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'Lost.' 'Bizarre.' 'Nasty.' On 2024 primary trail, a dark mood prevails for many NH GOP voters

Bob Thinnes of Hooksett
Josh Rogers
"We are just way too mean and nasty a people right now," said Bob Thinnes, a registered Republican from Hooksett.

In every presidential election, candidates contend the country’s very future is on the line. But talk to voters at presidential primary events in New Hampshire this year, and you’ll find plenty willing to tell you they fear the future may already be gone.

“I look at the big picture, and I think the world is coming to an end,” said Jennifer Piacentini of Bedford.

She and her mother, Gerri Stuart, had just listened to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speak in Manchester when she offered this grim assessment. Both women are registered Republicans, and both said they are undecided about who they’ll back in the presidential primary. They say they believe the country is on the wrong track — economically and morally — and are horrified by what polling suggests will be 2024’s ultimate outcome: Four more years of either Joe Biden or Donald Trump in the White House.

“It says a lot about how weak we are as a country and how lost,” Paicentini said.

“Very, very sick,” Stewart added.

Piacentini said she’s particularly concerned about what this means for her four children. Her oldest, who is 23, told her he doesn’t see himself starting a family given the state of things.

“The scary life, the violence, the crime, the lost government, the horrible leaders. No one is proud of their country these days,” she said.

Morning in America? Hope and change? Not so much this year.

Labor Day is traditionally a turning point in the New Hampshire Primary, when candidates start wooing voters in earnest and voters begin paying closer attention to their options. In many election years, this turning of the political seasons can have a celebratory feel, for campaigns and voters alike. But these days, the vibe on the 2024 New Hampshire Primary trail is more dark and dystopian than shining city on a hill.

It’s not just the voters feeling this way. Just listen to the two Republicans running closest behind Trump in recent campaign stops here.

“Depression, anxiety, fentanyl, suicide: These are symptoms of a deeper void of purpose and meaning in our country,” Vivek Ramaswamy told voters in Rochester. “We have a moral vacuum, a black hole in our hearts.”

Meanwhile, DeSantis made this promise to voters at a backyard barbecue in Rye: “We are going to have all these deep state people, you know, we are going to start slitting throats on day one.”

Some Republican primary voters say the darkness of contemporary American politics, its cynicism and its violence — rhetorical and sometimes real — is hurting the country.

“We are just too mean and too nasty a people right now,” said Bob Thinnes, a retiree and registered Republican from Hooksett”I blame the media for a lot of what’s going on in this country, because you give these idiots a lot of airtime.”

Thinnes never defined what he meant by “idiot,” but the idea that politicians profit from division, and may even benefit from traditionally disqualifying facts — witness the 91 felony counts facing Trump — is something plenty of voters find disorienting and disturbing.

“I tell my grandchildren everyday: ‘You are living through something that has never happened in 240 plus years,’ ” said Jim Adams, a conservative activist from Pittsfield. “It is just so bizarre.”

Adams says he’s convinced that for the good of the Republican Party, and the country, Trump should get out of the race.

But that view is hardly pervasive in New Hampshire. As he stood in line to hear Trump speak in Windham recently, Bob Shine, a former police officer from Manchester, said Republican voters should rally to support the former president. Shine said he’d be fine with Trump pardoning himself — if it came to that.

“We’ve come out of worse stuff. Not worse stuff — this is the worst of my life,” Shine said. “But we’ve come out of bad stuff: Watergate, and all that. We’ll do it.”

But other Republican voters considering their 2024 options will tell you that they don’t share that optimism. Kathy Burney, a retired teacher from Nashua and self-described conservative, says she can’t back Trump in 2024, and questions President Biden’s mental state. She says she wants to hope some Republican candidate could unite the country, but isn’t sure any president will be ready to handle the future.

“It’s going to be a real challenge, and there have always been challenges,” Burney said. “I remember sitting under my desk in first grade, because of the bombs that were coming. It was scary. So every age has its thing. But with the technology and AI, it’s going to be rough.”

Politics is often rough. So too is running for president. But for all involved — candidates and voters — this year already feels rougher than usual.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.

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