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Former U.S. president Donald Trump announces that he will once again run in the 2024 U.S. presidential election during an event at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., on Nov. 15.JONATHAN ERNST/Reuters

In the state that for a century has held the first primary of the American presidential campaign season, the November surprise of the midterm elections seems to have altered everything.

New Hampshire’s popular Republican Governor, Chris Sununu, glided to an easy re-election – and swiftly branded former president Donald Trump a “loser.” The state’s Democratic Senator who is regarded as one of the most endeared lawmakers in this month’s election, Maggie Hassan, defeated her Trump-endorsed challenger by nearly 10 percentage points.

Meanwhile, an early poll conducted for the conservative Club for Growth, until recently regarded as allied with Mr. Trump, found that Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida leads him in New Hampshire by 15 percentage points as a potential Republican presidential candidate.

All that in the two-week period in which the red wave that did not reach the shore of this northeastern state. Mr. Trump, who won the New Hampshire primary in 2016, may be girding for a rerun, but his prospects for the same result in 2024 have suffered a serious blow.

Across the country, the eclipse of Mr. Trump’s effort to regain the presidency is the theme of the month. And, in truth, he was been wounded by the poor performance of the candidates he chose in marquee political contests in not just New Hampshire, but in New York, Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Even Fox News pulled away from broadcasting his formal announcement that he was running for another term before his rambling remarks were complete.

The Trump fade – a phase, perhaps, yet a discernible dissipation in his power not only to sway voters but also to monopolize the conversation – is especially acute, and especially significant, in the Granite State. Though the primary is at least 14 months away, the contours of the struggle are just now coming into view.

Like everything in New Hampshire presidential politics – with its history of toppling front runners and rearranging the political hierarchy – there are many uncertainties. In the state’s peculiar physics of politics, it is not only that there are multiple moving parts, but also that they collide against each other – producing forces that in earlier primaries catapulted some candidates into the ascendancy (George H.W. Bush, 1988) while sending others into decline (Ted Cruz, 2016).

The 2024 primary is setting up as an extreme example. For Mr. Trump, this is the state where the word “but” has unusual power, all to his disadvantage.

Here, Mr. Trump won the vital 2016 primary – but lost the general election locally, both in that year and in 2020. Here, the state Republican Party is a wholly-owned Trump subsidiary – but the real leader of the party, Mr. Sununu, is emerging as an unvarnished critic of the former president.

Here, there remains a strong Republican core of voters – but the real power brokers in the 2024 primary may be Independents, who in this state have the option of voting in either party’s primary and might take a Republican ballot just to vote against Mr. Trump. Here, homes planted amid the farmlands and buildings on the rural byways still bear Trump signs – but opponents of the former president are newly energized and encouraged.

“He hasn’t slipped into the past yet, but I’m surprised at how many good and decent people still don’t see him as he is,” said Mark Hounsell, a sometime Republican who is a former member of Conway’s board of selectmen and its school board. “I’m a strong Bible-believing Christian and I’m saddened by how many good Christian folks see him as some kind of messiah.”

And yet there is one additional “but.”

Mr. Trump’s base is what former state attorney general Thomas Rath, an establishment Republican who played a principal role in the New Hampshire primary campaigns of Bob Dole and George W. Bush, describes as “but-for” voters: “But for Trump,” he explained in an interview, “they wouldn’t be voting.”

Just as important: But for Mr. Trump, they might not even be Republicans.

Back in August, 2015, a few dozen people crowded into in the cozy bar of the state’s venerable Lobster Trap restaurant on West Side Road for a debate-watch party. The Trump campaign paid for the wings, pizza and stuffed mushrooms. It was early in the fight for the 2016 New Hampshire primary, and Billy Cuccio, part of the family that operates the restaurant, was emerging as one of the truest of the local true believers. It was in large part because, as he told me that night, Mr. Trump “doesn’t say what’s politically correct and doesn’t apologize for it.”

Seven years later, Mr. Cuccio still believes that: “The Republican Party doesn’t represent my views as much as Trump does.”

On the surface, the politics here may seem not to have advanced substantially. The establishment abhors Mr. Trump; his supporters adore him.

But the truth beneath all the surface theorizing about the former president is that his fortunes depend on a large field of contenders to split the vote so that his 35 per cent is enough for him to declare victory. That’s the situation the Republicans face in New Hampshire.

Mr. Trump’s apparent weakness may invite several challengers for the GOP nomination, including Mr. Sununu. But the presence of many opponents in the race may turn out to be the former president’s strength.

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