After winning New Hampshire’s Republican primary, Donald Trump put on a characteristic display of magnanimity. He referred to Nikki Haley as “Birdbrain”. He proceeded to follow up by announcing on the comically misnamed “Truth Social” that any future contributors to Haley’s campaign would be frozen out of MAGA land. Finally he decided to weigh in on Haley’s dress, which for some reason or other he didn’t like. Surely, one of the most pressing issues of the day, and one that potential voters should consider seriously. At least as seriously as they should consider him.
Amid all the ruckus about Trump’s supposed inevitability—he leads Haley by 32 to 17 delegates out of 1,215 needed to win—it is important to realize that both the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary showed just how weak Trump actually is as a candidate in a general election. For one, the turnout in Iowa was unusually low. Only about 108,000 people showed up to caucus compared to 187,000 in 2016 and 122,000 in 2012. (Some, but not all of the falloff is undoubtedly attributable to the weather).
By contrast, in New Hampshire the turnout was high—record setting in fact. And the high turnout can be attributed to Trump—by people who turned out to vote against him. In that primary, in which independents and Democrats could vote, Nikki Haley got 44% of the vote which was 7 points higher than the polls suggested. Further, inasmuch as Trump was president from January 2017 until January 2021, he essentially ran in Iowa and New Hampshire as an incumbent.
Normally incumbents garner pretty close to 100% of the vote. (Biden got 64% of the Democratic vote even though his name wasn’t even on the ballot, most Democrats say they don’t want him to run, and the primary was in name only). But Trump only managed to get 51% and 54% respectively in the Iowa and New Hampshire races. If that isn’t enough to give supporters pause for thought, a look at the result cross-tabs makes it clear that Trump’s voters are likely to be younger, less affluent and less educated than Haley’s (and DeSantis’s for that matter). Haley has been winning college educated, affluent voters, the very voters who used to make the GOP dominant in the suburbs.
These are the voters who have been abandoning the GOP in droves. The result is that the Republican Party lost the House in 2018; the White House in 2020 and the Senate in 2021. In 2022 Republicans barely re-captured the House in spite of Biden’s horrific poll numbers and lost a golden opportunity to take the Senate as Trump selected MAGA candidates all of whom went down to defeat. Chances are that November of 2024 will repeat the pattern if Trump is nominated. Trump appears to have a tight grip on a shrinking party, which is surely indicative of a losing position.
What is to be done if America is to be rescued from the prospect of an awful choice between Trump’s predictable chaos or Biden’s incompetence? (And mind you that doesn’t even count the very real possibility of Kamala Harris’s ascension to the White House.) Well, Nikki Haley has one month to stage a long-shot victory in South Carolina if she is to stay in the contest as a credible challenger to Trump for the nomination and Biden for the presidency. Can she succeed?
Possibly. But only just possibly. Then again Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal has an excellent column on the subject in which she says that Haley should go for broke and attack Trump in her quest to win the South Carolina primary and derail him. After consulting with her friend and fellow Reagan speech writer Landon Parvin, Noonan says Haley should attack Trump on substance and should do so with the deft use of humor. She could do so by reminding people of all the awful things Trump has said and letting that sink in.
She could begin by saying ( I am quoting from the column here) “Remember when Trump said he could shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue and people would still vote for him? Well, if he would try to shoot somebody in the middle of the street here in South Carolina, we would return fire. And that is what I intend to do today.”
Peggy Noonan has a point. The other combatants have either avoided confronting Trump directly (think DeSantis) or have approached the task full of anger (think Chris Christie). Then after being demeaned and humiliated by Trump, most kiss the ring and endorse him. A perfect example of profiles in cowardice.
On the other hand, Haley can turn on the charm and take the challenge to Trump. She can do so forcefully and directly without being nasty. Like Margaret Thatcher did in her day, Haley may be able to win over voters who are tired of the nonsense that both of her opponents (Trump and Biden) are trying to sell. It just might work.