooked politics.”
Another moment where Trump distanced himself from the GOP came when he mentioned Social Security. Unlike many party leaders, he said he does not want to “raise the age” of eligibility for benefits and encouraged Republicans to make jobs a priority rather than sweeping fiscal reforms.
Then it was back to Trump, back to primary.
“I’m No. 1 in New Hampshire,” he said of his poll numbers. “Can you keep them there? You’ll be so happy. You’ll be so proud of that decision. Believe me, you’ll be so proud.”