In 2016, New Hampshire Republicans uprooted Donald Trump’s candidacy after he lost Iowa, becoming the first state to embrace the future president.

Trump returns Saturday for the first campaign trip of his 2024 career, but this time he faces more difficult Republican terrain.

It’s a party chafed by devastating midterm losses in November, when Trump-backed candidates lost both congressional races and a Senate race in the state.

It’s packed with people eager to hear from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis about his possible candidacy. And it’s a party that has grown fatigued from the drip, drip, drip investigations going after Trump.

We only want the best normal candidate.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu

While Trump is considered the early favorite, skeptics, detractors and haters in the New Hampshire Republican Party could throw him off course.

Not the least of which is the Governor.

“We just want the best normal candidate,” Gov. Chris Sununu said in an interview. Sununu, a social moderate who is considering his own run for president, threw some shade at both Trump and DeSantis before they even set foot in the state.

Sununu predicted that Trump could not defeat President Joe Biden, or almost anyone else, in the 2024 general election. When asked why, he paused.

«In fact?» she said, her voice thick with sarcasm. «Just fill in the blanks.»

Sununu argued that New Hampshire Republicans are tired of the drama and ready for a new face.

“I am not in favor of Trump. I am not anti-Trump. I’m moving on,» Sununu said.

New Hampshire Republicans are reeling from November losses. Trump-backed Don Bolduc, who made false claims on children using sandboxes in schools, she lost to Sen. Maggie Hassan, and Democrats defeated Republicans in both House races.

“The core of people inclined to be enthusiastic about Trump supported Bolduc and lost. They supported Karoline Leavitt for the House and lost. and they stay behind [Bob] Burns for the other House seat and he lost,” said Republican Bill Bowen, one of the delegates who will vote Saturday for a new state party chairman. “That has to take off some of that enthusiasm.”

Then there are the haters.

Renee Plummer, a Influential longtime Republican in New Hampshire, which now describes itself as bipartisan, had a more urgent reaction when told of Trump’s upcoming visit.

«No, no, get away! Oh my gosh,” Plummer said. “There are many people who were with him before and now say: ‘Don’t come near us.’

«Give America a break.»

Talks about Trump are raging in a state whose voters take their top spot in the nation on the presidential primary schedule very seriously. Like the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primaries can anoint political underdogs and then launch them to elevated status in other parts of the country. In 2016, Trump won the New Hampshire Republican primary with 35 percent of the votes.

“There is an opening to a new generation of Republican leaders, that does not mean that the president cannot win. I don’t think that’s a foregone conclusion,” said New Hampshire Republican Mike Dennehy, a former adviser to the late presidential candidate Sen. John McCain. «He’s going to have to earn it.»

Republicans say Trump would do better to engage in the retail politicking he was slow to embrace in 2016, when he was far more likely to hold large-scale rallies. The gesture would be a sign of respect for the state and possibly endearment to those in the party who are turning away from it.

This time, Republicans say, Trump is doing well with his first visit to New Hampshire. He will attend the annual meeting of the state Republican Party, where he will have a built-up crowd of hundreds of Republicans voting for the next state party chairman, though some skeptics assumed he was headed to an event in New Hampshire that would ensure a strong turnout.

“He broke the mold a bit. He was not a candidate who would hold town hall meetings or walk the streets talking to small businesses,” said former state GOP chairman Steve Duprey, a former member of the Republican national committee. “If he’s smart, I think he cuts it down a bit, he brings it out to people more, walks the main streets, throws some smaller house parties.

«He has a core of support that will be with him no matter if he’s charged, if there’s a scandal, if he’s convicted, if none of that happens,» Duprey added. “He has a strong base, and they are going to show up and vote. That base is a potent force on the primary calendar.”

Still, Duprey said, Trump’s support is eroding, and if Sununu enters the race, he will likely work his way up and emerge among the state’s top Republicans «and get that bounce.»

Sununu also threw some shade over DeSantis, doubting his chances in New Hampshire and diverging from the growing number of Republicans who see him as an attractive alternative to Trump.

“I don’t know if I would use the word ‘alternative’. Maybe it’s ‘2.0’ or ‘the next version,’” Sununu said of DeSantis. He argued that DeSantis’ style, which he described as authoritarian and big government, would not sit well with the «Live Free or Die» status. And he said he feared how DeSantis could use his executive powers to hit «wake up private companies» if he were president.

«I don’t want to set a precedent. I am very concerned that we are perpetuating ourselves on a very dangerous path,” added Sununu.

Representatives for Trump and DeSantis declined to comment.

Burns, one of the congressional candidates who lost in November and who worked for the Trump campaign in 2016, said he knows many state Republicans who dismiss Trump, predict he will lose and say the party must move on.

“Trump is going to win the primaries,” Burns said. «And all those Republicans are going to come back and kiss his ass.»