WATERVILLE VALLEY, N.H. — On a quiet night in a small ski town in New Hampshire's White Mountains, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump regaled those who fought through the bitter weather to get to the event with quips about why he feels he would be superior at fighting terrorism than his rivals, his thoughts on getting rid of Roe v. Wade, and the role the early primary states should play in U.S. elections.
Trump repeatedly noted the Paris attacks changed his campaign and boosted his focus on terrorism, and claiming that if he were president he would have tried to do something about Osama bin Laden before 9/11.
"I would have done something with him, I'll tell you. Because he was doing bad stuff." He referred to getting a "lot of heat" from members of the media for his previous suggestion to monitor mosques, but added "something bad is happening."
Over the last week, Trump has been receiving intense criticism for making the claim that "thousands" of Muslims cheered in New Jersey when the World Trade Center towers fell during 9/11, a charge that has turned up no evidence. Tuesday night he was still not backing down despite the lack of evidence, telling the crowd, "I saw it and a lot of people saw it and I'm getting hundreds of phone calls and a lot of other people are too ... things are all of a sudden materializing.
Trump makes regular trips to New Hampshire, the nation's first primary state, but on this cold Tuesday night both the candidate and the crowd were slightly more subdued than some of his other, more rambunctious rallies. Attendees braved icy roads and freezing rain to congregate as the business mogul made his case for president and took questions in this town with a population of about 250.
In Trump's last few campaign stops in the south, he largely left out the issue of Syrian refugees, but brought it back in tonight, claiming that most of the refugees are "young, strong men" and that it's possible some could be the "great Trojan horse of all time." However, numbers suggest that around two thirds of the refugees are women and children under the age of 12.
New Hampshire has a very high population of veterans, a statistic Trump noted in his Tuesday remarks when he called wounded warriors and soldiers the "bravest people," noting that he is just "financially brave." At stops across the campaign trail, Trump continuously references his respect for those who serve in the military, and spoke Tuesday about his draft deferments during Vietnam. "I didn't serve, I haven't served, and frankly I had deferments because of college, like a lot of people did, numerous deferments because of college and I had a foot thing, and I had a deferment for that."
One questioner went on a rant about "civil decay in society today," condemning Planned Parenthood, and asking whether Trump would try to repeal Roe vs. Wade. Trump told the man he supports defunding Planned Parenthood, but to overturn the landmark 1973 decision, "You need a lot of Supreme Court justices but we're going to be looking into that also very very carefully."
Trump also used his return to the Granite State to defend the role Iowa and New Hampshire play in the electoral process, speaking of those who have suggested moving the voting calendar around so those states are not first. "They are not doing it if I win," he stated.
Tuesday is also World Aids Day, and one questioner asked Trump whether he would support the U.S. continuing to contribute 1/3 of the financing to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS. "It sounds good to me," Trump said. "It really does ... I mean that's the kind of thing we should be doing."
Trump took multiple questions Tuesday night from younger members of the audience, one of whom asked Trump how his generation can keep the nation "great" so it's strong for future generations. Trump went on an extended speech about why he told his children to "say no drugs, no alcohol, no cigarettes," a refrain he says he repeated to them multiple times a week.
"I see what it does to people when they lose control," he said, telling the crowd that he has never tasted a glass of alcohol.
Nicole Martin, an accountant and part-time fitness instructor who has seen Trump multiple times, drove up from Manchester to watch him again. She hasn't been swayed by Trump's more controversial statements in recent months, saying, "I think perhaps he does need to learn how to maybe perhaps find a better way to present it to the masses, but I know where his core values stand and I still support him because of his core values."
Ken Ackley came from right down the road in Waterville Valley, and after watching Trump Tuesday night, he said he's still undecided about which Republican he wants to vote for. He likes Sen. Marco Rubio, but he was impressed with what Trump had to say and also isn't concerned with the controversies he's involved with.
"I think it's a lot of the entertainer in him," said Ackley. "We'll see what it is when it's more serious if he actually makes it."
Trump is leading substantially in the polls in New Hampshire, placing a full 13.5 points ahead of his rivals, with 26 percent in the latest Real Clear Politics average.