MANCHESTER, N.H. — Four years ago, Donald Trump's victory here shocked the GOP and set him on the path to winning his party's presidential nomination. On Tuesday, he was on the ballot again — this time, the undisputed standard-bearer of the GOP in a state where he'll face a far tougher contest this fall.
Trump was the projected winner of the New Hampshire Republican primary early in the evening, pulling in 86 percent of the vote with 96 percent of precincts reporting. The president was handily beating William Weld, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, although Weld had 9 percent of the vote — a much better performance than he had in Iowa's caucuses last week, when he got just 1 percent.
While Trump's victory here was widely expected, the results from early NBC News exit polls opened a window into the hold Trump has on the Republican Party — at least, among those who showed up for Tuesday's contest — and the Democratic determination to defeat him.
In more evidence that Trump, once the insurgency candidate, is now the face of the Republican Party, the majority of its primary voters here aligned their loyalties with Trump over the GOP, with 54 percent saying they feel more allegiance to Trump than to the party, compared to 39 percent who said the reverse in early exit poll results.
The lack of suspense surrounding the likely Republican result appeared to depress turnout: Trump's 86 percent showing translated to just over 112,000 votes — compared to the 100,000 he claimed with a 35 percent showing four years ago.
By overwhelming numbers, Republican voters in the early exit polls gave Trump a resounding vote of approval, with 9 in 10 saying they were either "enthusiastic" or "satisfied" with his performance in office.
Emotion swung about as strongly in the other direction, as well, with more than 4 in 5 Democratic primary voters saying they were "angry" about the conduct of the Trump administration. Beating Trump was overwhelmingly the top priority for Democratic primary voters, with 62 percent saying they would rather the party nominate a candidate who can beat Trump in November than one who shares their views.
Trump was following the results from the White House, live-tweeting his reactions as the numbers rolled in. He commented on the single-digit numbers for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. — saying she was "having a really bad night" and "sending signals that she wants out" — and businessman Tom Steyer, whom he dubbed "Impeachment King Steyer."
"A lot of Democrat dropouts tonight, very low political I.Q.," he tweeted after Andrew Yang and Michael Bennet said they were ending their campaigns. And a "very bad night for Mini Mike!" he declared of results for former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg — who wasn't on the ballot in New Hampshire.
Trump also commented that former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg's strong performance was "Giving Crazy Bernie [Sanders] a run for his money" — but he was silent on former Vice President Joe Biden's disappointing results and primary night speech, delivered from South Carolina.
The president's campaign did weigh in on Biden, sending an email to supporters and journalists saying Biden "Got Beat Like a Drum—Again" and another mocking the Democrats' "months-long dumpster fire of a primary process."
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While New Hampshire residents have prided themselves on independence, moderate Republicans were in short supply Tuesday, the NBC News Exit Poll found, with just 19 percent of GOP voters identifying themselves as moderate or liberal.
That's down sharply from four years ago, when 29 percent fell into these categories, and a dramatic decline from 2012, when nearly half of those voting in the Republican primary self-identified as moderate and liberal. It was unclear whether those voters had changed their identifications, sat out this primary or opted to vote in the Democratic primary, instead.
About a third of GOP primary voters were college graduates, compared to 55 percent on the Democratic side. Women made up 44 percent of those voting in the Republican primary, compared to 55 percent of those voting in the Democratic primary. Compared to Democrats, Republican voters are more than twice as likely, 22 percent to 10 percent, to be military veterans.
While Trump won the New Hampshire primary in 2016, it was with only 35 percent of the vote; he narrowly lost the state to Hillary Clinton in the general election. Recent head-to-head polls have shown him trailing Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, and Buttigieg, who emerged at the top of the pack in the Democratic field.
Trump has held two campaign rallies in New Hampshire in the past year — including one on Monday, just hours before voters headed to the polls — and he blanketed the state with surrogates Tuesday, including his son Donald Trump Jr. and several congressional allies.
Republicans have 14 full-time staffers on the ground here, nine months ahead of the general election. By comparison, at this point last cycle, the Trump campaign had just one staffer in New Hampshire.