Bonnie Cote never considered voting for anyone other than former President Donald Trump.
As she stood outside her hometown’s opera house, where Trump held one of his final Granite State campaign rallies earlier this week, the 33-year-old said she was “relieved” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis dropped out and that she didn’t know former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley existed until that evening. Though Trump wasn’t necessarily “presidential material,” she said he was braver than anyone else running and felt he was robbed of a second term in 2020.
“I voted for Trump the last time and I’ll keep voting for him, unless there’s somebody that is right there and has the same morals and values of Trump, trying to make America great again,” she said.
With the help of voters like Cote, Trump won the New Hampshire primary Tuesday, reinforcing what months of polls, political endorsements, focus groups and the results of the Iowa caucuses have shown: Many GOP voters aren’t interested in an alternative to the former president.
His win, and the thoughts and feelings that motivated the voters that gave it to him, offer sobering lessons to his last remaining major GOP rival.
In more than a dozen interviews, Trump’s backers here described his first term in office as a time of economic prosperity and global peace, dismissed the four criminal indictments against him as attacks from Democrats and, at times, expressed the unfounded view that the 2020 presidential election was stolen due to widespread voter fraud. Many acknowledged his behavior wasn’t what they would like, but he was a known and proven entity, unlike his rivals, they said.
Despite months of campaigning and millions spent on ads, mailers and door knocking in the Granite State, some Trump supporters said they were unfamiliar with Haley. Some were turned off by the little they had heard. And many never even considered voting for anyone else.
Adrienne Kirwin, a 74-year-old from Derry, said most of her exposure to Haley came from items stuffed into her mailbox. First, she backed South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, but then he dropped out and backed Trump. Then she liked DeSantis, until he did the same.
“I was thinking of Nikki Haley but then when everybody, like I said, started endorsing Trump,” she said outside her polling place, where she voted for the former president. “Everybody came out for Trump, Trump, Trump… so, why not go for Trump?”
Kirwin said she thought Trump was “a little crazy” and his found his personality “awful,” but she also recalled watching him in the first 2016 general election debate against Hillary Clinton.
“Everything he said, it was like he was saying it to me,” she recalled during an interview in the parking lot of her polling place Tuesday afternoon. “And I said, ‘This man loves the country.’”
Her husband, 85-year-old Raymond Kirwin, was less conflicted.
“I didn’t consider anyone else,” he said. “He did more than any president in my life, and I was gonna come back and hope he’d do the same thing again.”
Christy Piper, a 38-year-old from Dover, said that while she was open to other candidates, the former president was always her top choice. “It’s always been Trump,” she said outside the Trump rally in Rochester Sunday. “Trump’s messaging resonates the most, and I feel like he can just make the most difference out of any viable candidate running.”
Piper predicted Trump would win and said she believed he had a large pool of quiet support.
“It’s not really politically correct or safe to say that you’re a Trump supporter. So most people just keep their mouth shut,” she said. “His messaging resonates with so many people who are sick and tired of what’s going on in this country.”
Both Trump and Haley ratcheted up their attacks on each other heading out of New Hampshire. Flanked by former rivals, including Scott and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, Trump railed against Haley for remaining in the race despite his two first place finishes.
“I don’t get too angry, I get even,” he told supporters in Nashua.
Haley highlighted his legal troubles and a recent a moment in which he confused her for former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“With Donald Trump, you have one round of chaos after another,” she said Tuesday night during a post-primary speech in Concord. “This court case, that controversy, this tweet, that senior moment. You can’t fix Joe Biden’s chaos with Republican chaos.”
She has also tried to make the argument for electability. She has pointed to national and swing state general election polls that show her beating Biden by wider margins than Trump. On the trail and in fundraising emails, she told supporters there would be “no recounts, no lawsuits, and no doubts” about the election results if she took on Biden, and Republican ranks would swell in the House and Senate.
“We’ll rebuild our economy and secure our border,” her campaign said in a fundraising pitch the day before the election. “And make no mistake, we will restore our national pride.”
It’s an argument that has worked on some former Trump voters. Mike Condor, a 59-year-old from Derry, said he voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020. In the last election, he saw Trump as the lesser of two evils. This time, he said he would hope for a viable third party candidate if there is another Trump vs. Biden rematch, and backed Haley in the primary.
“I don’t want any chaos,” he said as he left his polling place with his wife Laura, 49, and daughter Mira, 18, both of whom also voted for Haley.
Laura, who voted for Republicans like John McCain and Mitt Romney before backing Democrats over Trump, said she hoped Haley would stay in even if she lost Tuesday’s election. Even if she trailed Trump with delegates, she thought the party needed a viable alternative to Trump.
“When we’re talking about people of this age and cognitive awareness, health things could happen,” she said. “So, I think that she makes a stronger case by having as many delegates as she can get.”
While Haley’s supporters are itching for a contest, the former president’s backers are hoping for a coronation.
Robert Stacy, a 26-year-old from Rochester said he hoped the nomination process would wrap up soon in Trump’s favor – and noted that he didn’t want the race to drag out, as it had in 2016.
“I think it would be a mistake for Nikki Haley to pull a Ted Cruz,” Stacy said.