Haley needs to win convincingly, Trump just needs to continue breathing

Matthew Medsger
Republican candidate for President Donald Trump speaks during an event at the Atkinson
Atkinson, NH – Republican candidate for President Donald Trump speaks during an event at the Atkinson Country Club. (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald)

By Matthew Medsger | mmedsger@bostonherald.com | Boston Herald

PUBLISHED: January 17, 2024 at 7:26 p.m. | UPDATED: January 17, 2024 at 7:33 p.m.

After his resounding victory in a thinly attended Republican Caucus in Iowa, the race for the party nomination is Donald Trump’s to lose, according to the experts.

A 30-point margin of victory in the Hawkeye State for the former president also means that former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has her work cut out for her in the first-in-the-nation primary state if she has any hope of holding on through next Tuesday, they say.

“She has ‘a’ chance. It’s not a very good chance. It’s hard to see a path to the nomination for her. She’s kind of walking a tight-rope here,” Plymouth State University political science professor John Lappie told the Herald.

Haley can’t just show at the end of the race, as she did in Iowa. She has to convincingly win the Granite State if she has any hope of moving forward with her campaign for the White House, Lappie said.

“I’m not sure even a narrow loss to Trump does anything for her momentum,” he said.

The former South Carolina governor will need that momentum if she hopes to compete in states that aren’t New Hampshire, Lappie said. Even with it, her chances of holding on long enough to secure the nomination are thin, he said. Supporters of other candidates who have left the race are not exactly flocking to her camp.

“There is appetite for an alternative,” he said. “But there is no sign that that appetite is necessarily for another candidate that isn’t Trump.”

According to Suffolk University political science professor Rachael Cobb, New Hampshire voters are notably independent and that isn’t necessarily the case in places like Nevada.

“She is not attractive to more conservative voters and non-college-educated voters,” she said. “She could do quite well in New Hampshire, given the demographics of the state. But that won’t be the case after leaving New Hampshire for other states.”

Even in Haley’s home state of South Carolina, which she led for two terms, polling shows conservative-leaning voters aren’t impressed with her message. That’s just part of the problem, Cobb said. Another is that much of the electorate has already made up their minds.

“There just isn’t a lot of range in this crowd and there is a much more hardened set of ideologies that are playing into how people are making their choices. The moderates are going extinct,” she said.

And while Haley must contend with the normal slings and arrows of politics and explain away her missteps, on the other hand Trump can do no wrong as far as his part of the conservative base is concerned. Even with all of his legal entanglements, barring some sudden world-shaking catastrophe such as another global pandemic — and even then, perhaps — there doesn’t seem to be any way to shake Trump voters away from the MAGA movement he leads, Cobb said.

“The ideological hold is so great and the cult of personality for him is so great, that it seems impenetrable,” she said.

According to polling by Saint Anselm College released ahead of the Iowa Caucus and a Suffolk University/Boston Globe/NBC10 Boston tracking poll out Wednesday morning, Trump continues to lead in New Hampshire, though the race is within double digits. Polling suggests Trump sees about as much support in the Granite State as he won in Iowa, with around half of surveyed conservatives saying they will pick the 45th President. The same polling shows Haley doing significantly better in New Hampshire than she did at Caucus, but still behind by around 15 points.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who essentially went all-in on Iowa only to see himself come in a distant second to Trump, polls at around 5% in New Hampshire.

Haley will benefit some from the voting system in New Hampshire, which allows anyone to vote in either party primary regardless of affiliation, but there likely aren’t enough Democrats and Independents planning to pull Republican ballots to swing things her way, Cobb said. Even if she does manage to benefit from cross-party voting, that won’t help her going forward.

“I don’t see Democrats voting for her being a major force in the election,” she said. “It is his race to lose at this point. It seems very unlikely that there is going to be a dramatic, seismic shift within the Republican party over the nomination.”

In pursuit of Trump’s place atop the party, Haley has had to position herself against her former boss without going out of her way to alienate the MAGA faithful that has supported him for eight years. That may be a good way to get herself a job after the election, but if she is actually playing to win she needs to go after Trump, Lappie said.

The fact that she hasn’t is telling, he said.

“The way she’s running her campaign right now, it looks like she’s hoping to get lucky and have the ball bounce her way,” he said. “But she clearly doesn’t consider that likely. Based on the way she’s running her campaign, it looks like she doesn’t want to burn bridges and is holding out hope of being a running mate or for a spot in the cabinet.”

The New Hampshire primary will be held on January 23.