Trump’s New Hampshire win had some bright red warning signs

Never mind that only around 230,000 votes — the population of a decent-sized American suburb — will likely have been cast for Trump in just two states by the time New Hampshire finishes counting. Or that Trump’s margin of victory fell short of the polling that had him up roughly 20 percentage points in the state.

Trump is still running away with the Republican nomination.

“In a state with so many independent primary voters, with Trump above 50, it’s pretty hard to argue that Republican primary voters are looking for anyone else,” said former New Hampshire GOP chair Fergus Cullen.

Still, bright red warning signs are flashing for Trump. A wounded Haley is vowing to fight on, telling a crowd on Tuesday night that “this race is far from over.” A Supreme Court decision threatening Trump’s ballot status looms. And voters he’ll need in November are either, at best, not voting for him, or at worst
vowing to never vote for him

Here are five things New Hampshire told us about the primary as it moves to Nevada, South Carolina, Michigan and beyond.

The primary turns to the courts

If Trump’s closing argument in New Hampshire — calling for “full and total immunity” — sounded more at home in a courtroom than in a town hall, that’s because that will be the very terrain on which he now stands to cinch his party’s nomination.

To wit, the next GOP contest to award delegates doesn’t take place until Feb. 8 in Nevada. That happens to be the same day that, 2,500 miles to the east, the Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on whether the 14th Amendment should knock him off the ballot.

Criminal cases pending in New York, Georgia and Florida — and potentially,
even Michigan
— also loom.

The political liability for Trump is huge. Last month, a Wall Street Journal
poll that found
Trump leading Biden in a head-to-head matchup also showed that Trump fares worse — 45 percent to Biden’s 46 percent — if convicted of a felony.

The general election coalition Trump would have to build is deeply fractured over issues of his conduct. Just look at Haley’s supporters, whose support he would need in November. In New Hampshire on Tuesday, roughly 9 in 10 Haley voters said they would not be happy with a third Trump nomination,
according to exit polls
, while 84 percent of her backers said Trump would be unfit for the presidency again if convicted of a crime.

The election voters still don’t want

Trump and Biden may have won their respective primaries on Tuesday night. But look deeper and it’s hard to miss how dissatisfied voters are about it.

By late Tuesday night, about 75 percent of votes had been counted. Of that total, nearly 43 percent of the vote had gone to candidates other than Biden or Trump.

That’s no small indictment of the most likely general election ticket shaping up. And it follows months of polling data suggesting Americans are less than satisfied as they watch Trump’s legal saga unfold and Biden age into his 80s.

According to polling averages aggregated by FiveThirtyEight, both men are underwater with the American public — Biden by 15 points, and Trump by 9 points.

Those voters who picked someone else on Tuesday will be the kind of people who are up for grabs in November. What the election demonstrated is just how many of them there are — and how much work Biden and Trump will have to do to win them over.

Biden had a big night, too

Biden wasn’t on the ballot in New Hampshire. His long-shot challengers had the state to themselves and a raft of concerns among Democratic and independent voters about the incumbent’s age, mental acuity and ability to beat Trump in a general election.

None of that mattered. Biden cruised to victory with a write-in campaign stood up by his allies in the state. Self-help guru Marianne Williamson and Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), who had staked his campaign largely on this state, have very little to show for their efforts.

The Democratic National Committee won’t count the results here toward convention delegates. But they show that Biden is running headlong toward a rematch with Trump.

And perhaps more importantly, the outcome demonstrated this: For all of the hand-wringing about Biden’s weak approval ratings and polls showing him trailing Trump in a general election — and despite all of the anger here about Biden’s attempt to reorder the primary calendar — Democrats were still willing to rally behind him when it mattered.

“The Republican Party has been taken over by Trumpers,” said Kathy Sullivan, a longtime Democratic operative who worked on the pro-Biden super PAC in New Hampshire. “So, yeah, I think you’re going to see a lot more energy, a lot more interest from the Democratic base to get out there and elect Joe Biden.”

The road for Haley just gets harder

Haley’s campaign manager, Betsy Ankney, lambasted the media on Tuesday for asserting that New Hampshire was the most favorable GOP primary electorate she was going to get.

Places like Michigan and some of the Super Tuesday states, she argued, will bring out many moderate, unaffiliated voters.

But even if her campaign team is right, Haley has to keep the money and the support flowing for more than a month until those states’ primaries roll around. That’s a difficult task when Trump is racking up endorsements and growing his polling lead. Already, Haley is facing calls from GOP officials and conservative commentators to give up.

Meanwhile, Haley and her team are effectively pretending like Nevada doesn’t exist — having declined to register for the GOP caucus on Feb. 8, which Trump is all but certain to win. And then comes South Carolina, Haley’s home state, which looks far more difficult for her than New Hampshire.

Trump not only holds a commanding polling lead in the state, but has swept the state’s Republican offices for endorsements. Even some of Haley’s past friends and allies have seemingly turned their back on her there. That includes Sen. Tim Scott, whom Haley appointed to the Senate, and Rep. Nancy Mace, for whom Haley campaigned in a tough 2022 reelection fight.

A closer-than-expected finish in New Hampshire could persuade her former constituents in South Carolina to take her campaign seriously. But lacking that, it will be all the more difficult for Haley to convince a Republican primary electorate who hasn’t seen her on a ballot in 10 years to decide to support her over Trump.

The other surprising winner on Tuesday: Social Security

It may not be the economy or abortion rights or immigration. But in the run-up to the New Hampshire primary, allies of both Biden and Trump gave Social Security an enormous amount of play.

On the Democratic side, Granite for America, a super PAC supporting the write-in effort for Biden, sent mailers elevating Social Security protection alongside abortion rights and concerns about democracy, saying “
Social Security IS ON THE LINE.

And on the Republican side, the issue emerged as one of Trump’s top lines of attack against Haley, with negative ads against her over her calls to raise the retirement age and cut benefits for the wealthy to keep the program solvent.

The super PAC backing Haley not only went on air pushing back, saying Haley would fight to protect Social Security, but Haley also began to devote a segment of her stump speech over the last week to debunking some of Trump’s accusations — which included lies about her stance on immigration.

It’s unclear how much the issue actually resonated in New Hampshire.

“It’s always hard to say in the middle of a battle, what is causation versus correlation?” said Mark Harris, lead strategist of SFA Fund, Inc., the super PAC supporting Haley. “I think our data indicates that certainly a lot of negative advertising on us does do damage … It’s part of the reason we ran advertising to refute that it wasn’t true, and to point out Donald Trump’s record on the issue.”

Trump has insisted he will protect Social Security. But the Biden campaign has repeatedly —
and sometimes misleadingly
— hammered him on the issue, suggesting past remarks make him an untrustworthy steward of the program.

Elena Schneider and Steven Shepard contributed to this report.

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