Donald Trump said Sunday that he “wouldn’t be happy” if he came in second place in the New Hampshire primary.
The comment stands in stark contrast to how the Republican presidential front-runner has addressed the New Hampshire primary in the week since his second place finish in the Iowa caucuses. Instead of predicting victory, Trump has largely lowered expectations.
But not on Sunday, two days from the primary.
“I could say to you if I came in second and third I’d be thrilled, OK? I know all about expectations,” Trump told CNN’s Dana Bash in an interview before he took the stage at Plymouth State University on Sunday. “If I came in second I wouldn’t be happy, OK?”
Just a few hours before his interview with Bash, Trump told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he didn’t have to win in the Granite State.
“I want to win New Hampshire, but I don’t think I have to win it, no,” Trump said.
As of Sunday morning, Trump had a solid lead with 33% of the Republican primary vote, in CNN/WMUR’s tracking poll. That’s a 17-point advantage over his nearest competitor, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
While confidently touting his strong support in New Hampshire, Trump has largely left the predictions game to the pundits this week.
In Iowa, high expectations driven by his lead in the polls in the final days to the caucuses, and Trump’s bold prediction for a “tremendous victory” took the wind out of his second place finish in the state — which would have otherwise been considered a strong finish.
New Hampshire voters will head to the polls Tuesday, days after hearing from Trump and the top six other candidates in a debate Saturday night.
It was a climactic moment for Trump, he told CNN.
“I’m very, very happy the debate is over with, but I enjoyed the experience,” Trump told Bash. “It was a lot of pressure. It was a lot of pressure on the debate, to be honest with you, for everybody, not just for me.”
But Trump suggested he faced more pressure than most, with pundits saying in the days leading up to the debate that his performance would be crucial in the final slog to the New Hampshire contest.
“And I’ve always like pressure to be honest with you, I actually like pressure and we came out very well,” Trump said.
Trump also discussed one of his father’s expressions, “take the lumps out,” which he has brought up several times this week on the campaign trail. The expression, Trump explained earlier this week in a town hall with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, is what Trump’s father would say to his son in urging him to be less abrasive and smoother in business dealings.
And Trump suggested he’s been applying that lesson this week as he softened his tone and engaged in fewer attacks with other candidates during Saturday night’s debate.
“I think so,” Trump said when asked if he was “taking the lumps out.” “It’s possible.”
Trump also recounted the chaotic candidates’ entrance during Saturday night’s debate hosted by ABC News.
Trump insisted that “it wasn’t Ben’s fault,” referencing the fact that fellow GOP contender Ben Carson stood in the just off stage after his name was called by the moderators. Trump then joined Carson in the entrance-way as several other candidates passed them by to reach the stage.
“You couldn’t hear anything. I mean Ben stood there. I was saying Ben, I think I heard your name, but I’m not sure,” Trump told CNN on Sunday.
Trump added that “there was a man back there who didn’t know too much of what he was doing,” referring to a crew member who attempted to urge Carson to take the stage.
“I didn’t know what was going on. I was saying what’s going on here, this is not a way to start a debate,” Trump said.