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Is the GOP Primary Race Over?

The New Hampshire results are in and the ramifications run deep.

To the surprise of no one, former President Donald Trump secured victory in the New Hampshire GOP primary yesterday, January 23. What should cause headlines, however, is that second-place finisher Nikki Haley is doggedly determined to stay in the contest for the long haul. With an estimated final tally of 54% to 43%* Trump continues to cement his position as the “non-incumbent incumbent.” But a continuing battle while his remaining challenger’s pathways to the nomination shrink could prove a useful tool for the 45th president.

Trump in the GOP Driving Seat

New banner Liberty Nation Analysis 1An ebullient Trump took to the stage to celebrate his success in the – potentially – most difficult primary he was facing. He took shots at Joe Biden, Nikki Haley, and New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu (who backed Haley). Flanked by former GOP nomination rivals Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) and Vivek Ramaswamy, Trump appears to have jettisoned his “kinder and gentler” approach in favor of a “party unity” approach – but only if you’re on his team.

“Who the hell was the impostor that went up on the stage before and, like, claimed a victory? She did very poorly,” Trump said of Haley. “Wow, she’s doing a speech like she won. She didn’t win. She lost.”

But it is not only Trump and his team suggesting the contest for the Republican nod is over. Notable left-leaning media outlets appear to have accepted the inevitability after Haley’s defeat. “How Trump crushed Haley’s momentum — and came closer to clinching the nomination,” read the top story in Washington, DC’s most famous publication. “Trump’s New Hampshire Win Fuels His Drive Toward the G.O.P. Nomination,” says The New York Times. Even CNN is running with “Trump makes history again as he powers toward Republican nomination.”

While each of the outlets lamented Mr. Trump’s win, there was a certain finality to their reporting with regard to Haley.

Never afraid to laud his own successes, the Donald posted on his Truth Social platform, “SUCH AN HONOR: I JUST BROKE THE ALL-TIME RECORD FOR VOTES CAST – BOTH SIDES, DEMOCRAT AND REPUBLICAN – IN THE HISTORY OF THE NEW HAMPSHIRE PRIMARY!” And with more than 163,000 votes in his favor, it’s difficult to argue with the historical significance. But this was not the only record broken. As The Times (UK edition) reports:

“Trump is the first non-incumbent presidential candidate to win both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary since the modern election system was introduced in the 1970s. No Republican has won both and failed to take the party’s nomination.”

The report continues, highlighting that his support has actually grown since he re-entered the political arena. It reads, “His recent victories are improvements on 2016, when he went on to win the White House. Eight years ago, against a roster of Republican rivals in New Hampshire, he won 35 per cent of the vote, and in Iowa he finished second to the Texas senator Ted Cruz on 24 per cent.”

It seems that among Republican and right-leaning voters, there is more appetite for a Trump presidency than ever before.

Biden Support Holds Steady

It was a surprisingly good night for President Joe Biden, who, despite not being on the ballot in New Hampshire, managed to stay handily ahead of Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) and Marianne Williamson thanks to a wildly successful write-in campaign. Securing more than 50% of the vote with a big bunch of write-in ballots still to be counted, this is a somewhat vindicating moment in the Granite State for Biden who finished in fifth place here back in 2020 with just 8%.

Mr. Biden acknowledged his win by thanking his voters and by warning – once again – of the threat to democracy. In a statement, he wrote:

“It is now clear that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee. And my message to the country is the stakes could not be higher. Our Democracy. Our personal freedoms — from the right to choose to the right to vote. Our economy — which has seen the strongest recovery in the world since COVID. All are at stake.”

It is becoming increasingly apparent that Team Biden does not see Nikki Haley as a potential nominee. All messaging, all speeches, and many of the Biden surrogates are hammering home one message: Trump is the clear and present danger. Such electioneering leaves little room for a pivot should Haley turn her campaign around.

Haley’s Big Mo Moment?

Republican Presidential Candidate Nikki Haley Holds New Hampshire Primary Night Event In ConcordCONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE - JANUARY 23: Republican presidential candidate, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley delivers remarks at her primary-night rally at the Grappone Conference Center on January 23, 2024 in Concord, New Hampshire. New Hampshire voters cast their ballots in their state's primary election today. With Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis dropping out of the race Sunday, Haley and former President Donald Trump are battling it out in this first-in-the-nation primary. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

(Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

In 1980, fresh off winning the Iowa caucus George H.W. Bush told his triumphant supporters what would be coming down the political pipeline. “Now they will be after me, howling and yowling at my heels. What we will have is momentum. We will look forward to Big Mo being on our side, as they say in athletics,” he said. That “Big Mo” did not translate into the eventual nomination for Bush, and Team Haley may be asking themselves who in this two-horse race really has the momentum.

Headlines for the last month have over-hyped Nikki Haley’s popularity. Certainly, she has a base of supporters – namely those who don’t want Donald Trump back in the White House. But a level of legacy media acceptance is also turning off voters who don’t want business-as-usual establishment candidates. There is also the question of when tenacity turns to stubbornness. She was not wrong when she declared the contest a two-person race after finishing third in Iowa, but her over-confidence seems to be growing despite notching up a second loss.

“New Hampshire is first in the nation. It is not the last in the nation. This race is far from over. There are dozens of states left to go. And the next one is my sweet state of South Carolina,” she declared after last night’s defeat. The attending crowd must surely know that the Palmetto State – her home ground – is almost certainly going for Trump in a big way – by more than 30 points, according to the RealClearPolitics average. But even more notably, SC is not, in fact, the “next one.” That honor goes to Nevada.

Nevada Confusion

The Silver State will be holding both a primary and a caucus this year after the state Democrats sought major changes in how presidential candidates were chosen following the chaos of 2020, where both Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) ended up demanding recounts. Nevada’s GOP sued the state in May 2023, claiming Democrats were trying to “force Republicans to change the way we choose our Presidential nominee, and allow out-of-state interests to interfere in the Nevada GOP nominating process.” Therefore, the party is essentially abandoning the state-run primary and holding its own caucus – which will award the all-important delegates.

“I did hear Nikki say ‘it’s off to South Carolina,’ and I do love South Carolina, but she forgot one thing: next week it’s Nevada,” Trump said. “And I’m pleased to announce we just won Nevada, 100%.”

Nikki Haley will be on the primary ticket along with former Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Scott, and it doesn’t seem to matter – even symbolically – who gets the votes. The caucus, on the other hand, is between Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis who has already withdrawn from the race and offered the frontrunner his endorsement.

At this point, Ms. Haley could perhaps benefit from following the advice of DeSantis and keep her powder – and political reputation – dry for 2028. She has proven that she can run a semi-insurgent presidential campaign, animate a certain segment of voters, and raise funds. The 2028 general election could be a major turning point in her political career assuming she does not alienate would-be voters.

Ending the Primary Roadshow

For both parties, the show is essentially over. Trump has double Haley’s support in her own home state of South Carolina, which could prove an embarrassing defeat on a personal level. And what of Michigan? FiveThirtyEight aggregate polling suggests a huge victory for Trump by an almost 50-point margin.

If she could have closed the New Hampshire gap just a fraction more, Nikki Haley could have perhaps parlayed that into further support. And yet,  with even the left-leaning media acknowledging that her race is effectively over, what she provides now is a foil for Trump to showcase his anti-establishment credentials.

Were he already the last man standing, the media would be engaged in a full-court press anti-Trump campaign; with another candidate in the race, the coverage must be divided. Trump can continue to campaign against Joe Biden and also sharpen his knives on the Republican establishment that presently displays trepidation over four more years of the MAGA movement.

Barring any political earthquakes – which could still come in the form of a criminal conviction – this contest is now almost certainly a battle between two presidents.

~

*89% of the vote counted at the time of publishing.

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