In a state where voters are accustomed to an unconventional presidential candidate or two, Donald Trump may be right at home.
The self-promoting billionaire made his first campaign swing Wednesday as a declared candidate for the Republican presidential nomination to the state with the first primary, finding plenty of room for his particular style of political bombast. It is the state after all, that likes to shake up the races itself, and which gives a forum to everyone from future presidents to the likes of Vermin Supreme, a perennial candidate who wears a black boot as a hat.
“I’m not doing this for me,” Trump told an audience of about 300 people at a community college. “I’m doing this to make America great again.”
As some Republicans privately and publicly cringed, voters said his entry in the race could shake it up.
“I like Trump’s chutzpah,” said Greg Salts, 51, a Manchester truck driver and self-described political junkie so into the state’s opportunity to vet presidential candidates that he ran home to get a baseball to autograph when he spotted another potential candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, strolling down Main Street.
Of Trump, Salts said: “He’s going to help zing up the debates by bringing up topics others might not.”
Indeed, Trump delivered a speech that included accusing the conservative Club for Growth of writing a bad review of him because he wouldn’t contribute $1 million to the group; doubled down on a charge that Mexico is sending “rapists” across the border; and criticizing the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, whom he called a “no good traitor,” adding that “in the old days when our country was strong, we killed the traitors.”
He also managed to criticize his own party.
“We have had so many opportunities to do some real productive work and Republican politicians don’t have the guts to do it,” he said. “They should be ashamed of themselves.”
The Club for Growth, which has prepared “white papers” for the presidential candidates’ economic plans did not do so for Trump. A spokesman said Trump indicated an interest in donating to the group. “But that doesn’t change the fact that the Club for Growth PAC thinks he’s an unserious candidate and would make a terrible president, just as we publicly pointed out during his last political publicity stunt in 2011,” spokesman Doug Sachtleben said.
While Trump is unlikely to win the nomination, he appeals to many in the electorate who cheer his blunt attacks on the political establishment. He drew cheers by describing politicians as “all talk and no action.”
“Trump has the courage to say what needs to be said,” said John Babiarz, 58, a Grafton firefighter and libertarian. “He’s getting everyone nervous and that’s a good thing. I think the political class needs to be shaken up.”
Kasich, who earlier in the day was walking Main Street with Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, took a diplomatic approach on Trump’s role in the race, telling reporters that “anybody that wants to get out there and run for president is somebody you have to have respect for because it’s obviously not easy.”
Gatsas, who endorsed Mitt Romney in 2012 but is not yet affiliated with a candidate, said he expected Trump to “shake it up.”
The Republican Party was already on mop up hours after Trump made his bid official on Tuesday.
His accusation that Mexico funnels drugs and rapists to the U.S. was “not helpful,” to a Republican Party anxious to engage more Hispanics, Republican National Committee Communications Director Sean Spicer acknowledged to CNN.
Trump told Fox’s Bill O’Reilly that he wasn’t going to “slash and burn” his rivals. But he skewered them in his announcement speech, questioning Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio’s intelligence for their positions on the war in Iraq.
Critics and some voters see Trump’s venture as nothing more than a publicity stunt for the host of “The Apprentice” and “The Celebrity Apprentice.” He walked away from a reporter Wednesday night who asked about whether it was a publicity gambit.
“Anyone can run for president, Vermin Supreme runs for president,” said Jim Gordon, 36, a libertarian and former financial adviser.
“And the difference between them is one of them knows he’s a joke candidate,” added his friend, Joel Cox, a Manchester computer programmer.