Trump tells crowd in Claremont: ‘We’ve had a great love affair’

Former President Donald Trump pauses to take in praise from his supporters during a campaign rally at Stevens High School in Claremont, N.H., on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Former President Donald Trump pauses to take in praise from his supporters during a campaign rally at Stevens High School in Claremont, N.H., on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report for American photographs — Alex Driehaus

Thelma Poitras, of Woodsville, N.H., bows her head in prayer during the invocation at a campaign rally for former President Donald Trump at Stevens High School in Claremont, N.H., on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Thelma Poitras, of Woodsville, N.H., bows her head in prayer during the invocation at a campaign rally for former President Donald Trump at Stevens High School in Claremont, N.H., on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

A cyclist wears a sign that says “Shame on Claremont for welcoming such a pervert” as he rides past the entrance of a campaign rally for former President Donald Trump at Stevens High School in Claremont, N.H., on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

A cyclist wears a sign that says “Shame on Claremont for welcoming such a pervert” as he rides past the entrance of a campaign rally for former President Donald Trump at Stevens High School in Claremont, N.H., on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news / Report for America photographs — Alex Driehaus

From left, Konner Gregory, Dale Rickert and Janet Rickert, all of Springfield, Vt., don Trump-themed headgear while waiting in line to enter a campaign rally for former President Donald Trump at Stevens High School in Claremont, N.H., on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. Gregory, 18, will be voting in his first Presidential election in 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

From left, Konner Gregory, Dale Rickert and Janet Rickert, all of Springfield, Vt., don Trump-themed headgear while waiting in line to enter a campaign rally for former President Donald Trump at Stevens High School in Claremont, N.H., on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. Gregory, 18, will be voting in his first Presidential election in 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

Trump signs wait on chairs as supporters enter the venue to claim them before a campaign rally for former President Donald Trump at Stevens High School in Claremont, N.H., on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Trump signs wait on chairs as supporters enter the venue to claim them before a campaign rally for former President Donald Trump at Stevens High School in Claremont, N.H., on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

Frank Palmieri, left, of Lebanon, N.H., salutes while listening to a rendition of the National Anthem during a campaign rally for former President Donald Trump at Stevens High School in Claremont, N.H., on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Frank Palmieri, left, of Lebanon, N.H., salutes while listening to a rendition of the National Anthem during a campaign rally for former President Donald Trump at Stevens High School in Claremont, N.H., on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

By FRANCES MIZE

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 11-13-2023 10:11 AM

CLAREMONT — While holding court for two-hours at Stevens High School on Saturday, former President Donald Trump said drug dealers should face the death penalty.

The garish talking point has long been a standard of Trump’s campaign trail stump speech. But it took on special relevance in New Hampshire, where overdose deaths have more than doubled over the past decade. Trump, the Republican front-runner, is ahead of President Joe Biden in some early polls. He surveyed the room about how he plans to address substance use in the country, if elected.

“Let’s have a vote,” he said to the crowd of several hundred people. “Who would be in favor of the death penalty, knowing that it will solve the problem?”

His fans erupted.

When it came their turn to weigh in, only a few people raised their hands in opposition to Trump’s proposal to execute drug dealer.

“I know,” Trump said, addressing the dissenters. “It’s harsh.”

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The death penalty “sounds very bad,” said Trump, who lauded China for making drug trafficking a capital offense.

Leaving the issue to “blue ribbon committees” full of “socialites from Park Avenue,” Trump said, isn’t going to solve the problem.

“If (drug dealers) are taking lives, they should be charged with murder,” said Dan Burns, who drove 90 minutes from Nashua for the event. “And realistically, that was a poll.”

The candor with which Trump pitched the measure that flouts international human rights law appealed to Burns. “I like his directness,” he said.

As has been a pillar of his political style, Trump got some of his most applause on Saturday when he leaned outside of convention.

“I had a hell of a life. I had the most beautiful life. I could have had the greatest time,” he said, laughing. “Instead I’m here on a Saturday afternoon with you, working my ass off.”

Since he was forced to leave the White House in January 2021, Trump’s primary residence has been at Mar-a-Lago, his private golf club in Palm Beach, Fla.

Last week, Trump testified in his civil fraud trial in New York. Across four criminal indictments — two federal and two state — he faces 91 felony charges related to financial misstatements, 2020 election interference, and the misuse of classified documents. Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Even with the criminal charges against him nearing triple digits, Trump’s showing in national polls continue to rise. “The people get it,” he said. “I think you like me the way you like me. We’ve had a great love affair.”

Nathan Burns, of Claremont, attended the rally to celebrate his 45th birthday. Burns has voted for Trump twice, and hopes to get to do so a third time.

“Look at where we are, everything’s ridiculously overpriced,” Burns said. “Look at the gas prices right now.”

Trump is the candidate best equipped to solve the problem, he said.

Burns, who works at ski manufacturer Marker Volkl’s warehouse in Claremont, arrived at 8 a.m. to stand in a fast growing line outside of Stevens High.

As doors shut around 1 p.m., people were turned away due to occupancy limits. But Burns made it in, entering the gym for the first time since high school football practice decades ago.

A more recently minted Stevens alum, Grace Seale, 19, graduated from the school last year.

Concerned especially about inflation, in casting her first ballot in a presidential election next year, she’ll vote for Trump if he’s the GOP candidate, she said.

“He’s very straightforward,” Seale said. “He’s a very guiding president.”

For Angela Buckley, 52, of Unity, the issue facing the U.S. is existential. “I feel like the country’s at a turning point,” she said. “We can do something positive, or it’s all going to end.”

Buckley voted for Trump twice, and plans on doing so again in 2024, if he wins the Republican nomination.

“We’re facing annihilation from nuclear weapons,” she said. “I stand for world peace, and it’s not going to happen through violence.”

Trump “is rough around the edges,” she acknowledged. “We all are. But he has the potential to go beyond that.”

Sue Richards, of Henniker, N.H., voted for former President Barack Obama in 2008, and continues to vote for U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat. “I like to split the ticket,” she said.

But Trump’s promise to de-fund schools that use “critical race theory” — a phrase that has become a catch-all for conservatives against the teaching of social issues, including those related to sexuality and gender, — is a priority for Richards.

“I don’t care if you’re gay, or lesbian, or transgender,” said Richards, a grandmother. “I get to teach these things to my babies.”

Catherine Johnson, of Hanover, isn’t a Trump supporter, but she came to Claremont anyway. She wanted to talk with people waiting in line and hear how they’re thinking about the election, she said.

“America’s going to lose, whether Trump wins or not,” Johnson said, adding that something “much worse than the insurrection” could happen if he lost.

“You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach before something really bad happens? I have that,” she said.

Johnson, who has been to multiple Trump rallies, doesn’t usually hang around for the man himself, she said. On Saturday, however, Johnson eventually ventured inside the gym. She stood off to the side of the rally, shaking her head as Trump spoke.

Along with promoting death sentences for drug dealers, Trump pointed out that New Hampshire residents pay some of the highest energy prices in the country. He blamed the soaring rates on Democrats’ “stupid energy policies.”

“Drill, baby, drill,” he shouted, vowing to approve oil pipelines and extraction infrastructure.

In the Veterans Day speech, Trump also laid out his immigration policy. If elected, he said he would lead “the largest domestic deportation operation in America.” Moreover, he’d restore and expand his presidency’s “travel ban on terror-laden countries,” and implement ideological screenings for potential immigrants on criteria such as allegiance to the U.S. and support for Israel.

Playing to his audience, Trump promised to build a full-service medical center for veterans in New Hampshire, which he noted is the only state without one. “We’re going to build the most beautiful hospital,” he said. “I’ll get involved in the real estate world and we’ll build one for half the price.”

Ed O’Toole, a retired Charlestown firefighter, voted for Obama in 2008. He’s now a committed Trump voter.

He’s impressed by the way Trump has withstood “the smear campaign” of the criminal charges he faces. “How many guys would stand up to these slings and arrows?” O’Toole said.

If Trump doesn’t win the election, “we’re all screwed,” O’Toole said. “They’re going to come after us. He’s standing in the way of them coming after us.”

Trump said the same.

“Never forget that our enemies want to take away my freedom because I will never let them take away your freedom,” he said. “In the end they’re not after me, they’re after you.”

“I’m just standing in their way.”

From Stevens High on Saturday, Trump headed to an Ultimate Fighting Championship fight in Madison Square Garden in New York, as he said he would.

“At least you left me enough time for that,” Trump told his supporters in Claremont.

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.