CONCORD, N.H. — With the New Hampshire polls open, Republican front-runner Donald Trump hit the morning talk shows and kept getting asked some variation of this question: Why in the world did he repeat an audience member calling Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) "a pussy" during a large rally the night before?
"We were all just having fun. It was a great moment, I got a standing ovation, the place went wild," Trump said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," his first of at least three live interviews Tuesday morning. "And all I was doing is repeating, because people couldn't hear it, so I was doing everybody a favor."
Soon after, Trump was on Fox News Channel's "Fox and Friends" — which set up a temporary studio in a New Hampshire diner — and explained that the word wasn't "overly bad."
"It was like a retweet," said Trump, the most prolific tweeter to have ever run for president. "I would never say a word like that — by the way, can I tell you what? The audience went crazy. Standing ovation. Five thousand people went nuts, they loved it. You know, we’re having fun.”
Trump kicked off his final 24 hours of campaigning in New Hampshire with a rally at a large arena on Monday night that attracted at least 5,000 people and hundreds of reporters from around the world, even as heavy snow fell outside. Trump was in the company of some of his favorite people — including his wife, Melania, eldest daughter Ivanka (who is pregnant with her third child, whom Trump wants born in an early-voting state) and the hosts of MSNBC’s "Morning Joe," Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski — and his 53-minute speech was a capstone of sorts, a highlight reel of his months on the trail.
“This is sort of our final lovefest, all right?” Trump said in kicking off the rally, adding that he would take no excuses for not voting — not the weather, not sickness, not even a cheating spouse. He told them not to “drive like a maniac” in the snow until after voting.
During the rally, Trump recognized a Trump impersonator in the crowd, asking his wife if she would have married that guy. He told the crowd that it’s okay to be angry, because he’s angry, too — about the Iran nuclear deal, trade deals, the most recent budget and health care, among other things. He asked the crowd “who the hell” would pay for the massive wall he wants to build on the southern border, and they boomed: “Mexico!” He pointed to the snowstorm that night as proof global warming doesn’t exist. He called former Florida governor Jeb Bush "low energy," said that Rubio was “sweating like a dog” during the last debate and repeated what a woman in the audience said about Cruz. He promised that with him as president, the country would win again.
“Tomorrow is going to be the beginning — I hear we have a lead. It doesn’t matter to me, it doesn’t matter to me. Who the hell knows what the lead is?" Trump said. "It’s so important. We have something so special going on."
After the rally, Trump had dinner with his wife and three grown children, along with their spouses. Ivanka Trump posted a group photo on Instagram showing a table loaded with steaks and french fries with this caption: "What a great way to end an exciting day!" Ivanka and her two brothers, Don Jr. and Eric, were all scheduled to visit a series of polling locations on Tuesday.
Trump said he planned to make five or six campaign stops of his own on Tuesday, although as of 11 a.m., the campaign had not told reporters where those stops would be. Tuesday night, Trump was scheduled to host a "primary watch party" at a banquet hall in Manchester.
The campaign is hoping for a win — and a strong one, given that Trump has a two-digit lead in the early polls here. A victory could help him recover from his second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses last week. Pressed on Fox News over whether he's expecting to win, Trump said he is not making predictions. But he did emphasize his love for New Hampshire and personal ties to the state.
“Look, we’ve bonded with the people of New Hampshire. I’ve been here so many times, pre-politics," he said. "I come here because I have a lot of friends that live up here. It’s one of the most beautiful parts of the country."
Despite persistent questions about his campaign's ability to transform fans into voters, the billionaire has emphasized regularly on the trail that his team has come a long way since he entered the race in June. For much of this election cycle, political strategists remained skeptical of the candidate's strong poll numbers. Many predicted he would drop out of the race before voting began.
"As far as did I think I’d be here? Probably not to this extent. I didn’t think I’d have leads like I have," he said. "I would have assumed I’d be somewhere in the pack and maybe inch it out at the end, which is more traditional.”
DelReal reported from Portsmouth.