Donald J. Trump has amassed a load of legal baggage that is hard to ignore: three indictments and 78 felony counts, including four for conspiring to overturn the 2020 election. More charges could be imminent this week in Fulton County, Ga. Yet polls show his supporters have so far been unfazed.
Republicans in small-town Alton, N.H., seem to be no exception. In interviews this month with more than 20 residents who voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 and 2020, all but two dismissed the indictments as manufactured political theater.
But in a twist that hints at burgeoning complexity within Republican circles, roughly half of the Trump voters interviewed here in recent days also said that while the indictments don’t bother them, they are increasingly concerned that Mr. Trump may not be able to win the general election.
“Trump had a great opportunity and he did a lot of work, but the guy’s an idiot, he’s narcissistic and it’s too much to risk,” Roger Sample, a builder and member of the local planning board, said one recent morning outside the Alton McDonald’s. He was drinking coffee with a group of men; most of them agreed with his assessment.
Many acknowledged that they still admired the former president. But his failure to win a second term, combined with their deepening despair at the country’s direction under President Biden, led them to a reckoning, they said. More mindful that Mr. Trump’s personal attacks and “second-grade stuff,” as one put it, repel some voters, they are considering other candidates.
While Mr. Trump’s lack of filter raised doubts, the criminal cases did not. On the day when prosecutors in Washington laid out the most serious charges against Mr. Trump, the coffee drinkers outside McDonald’s rolled their eyes at the accusation that Mr. Trump had plotted to overthrow democracy. It was just more political nonsense, they said — the same sort of petty infighting that drove them to embrace Mr. Trump in the first place.
“It’s like little kids on the playground — ‘You stole my marbles!’” said Rick Finethy, 61, a Trump loyalist who plans to stick with the former president.
“That’s the swamp,” agreed Brian Mitchell, 69, another Trump supporter.
What concerns them more than legal wrangling, Alton Republicans said, is Mr. Trump’s tendency to speak before he thinks on social media or in debates, causing controversy and diminishing the public’s perception of him as a capable leader. Mr. Trump’s loss in 2020 shook their confidence in his ability to overcome that behavior — and in voters’ willingness to overlook it.
Mr. Mitchell said he would like to see Mr. Trump and his closest rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, team up on one ticket, a strategy he thought could shore up Mr. Trump’s electability. “DeSantis is more politically correct,” he said. “He doesn’t fly off the handle.”
Few places in New Hampshire have backed Mr. Trump as strongly as Alton, a conservative stronghold of about 6,000 people at the southern tip of Lake Winnipesaukee, near the center of the state in Belknap County. It was one of only two New Hampshire counties won by Mr. Trump in 2020. In Alton, he defeated Mr. Biden 62 to 37 percent.
Among voters who plan to vote for Mr. Trump again, Nicholas Kalamvokis, 58, said he liked the former president’s “regular people” persona and was willing to overlook his role in the events of Jan. 6, which he did not believe rose to the level of a crime.
“I think he encouraged it, but I don’t believe he incited it, and I don’t think he expected it to be as violent as it was,” said Mr. Kalamvokis, who moved to Alton from Massachusetts last year and works three part-time jobs. “I can see his motivation for it. It was selfish, but also for the betterment of the country.”
Once humming with industry at its sawmills and shoe factories — as well as a corkscrew plant that produced tens of millions of the utensils in the early 20th century — the town, like many others in New England, now relies heavily on tourism for its economy. Drive north from Main Street, on a winding road where American flags fly from every utility pole, into the lakefront village of Alton Bay, and modest, middle-class neighborhoods give way to more imposing homes with docks and boats.
The challenges of the seasonal economy, with its long dormant stretches, take a toll on year-round residents.
Mr. Mitchell, a Massachusetts native whose father fought in World War II, felt that strain firsthand after moving to Alton 20 years ago and buying a country store on the shore of the lake.
After a decade, they sold the business, weary of trying to make a year’s living in three or four months.
State Representative Peter Varney, a Republican and lifelong Alton resident who represents the town in the legislature, said New Hampshire’s lost industry — and its ongoing struggle to attract new jobs and stabilize its population — looms large. “People here recognize that when we lose manufacturing, we become a weaker nation, economically and militarily,” he said.
Mr. Varney, who voted for Mr. Trump twice, said he was supporting another candidate, Vivek Ramaswamy, for now to help the 38-year-old entrepreneur build name recognition in the state. Mr. Varney said he was not bothered by the indictments against Mr. Trump. But he hoped that Mr. Ramaswamy’s youth, enthusiasm and business know-how would drive voters his way and make him a contender.
“I’m looking at the long game here,” said Mr. Varney, 69, who serves as fire chief in nearby New Durham and owns an Alton gun shop and an engineering firm.
Other Republicans who backed Mr. Trump in the past said they, too, were considering their options.
Renee and Jim Miller, a couple in Alton, said their newfound support for Mr. Ramaswamy was not a reaction to the indictments but a product of their attendance at one of his campaign events, where they said they were drawn in by the candidate’s empathy, eloquence and hopefulness.
The Millers, like other Republicans planning to cast their primary ballots for other candidates, pledged to support Mr. Trump in 2024 if he were to be the nominee. But their clear preference for a fresh contender hints at an uptick in strategic thinking, at least in New Hampshire, a swing state that plays a prominent role in presidential politics with the first Republican primary in the nation.
Ron Stevens, 75, a former Navy aircraft mechanic and retired auto body repair teacher, said he may also vote for Mr. Ramaswamy, a son of Indian immigrants who Mr. Stevens described as “very Trump-like.”
Among the issues that matter deeply to him, Mr. Stevens said, is illegal immigration, partly because of his grandparents’ struggles as immigrants from Italy and Ireland.
“I have nothing against immigrants personally; some of them work like hell,” he said. But “knowing what my relatives had to go through,” he added, he finds it hard to stomach generous handouts for people who don’t follow the rules.
In the coffee circle at McDonald’s, the shift away from Mr. Trump has left Mr. Finethy outnumbered as he makes his case for the former president. A builder who started working on his family’s garbage truck when he was a 6-year-old boy in Alton, he said his biggest concern is China’s growing power and the threat it poses to the United States — a threat made more ominous, in his view, by revelations of financial ties between the Biden family and Chinese executives.
(Mr. Biden recently announced new restrictions on U.S. investment in China.)
“Do I think Trump is an idiot who doesn’t know when to shut up? Yes,” Mr. Finethy said. “But I don’t want to go back to a politician who’s just using the government to get rich. It’s what he does, not what he says, that matters. And this is a guy they can’t buy off.”