After Iowa, Nikki Haley proclaimed that her third-place finish had made it a two-person race between her and Donald Trump. After New Hampshire, it looks increasingly like a one-person race — and Haley is decidedly not that person.
Trump soundly defeated Haley on Tuesday night, with the race being called within minutes of the polls closing. The only drama was whether Trump would win solidly or win massively.
Haley offered a modified concession speech soon after the polls closed, congratulating Trump on his win but insisting the results put the pair in the heat of a competitive election. Speaking to an enthusiastic pack of supporters after the results were in, Haley vowed to stay in the race through South Carolina’s February 24 primary.
“South Carolina voters don’t want a coronation, they want an election,” she told supporters in New Hampshire. “And we are going to give them one, because we are just getting started.”
But the polls in South Carolina look even worse for Haley than they did in New Hampshire, and if she stays in the race, New Hampshire may prove to be the high point of the Haley campaign.
Loser: Nikki Haley
Haley had everything going for her in New Hampshire. She’d campaigned heavily there, all but eschewing Iowa in the hope that Northeastern Republicans would prefer her more establishment brand of Republican politics. CNN reported Tuesday that Haley and her allies had spent about twice as much there as Trump’s team since the race began. The primary’s rules also allowed independents to participate. And with all that, she still lost.
She did her best to put a good face on the results, but Trump’s response is probably pretty close to correct: “Let’s not have somebody take a victory when she had a very bad night.”
After all, this was likely Haley’s best chance at a big victory. The polling looks even bleaker in South Carolina, the next primary that matters. (Nevada is next up on the calendar, but it’s a mess: The state is holding both a primary and a caucus. Haley is focusing on the primary, while Trump is locked in on the caucus.) Haley was governor of South Carolina, but it appears voters there overwhelmingly prefer Trump. As of Monday evening, FiveThirtyEight’s weighted polling average of South Carolina put Trump at 62 percent to Haley’s 25 percent.
After that, the race moves to Super Tuesday, and the news only gets worse for Haley in national polls. FiveThirtyEight puts her at 12 percent to Trump’s 67 percent.
Winner: Donald Trump
With debates, campaigns, rallies, and contests, the 2024 GOP primary has had all the trappings of a competitive election. What there hasn’t been, however, is much competition.
In a competitive primary, winning New Hampshire is all about momentum, fundraising, and media attention. In this primary, Trump didn’t need any of those things, but on Tuesday night, he got something better: confirmation.
For months, his rivals have been hoping that, somehow, the polls were way, way off. Otherwise, Trump is so far ahead that everyone else has simply been scrapping for second place.
Tuesday night, Haley appeared to be on track to outperform the polls in New Hampshire, which had her losing by around 17 points. But that doesn’t change the big picture. Trump has a 50-point-plus lead in national polls, and as long as he’s in the race, he’s winning it.
Winner: Joe Biden?
Biden — or at least the “unprocessed write-in” votes that are largely for him — won in New Hampshire Friday night. He also won in another sense.
Haley on Tuesday night said that a victory for Trump in the primary was a victory for President Biden in the general. It’s not so cut-and-dried, but the polling suggests that she’d be a tougher matchup for Biden than Trump would.
Yes, Trump does currently lead Biden in most national and swing-state polls. But Haley also holds her own against the likely Democratic nominee, despite her relatively low name recognition. More critically, Trump is disliked by a majority of the American people, and that is unlikely to change (we are all extremely familiar with Donald at this point). Only a little over 37 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of Haley. Given that Trump has been airing lots of ads portraying Haley as too liberal, it’s likely that a disproportionate share of Haley’s detractors consist of Republicans who would ultimately come home for her in the event that she were nominated.
The 52-year-old Haley also would have thrown the president’s advanced age into even sharper relief. Given Biden’s high disapproval numbers, he will need to convince many voters who do not like him that they despise the alternative even more — so much more, in fact, that they should bother to turn out and vote for an octogenarian they resent.
In this respect, Trump is a far more useful foil for the president than Haley would have been.
Loser: The Koch network
When Haley’s star began rising in 2023’s final months, she received an influx of cash from Trump-skeptical Republican megadonors. Perhaps the biggest catch was an endorsement from American for Prosperity Action (AFPA), the billionaire Koch family’s political vehicle. Warning that Trump would likely lose to Biden in a general election, AFPA devoted tens of millions of dollars to Haley’s long-shot campaign to break his stranglehold on the GOP.
It’s possible, maybe even likely, that all that money narrowed the gap between Haley and Trump. But the goal was not to lose gracefully; it was to win. And with Haley losing in her best early state, it’s clear now that this goal is out of reach. The Kochs might as well have lit their money on fire.
Of course, the Kochs have money to burn. But the defeat runs even deeper than the loss of a few millions: It’s a devastating blow to their ideological vision for the party.
Broadly speaking, traditional Republican elites like the Kochs believed in a party that would advance extremely conservative priorities — especially lowering taxes on the wealthy — but do so within the confines of “normal” democratic politics. They were comfortable harnessing radical energies, such as their support for the Tea Party protests in 2009 and 2010, but ultimately believed they could keep a lid on the base’s passion.
Obviously, Trump upended everything. Their last-ditch hope for 2024 was that the base could be made to see reason after the Trump-led GOP’s defeats in the last three election cycles. Haley, a skilled politician friendly to the Republican old guard, seemed like their best chance for getting their message across.
That she has seemingly missed her shot reflects that these particular elites were living in the past. The Republican Party clearly belongs to Trump and his devotees. If the GOP’s billionaires really do believe that Trump is unacceptable, they now have one serious option: start opening their wallets for Joe Biden.