NASHUA, N.H. — On Friday and Saturday, the New Hampshire Republican Party held its final big event before the February 9 GOP primary. The First-in-the-Nation Presidential Town Hall, at the Nashua Radisson, attracted the local officials, activists, and politicos who make up the state GOP establishment. They heard from Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Rand Paul, and other candidates who hope to make a mark in New Hampshire. But lying just beneath the attendees’ enthusiasm for the candidates was a remarkable level of confusion, frustration, and just plain bewilderment at what is going on in their state’s presidential race. How is it that Donald Trump is leading his closest competitor by nearly 20 points? They wish they knew. Below are scenes from a very puzzled party:
Life in the GOP bubble
In one of my first conversations at the Radisson, with two Republican activists, I asked a simple what’s-up question about Trump. Both immediately responded in exactly the same way: “I don’t know anybody who supports him.” They’re politically active and aware, but they said they have no contact in their daily lives with even a single person who supports their party’s front-runner.
After that conversation, I began to ask everyone I met: Do you know anyone who supports Donald Trump? In more cases than not — actually, in nearly all the cases — the answer was no. I asked one woman Friday night, and she said she hadn’t thought about it. I ran into her the next morning at breakfast, and she said, “That was a good question you asked me last night, and I’ve given it some thought.” And no, she didn’t know any Trump supporters.
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Given Trump’s big lead in the polls, if so many politically active Republicans don’t know even one Trump supporter, either the polls are wrong or there is some serious GOP Pauline Kaelism at work in the nation’s first primary state.
An exception: I talked to two party officials, one county and one regional, who said they knew a lot of Trump supporters. “They’re not Republicans,” one told me, explaining at length that the Trump fans she knows are inexplicably devoted to him — unfazed by Trump’s lack of policy specifics or any of his controversial statements. The two officials described having conversations and asking which candidate a voter supports, whereupon the voter quickly glanced left and right, to see if it was OK to talk, and then said, “Trump.” That happens a lot, they told me.
‘I don’t see it’
Most of the politicos in Nashua didn’t deny that the polls are what they are. They just explained that they haven’t personally encountered evidence that the Trump-dominated polls are accurate.
“I don’t see it,” said one very well-connected state Republican. “I don’t feel it. I don’t hear…