Trump aims to drive Haley out of the GOP race with big New Hampshire win

Salem, New Hampshire

Ex-President Donald Trump is aiming to drive his last remaining rival out of the 2024 White House race on Tuesday with a resounding New Hampshire victory that would cement his control over the GOP.

“Every day the Republican Party is becoming more and more unified,” Trump told supporters in Laconia on Monday night in the final rally of his Granite State primary campaign. “We started off with 13 (opponents) and now we are down to two people, and I think one person will be gone probably tomorrow.”

Nikki Haley’s campaign is the last obstacle, barring unforeseen circumstances, to the general election clash that polls show most Americans don’t want — a rematch of the 2020 showdown between Trump and President Joe Biden.

The former South Carolina governor is pushing back hard against Trump’s bid to end the GOP primary race after only two nominating contests. On Monday, the eve of a pivotal day that could decide whether she can claim the rationale and the money to stay in the race, Haley warned that America doesn’t do “coronations,” saying Trump’s efforts to bounce her out of the contest are antithetical to Republican values.

On Tuesday, with voting already underway, Haley rejected Trump’s comments and vowed to move onto the next primary in her home state next month. “I don’t do what he tells me to do. I’ve never done what he tells me to do,” Haley, who served as Trump’s US ambassador to the United Nations, told CNN’s Kylie Atwood.

“I’m running against Donald Trump. And I’m not going to talk about an obituary. Just because y’all think we have to talk about it. I’m going to talk about running the tape and saving this country,” Haley said.

The outcome of the first-in-the-nation primary will have huge implications for the choice that Americans get in November’s general election.

— New Hampshire represents Haley’s best opening to claim an early victory against Trump that would slow what is beginning to look like his inevitable march to the nomination, which would complete his transformation of the GOP in his image.

— The contest is also critical to the former South Carolina governor being able to realistically prolong her campaign through her home state next month and beyond — and for her capacity to convince big money donors to stick with her.

— On the Democratic side, Biden’s name is not on the ballot Tuesday and no delegates will be awarded because of a dispute between the state and the Democratic National Committee over its reordering of the party’s electoral calendar. But there is an unofficial test of the president’s popularity with an organized effort for voters to write in his name. Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips is challenging the president but has yet to build a national campaign.

Voters are casting ballots following Trump’s romp to victory in the Iowa caucuses last week with more than 50% of the vote.

The contest is now a head-to-head between the ex-president and his former ambassador to the United Nations after the withdrawal of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Sunday. Haley has been seeking to exploit Trump’s gaffe in confusing her with former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as she argues that neither her 77-year-old GOP rival nor 81-year-old Biden have the mental sharpness to serve second terms.

But Haley’s attempts to gain momentum have been tested by Trump, who has gathered endorsements of former GOP candidates DeSantis, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. The latter trio turned up in person to campaign with Trump in Laconia on Monday night. And Burgum and Scott both cranked up pressure on Haley to get out of the race. “We can end this primary tomorrow in New Hampshire with a fantastic win,” the North Dakota governor said. Scott added: “If you want the race to be over tomorrow, let me hear you scream.”

The ex-president also flew a high-powered delegation of South Carolina state leaders to Manchester on Saturday night, seeking to convince Haley she’d get pulverized in her home state primary in February and should withdraw from the race to leave him the all-but-certain nominee.

Voters who take part in the primary are being offered a clear choice.

Trump is painting a picture of a nation under siege from surging migrants, crime and economic blight. Whether it’s accurate or not, this message is attractive to GOP voters who fret about the southern border crisis and who are struggling with higher prices and interest rates and think they were better off under his presidency.

Trump’s message has an even darker side. Thousands of supporters cheered Saturday night at a rally as he made false claims of 2020 electoral fraud, branded those convicted over the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol as “hostages,” and said his multiple legal issues were evidence of political persecution. He argued presidents should be immune from prosecution in a sign of what could be a possible wild second term. In Laconia on the eve of the vote, Trump claimed once again he was cheated out of power in 2020, noting that if he had secured a second term, he’d now be rounding out his time in office.

Haley is wary of alienating Republicans who still like Trump. She’s only referring to his aberrant presidency and the attack on the election as “chaos” that “rightly or wrongly” follows the ex-president. She’s calling on voters to make a generational shift and is appealing especially to independents who can join the GOP primary in New Hampshire. She says Republicans are tired of losing and that Trump would almost certainly be defeated by Biden in November’s general election.

“We should want to win the majority of Americans,” Haley said. “But the only way we’re going to do that is if we elect a new generation of conservative leaders.” Some polls have shown Haley beating Biden handily in November. But the president’s weak political standing has complicated her arguments that Trump is a certain loser in the general election. In fact, hypothetical matchups between Trump and Biden in many key swing states have had the former president ahead.

The former South Carolina governor made her closing argument Monday evening in Salem, New Hampshire, in a new hotel in an upscale, suburban-area retail park — offering a clue to the kind of moderate and sometimes affluent voters she’s trying to attract. But even in the Granite State, where the electorate is more moderate than in many later primary states, those less conservative and college-educated voters she does well with don’t reflect a majority of Republicans. That’s why her path depends on driving out independent voters.

Haley is under enormous pressure from primary calendar mathematics and from the fact that she needs to change the character of a party that has been dominated by Trump since 2016 to have a chance of winning the primary race. If she can’t win in New Hampshire, it’s hard to make a case that she has a path to the nomination.

According to a CNN poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire before DeSantis dropped out, Haley trailed Trump by 13 points in a two-person race. That was even wider than the 11-point gap between them when all three candidates were tested. New Hampshire, however, is renowned for tripping up conventional wisdom. Haley needs the kind of bumper turnout from undeclared voters that John McCain managed in 2000 when he upset then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the Granite State primary. But like the late Arizona senator, Haley might still have a South Carolina problem. Bush bounced back in a no-holds-barred primary in her home state and marched to the GOP nomination.

Even Haley’s most vehement supporter, New Hampshire GOP Gov. Chris Sununu, has been downplaying expectations for Tuesday night, in line with signs of diminished momentum following Haley’s third-place showing in Iowa last week. He’s now arguing that she doesn’t really need to begin winning primaries until Super Tuesday at the beginning of March. But second place in a two-candidate race in New Hampshire would hardly seem like a great achievement in a state that is best set up for her to claim an early victory against Trump.

“If we really have high voter turnout, I think she’s going to surprise a lot of people here,” Sununu told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Monday.

At times, Haley sounds like she’s campaigning for the nomination of a party that no longer exists. Her traditional fiscal conservatism and hawkish foreign policy have more in common with the pre-Trump era than it does the former president’s “Make America Great Again” nationalism and populism. And her manner and style — folksy, scripted, stressing her roles as a mom and military spouse who talks common sense – represent a huge departure from the tumult, self-absorption and mayhem of Trump’s life and political career. Most evidence available so far in the GOP race, however, suggests that the party’s activist base is prepared to accept what Haley calls his “chaos” and believes his claims of 2020 electoral fraud and that his legal troubles are the result of political persecution by the Biden administration.

The former South Carolina governor has recently taken to arguing that Biden and Trump have more similarities than differences — both in their advanced ages and the possibility of a repeat of the 2020 presidential election.

“Seventy percent of Americans have said that they don’t want a Trump-Biden rematch,” Haley said. “The majority of Americans disapprove of Trump and Biden.” And she added: “Are we really going to say that we’re okay with having our options be two 80-year-olds that run for president?”

Unless Haley can spring a surprise on Tuesday, that may be the choice that Americans get.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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