Monday, January 22, 2024

BTRTN New Hampshire Preview: It’s All Over but for the Incessant Shouting

Tom looks at the New Hampshire primary. 

It was a nice fantasy while it lasted, and we at BTRTN certainly explored it thoroughly, even as we saw it as the longshot it truly was.  We even gave it a cute name, “The Haley Mary.”  But the notion that Nikki Haley could somehow defy the odds and find a path to the GOP nomination died in the ice-cold cornfields of Iowa, by the margin of about 2,500 votes.  If Haley had “found” (to use Donald Trump’s memorable demand of Georgia’s Brad Raffensperger) that many more votes in Iowa, at Trump’s expense, the campaign dynamics would look very different right now.  With those votes, Haley would have come in second, Trump would have failed to achieve 50% of the vote, and Ron DeSantis would likely have dropped out immediately (instead of lingering for nearly a week).  The free media would have been all about a surging Haley and a vulnerable Trump, and the prospect of a highly competitive two-person race in New Hampshire.  A big win by Haley there might have given her the Big Mo she would have needed to challenge in South Carolina and thus contend Super Tuesday. 

That’s enough “would haves” for Haley to think about for some time.  Plus perhaps a “should have:  maybe she should have competed more vigorously in Iowa, trading off some ads in New Hampshire, and used the cash instead to build a better field organization in Iowa -- one that could withstand poor weather, as her opponents did.  That’s a choice for her to ponder. 

But now Trump is on the verge of sending Haley packing as well.  BTRTN predicts Donald Trump will win the New Hampshire primary by a decisive margin, in the +20 point range.  There will be no 2024 version of “contrarian” Granite Staters snubbing their noses at the Iowans and anointing their own winner, who has invariably gone on to the win the GOP nomination.  Instead, they will validate the Hawkeye State’s choice for the first time since, well, never.  No GOP nominee has ever swept Iowa and New Hampshire (that did not feature a sitting president) since the birth of the Iowa caucus in 1976. 

Just for the record, the pre/post-Christie/Ramaswamy/Hutchinson/DeSantis polling seems to indicate that of the 23 percentage points the four held in New Hampshire before they dropped out, 18 went to Trump and 7 to Haley (one or both of the pair also picked up a few undecided points).  Haley did worse than she must have hoped in that fallout, since it would not have been unreasonable to assume she would garner almost all of Christie's voters plus Hutchinson's single point, for a total of +12, but she just managed a little more than half of that.  This is perhaps a sign of some New Hampshire voters sensing inevitability.

What happens after New Hampshire?  Simple.  Haley drops out.  Or she should.  New Hampshire was her best shot, with plenty of independent and crossover Democratic voters, educated mainstream Republicans and a popular governor as her chief surrogate.  If she can’t make it here, she can’t make it anywhere.  A 20-point loss here is a one-way ticket to ex-candidacy for her. 

There is no upside to her sticking around to suffer a humiliating thumping in her own home state of South Carolina, a far more conservative and Trumpier state than even Iowa.  Given that that primary is a month away (on February 24), it’s also hard to imagine her donors continuing to fund a true lost cause.  It is perhaps time to cite the old dictum, “candidates never really decide to quit campaigns, they just run out of money.”  If (and when) she drops out, Haley will almost certainly endorse Trump, renouncing her mostly carefully worded prior attacks, solemnly declaring the people have spoken and that she will do whatever it takes to defeat Joe Biden. 

None of this will be sufficient ring-kissing for Trump, who already has virtually eliminated Haley from VP consideration with his recent withering assessment of her in Concord, New Hampshire:  "She is not presidential timber.  Now when I say that, that probably means that she's not going to be chosen as the vice president."  You may think the “probably” gives Trump an out so that he may reconsider, but re-read the first sentence and see how that might look in various Biden ads if Trump did just that. 

Haley herself said last week in Amherst, New Hampshire, "I don't want to be anybody's vice president. That is off the table.  I have always said that.  That is a game they play that I'm not going to play.  That is the type of statement that might be sloughed off easily enough if Trump did ask, with statements invoking “for the good of the country” and “when you are asked to serve…”  But Haley believes she has a future in presidential stakes (at 52, one could argue she has another three decades), and she may have considered, given Mike Pence’s sad history, the VP calculus to favor letting it go.  Trump himself “probably” wants a complete loyalist on the ticket, an election denier, and that is not Haley.

As for Haley’s future, that depends on the course of the GOP.  The main reason why Haley will have difficulty winning the GOP nod even if she wins in New Hampshire, is the natural ceiling that her policy choices have created.  Haley may be an arch-conservative on domestic issues, but she really is a foreign policy “globalist,” and her support of Ukraine – and all it stands for, including backing NATO, being tough on Putin, and the implied diminishment of China as the primary evil -- is a defining position that puts her out of step with today’s Trumpian GOP, and thus limits her appeal.  But she is probably counting on a post-Trump GOP (meaning, he’s dead and gone) in which there is a revival of the mainstream GOP she grew up in, with her as the standard bearer.  Given her less than slavish devotion to Trump, she surely reasoned (in stating her lack of desire for the VP slot) that the long game is her best hope of ever sitting behind the Resolute Desk. 

So the primary season will be all over except for the shouting.  That phrase typically refers to cheering crowds roaring as the inevitable approaches, but here we mean Trump’s incessant high-decibel persecution pitch, as he uses Courtroom America as a bully pulpit to air (and monetize) his victim complex.  In Trump’s eyes, his trials and tribulations are far from a weakness – they are rather the centerpiece of his campaign effort.  This approach has worked brilliantly thus far in securing the GOP nomination.  One remembers that Trump’s campaign took off the day Alvin Bragg handed down the first Trump indictment in New York State, which gifted Trump a 10-point bump in the polls over the field in April, 2023, up to the 30-point margin nationally that he never relinquished -- and eventually expanded to 50 points.  

Trump no longer has to worry about bouncing back and forth from campaign to courthouse, and he will happily attend various legal proceedings while making token appearances in future primary states and the necessary private pitches to GOP donors.  He will rant and rave outside those courthouses about judges and prosecutors, bailiffs and stenographers, loudly making his opinions known during proceedings, hoping a judge will throw him out of the building, and holding his own court in press briefings after each and every session.  All the while blaming the whole thing on Joe Biden. 

Whether this strategy has legs in the general election remains to be seen.  Trump does need mainstream GOP support – the Haley/Christie voter, if you will – as well as independents and persuadable Democrats (e.g., flipping some of people of color) to win.  None of those groups buy the persecution argument, or are pre-disposed to Trump’s view of the 2020 election or January 6.  But Trump never “tacked to the middle” in the 2016 general election, another norm shattered, and it seems unlikely he will in 2024.  The shouting is his trademark, and it will endure until either his vocal chords give out or he meets his demise.  (And don’t forget….if he loses in 2024, he is still eligible to run in 2028.  And if he is in prison, he would have every incentive to do so.) 

There is a Democratic primary, too, but it does not count in selecting delegates.  In the DNC’s quest to start its primary process with diverse South Carolina instead of lily white Iowa or New Hampshire, Iowa went along (perhaps sheepishly, recalling its 2020 caucus vote counting fiasco).  But New Hampshire was defiant, and the state is going ahead with its “first” Democratic primary even though they were punished by the DNC by not having the voting count in determining the state’s 33 delegates.  

Joe Biden does face a challenge in New Hampshire from Minnesota representative Dean Phillips and 2020 candidate Marianne Williamson.  To the extent that anyone has heard of Phillips, they probably think his first name is “Quixotic,” for that is the appellation frequently attached to him for the nature of his quest.  He is running strictly on the “age” issue, and he will barely make a dent in the New Hampshire proceedings, no matter how mad New Hampshire Democrats are that Biden is ignoring their beloved primary.  This despite the fact that Biden is not even on the ballot, but is likely to record an overwhleming victory strictly based on write-in votes.

Stay tuned. 

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