Will New Hampshire make or break Nikki Haley?

This could all be over very quickly

Nikki Haley talks with people at the historic Robie Country Store on January 18, 2024 in Hooksett, New Hampshire (Getty Images)
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Welcome to Thunderdome, where fresh off his thirty-point win in Iowa, former president Donald Trump is now counting on New Hampshire to deliver the killing blow to the nascent Nikki Haley boomlet. Haley underperformed polling expectations in Iowa — in part because of the frigid weather, which saw the lowest turnout in a quarter century for the caucuses.

New Hampshire now takes on new importance for her, keeping the narrative going that she’s the better, stronger choice for a showdown with her former boss. With the backing of Republican governor Chris Sununu, an influx of cash…

Welcome to Thunderdome, where fresh off his thirty-point win in Iowa, former president Donald Trump is now counting on New Hampshire to deliver the killing blow to the nascent Nikki Haley boomlet. Haley underperformed polling expectations in Iowa — in part because of the frigid weather, which saw the lowest turnout in a quarter century for the caucuses.

New Hampshire now takes on new importance for her, keeping the narrative going that she’s the better, stronger choice for a showdown with her former boss. With the backing of Republican governor Chris Sununu, an influx of cash from the donor class and a DeSantis campaign that is largely focused southward, Haley will have her best shot at pulling out an unlikely upset. She needs that narrative to carry her through the coming month to make a stand in her home state of South Carolina, which despite electing her twice to the governorship, has now become Trump Country by most measures:

Despite Haley’s deep personal ties and political legacy, Trump, seventy-seven, has been considered the front-runner in South Carolina for months. Haley lags behind Trump by about thirty points in most state polls taken before the GOP field narrowed following the Iowa Caucuses. Surveys show Trump with about 50 percent or more support of those polled, while Haley attracts about 20 percent. Florida governor Ron DeSantis has polled in the low teens or lower.

Trump already has the solid backing of one of the state’s two Republican senators, Lindsey Graham. But since dropping out, the other senator, Tim Scott, has declined to endorse anyone. If he comes in for Trump in that contest, you’d have to think it would increase his likely consideration in the former president’s very public veepstakes, which we discussed among other things on the Thunderdome podcast today — listen and subscribe here!

About those veepstakes

They’ve only just begun, but already the VP debate surrounding Trump is proving controversial. Jonathan Martin’s take is in Politico:

As Nikki Haley emerges as the former president’s most formidable opponent in the coming states, and toughens her rhetoric, her Trumpworld foes are intensifying their own efforts to block her from the consolation prize of the vice presidency.

Haley’s critics have even privately warned Trump that, were he to make Haley first in line to the presidency, he’d effectively be setting himself up for an intra-party coup, as GOP senators would use any legal or political pretext to remove him from office and elevate the more old guard-aligned Haley.

“Nikki Haley as VP would be an establishment neocon fantasy and a MAGA nightmare,” Representative Matt Gaetz told me. “On Day One she would convert the Naval Observatory into an anti-Trump, resistance headquarters, undermining him at every step.”

The Stop Nikki effort is so forceful because Trump’s decision will go to the heart of the party’s debate over its identity.

There’s the obvious — the term-limited Trump selecting an Oval Office heir — but it’s not only succession issues that’s sparking the Haley pushback.

Her selection as vice presidential nominee also amounts to a proxy war in the equally ferocious intra-party clash over foreign policy. Republican hawks see Haley as one of their own while GOP non-interventionists such as Gaetz are appalled that Trump would consummate his nomination by picking a Republican whose national security views are anathema to America First devotees.

Look no further than the president’s eldest son, perhaps the loudest opponent of Haley’s selection, who immediately followed her on stage Monday at a Des Moines caucus site and blistered her foreign policy worldview.

“Nikki Haley wants to be in every war the world has to offer,” said Donald Trump Jr., vowing that with his father as president again America will not send the “next generation to die in yet another never-ending war.”

For more on the other female candidates for the job, read Amber Duke in The Spectator. Since Trump tends to crowdsource decisions like this, he’s also personally floating names — including of one Elise Stefanik. He seems set on not making the Mike Pence “mistake” twice, and as such, going viral is a good thing this time around.

Republicans wrestle with abortion policy

Figuring out the abortion issue isn’t just something that the Republican presidential candidate will have to do, but he or she is certainly going to set the tone for the rest of the party. But it’s not just about campaign messaging, it’s about policy, too. For a very long time, conservatives in the House have had a standard set of fights that emerge under any Democratic administration — a list that has only grown post-Dobbs, as Democrats show increased willingness to push for things like direct taxpayer funding of abortions. With a funding fight and the annual March for Life coming to DC, the issue is back on the table, whether moderate Republicans like it or not:

Conservatives viewed the fight over government spending as their best and possibly only vehicle for undoing Biden administration policies expanding access to abortion, and they spent months adding provisions to nearly every appropriations bill. They proposed measures to ban mail delivery of abortion pills, reimpose anti-abortion restrictions on global HIV programs, block the military from funding service members’ travel across state lines for an abortion, cancel coverage of abortion for veterans, kick Planned Parenthood out of various federal health programs and ban state Medicaid programs from covering abortion…

Some House Republicans insist there’s still an opening to demand these measures as funding deadlines — and the possibility of a government shutdown — draw near. But others, pointing to the House’s narrow majority, the Senate’s vow to block the policies and the White House’s threat to veto bills if they are included, are acknowledging the math is not on their side…

During a press conference Wednesday, amid conservative angst over the fading prospects for restricting abortion through budget riders, Johnson stressed that he’s managing the second-narrowest House majority in the country’s history, limiting what they can expect to achieve.

“We won’t get everything we want,” he admitted.

The speaker also pledged to keep fighting for House Republicans’ “conservative agenda,” a careful phrase many members say they understand as aspirational — at best…

If Johnson doesn’t deliver on the riders, “Then we’ve got a problem,” Representative Buddy Carter warned, insisting that the provisions are “still a priority” for many conservatives.

The fear that House Republicans will likely have few wins to show voters in November on spending, immigration policy or their anti-abortion push is also drawing fire from outside groups.

“I understand the numbers,” said Tom McClusky, an anti-abortion lobbyist with the organization Catholic Vote, referencing the House’s slim majority. “But what I don’t understand is that there just doesn’t even seem to be a fight. It doesn’t even seem to be a factor with House leadership.”

The Heritage Foundation — which called Johnson “the right person for the job” in November — is also ramping up pressure on House Republicans to include the anti-abortion measures.

“Congress has to assert its constitutional authority to push back against these extreme pro-abortion regulations and policies coming out of the administration, and it does that through the power of the purse,” said Roger Severino, Heritage’s vice president of domestic policy who held a prominent agency post in the Trump administration. He added that Congress should say to the executive branch: “If you want money to do what you’re supposed to do, which is serve our veterans or provide health care, etc., then you do it without the taint of abortion.”

For more on this topic, here’s a new YouGov poll looking at the positions of millennial and Gen Z voters on a wide variety of abortion questions.

New Hampshire Democrats gripe

The New Hampshire GOP side is obviously the more interesting one, but there’s also that whole disrespect for the first in the nation status Democrats decided on this year — one that Representative Dean Phillips, whose long-shot challenge to Joe Biden has received precious little coverage, is quick to point out:

Next week, we may see another example of sustained media failure. President Biden’s approval rating has plummeted to just 31 percent, according to a new ABC News poll. Even among Democrats, the incumbent president can only manage to muster 57 percent support: hardly a reassuring figure given the stakes of the election. 

With that level of disappointment, you’d think the media would be paying more attention to next Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, where Biden is being challenged by Minnesota congressman Dean Phillips. You’d be wrong. Despite a large Phillips TV ad buy and rising poll numbers, the would-be challenger has been almost completely ignored by almost every media outlet. MSNBC, the cable news channel that caters to the left, hasn’t interviewed him a single time. 

“There’s a story there that is literally being denied to the entire population,” Phillips told Fox News “because they’re being deluded into believing that Joe Biden is just fine… people don’t know how precarious Joe Biden’s reelection chances are.” He claims the Biden campaign is part of a concerted effort to change his image from that of “a person of principle and competency to a kook.” 

In Phillips’s view, it’s Biden who is disenfranchising voters by not putting his name on the New Hampshire ballot. It’s part of Biden’s effort to end its status as the nation’s first presidential primary state in favor of South Carolina because he views the Granite State as not “diverse” enough to be representative of the nation. But New Hampshire went ahead with its primary anyway, so Biden allies will have to mount a write-in campaign.

Local Democrats are worried. “This was political malpractice of the highest order because it was totally unnecessary and totally self-inflicted,” a New Hampshire Biden ally told NBC News. Biden’s performance will be judged as a gauge of his political health when there are already substantial doubts about his stamina and alertness. 

The South Carolina Democratic side is scheduled for the first week of February, and it’s unclear at this point whether Biden will even personally visit the state again prior to that vote — which is unlikely to put to rest any of those questions about stamina.

One more thing (well, ten)

The discussion around the spiraling Ron DeSantis campaign got me thinking about all the failed efforts that came before, many of which include popular conservative governors who couldn’t launch on the national level. So I conducted a scientific analysis of the past fifty years of failed campaigns, and while DeSantis may well end up higher on the list, we’re really forgetting how bad some of these performances were in recent memory. Click here to read about the top ten worst modern presidential campaigns, ranked. And I remind you, this is science talking, so it’s absolutely indisputably correct!