In New Hampshire — the early primary state with the most moderate Republican electorate by far — Donald Trump beat Nikki Haley by double digits. So the Republican race is over, right? Not according to The Point, the new group politics blog at The New York Times. Here’s a Point headline:
Elite journalists are desperate to believe that there’s still a horserace — or at least a pseudo-horserace. Healy writes:
This much is clear: For the first time in this campaign, Haley now has a measure of control over the race, inasmuch as her decision to stay in or drop out will determine its trajectory.
Perhaps I’m misunderstanding the word “trajectory,” but it’s obvious that the projectile known as Nikki Haley will land in the same place we’ve always known it will land — Loserville — whether or not it arrives there rapidly or somewhat less rapidly.
Healy continues, referring to Trump’s nasty victory speech last night:
And the mere notion of Haley-in-pole-position sure seemed to get under Trump’s skin last night.
Haley will not be “in pole position” in the South Carolina primary or anywhere else. In horse racing and auto racing, you actually need to win races or qualifying heats in order to be awarded pole position. Haley is 0-for-2.
Healy appears to acknowledge reality:
… this much is also clear: Haley doesn’t have a path to the nomination right now….
Only to add an asterisk:
… at least not any traditional kind.
Dude, just stop.
What Healy means is this:
… I can see Haley going this route if she stays in: Trying to attract as many moderates and independents as she can in the South Carolina primary Feb. 24 and then the Super Tuesday states on March 5, picking up more delegates, and letting the dice roll on Trump’s legal problems. (Supreme Court arguments are coming up in two weeks on whether he can appear on the ballot in Colorado, not to mention his other cases.)
It’s not a path, but a Plan B — an alternative for the party if the unexpected happens with Trump. And where does Trump go from here? Back to court, presumably, with the E. Jean Carroll trial still underway.
Healy is giving his readers a sense of false hope: Oh boy, the verdict in that E. Jean Carroll case is coming soon, and Trump will probably lose. This might be where we really get him…. Except remember what happened to Trump’s poll numbers after the last E. Jean Carroll trial? Nothing bad happened — if anything, Trump’s numbers improved.
Trump, of course, is facing criminal charges as well — although it’s not clear how many of his upcoming trials will actually happen this year. Trump will appeal any guilty verdicts, and most prominent Republican politicians are already on record saying they’ll support him even if he’s convicted. Republican voters appear to feel the same way. Ad the Supreme Court is highly unlikely to allow Trump to be removed from ballots.
Super Tuesday is six weeks away. Trump will have so many more delegates than Haley by then that her only hope is that he dies, or his apparent dementia becomes suddenly much worse between now and the convention.
… [Trump’s] team would be wise to consider what my colleague David French pointed out last night on The Point: “New Hampshire tells us the G.O.P. is still Trump’s party, but it also tells us that Trump’s party is fractured, and fractured parties struggle to win the White House, especially when an incumbent is under fire.”
David’s right. Trump is running as a virtual incumbent, but so far he’s only winning 50-55 percent of the vote from his own party. Could there be a ceiling on Trump’s vote in the November general election, one that’s too low to win? That’s the question I’m leaving New Hampshire with.
Healy and French ignore two obvious facts about this election. First, this is an election in which both parties seem fractured — polls suggest that many Democrats would prefer a candidate other than Biden. Second, this is an election in which Trump’s real or imagined vote ceiling is likely to be irrelevant — Robert Kennedy Jr. and No Labels seem determined to get on the ballot in most states, and progressives will have the opportunity to cast protest votes for Jill Stein, and possibly Cornel West.
The Democratic Party might rally around Biden, who has 67.5% of the Democratic primary vote in New Hampshire as I type this. (Trump’s percentage is 54.6%.) Biden accomplished that despite the fact tht he wasn’t on the ballot — all his votes were all write-in votes.
But I think the “fractured GOP” narrative is oversold. Yes, 43% of Haley’s Iowa voters said they’d vote for Biden in November, but as I explained to you, 39% of her voters chose Biden the last time, when Trump nearly won the Electoral College. In New Hampshire, Trump won 74% of registered Republicans, according to the exit polls; Haley won 88% of registered Democrats and 60% of independents. Maybe the larger Republican electorate is fractured, but the party isn’t.
If you want to see a really fractured Republican Party, then let’s hope for the scenario Healy hints at: Trump withdraws from the race (or dies, or can’t carry on for some other reason) and Haley proclaims herself the first runner-up who’s now entitled to the crown. I seem to be the only pundit who’s noticed this, but I’ll keep pointing it out: Haley is not popular among Republicans. Donald Trump’s numbers among Republicans are 78.1% favorable, 19.2% unfavorable. Haley’s are 46.8% favorable, 31.3% unfavorable. If we suddenly have a Trumpless race, the party elite will be thrilled with Haley (as will The New York Times), but many Republican voters won’t be. Trump has told them she’s a globalist and a “birdbrain,” and many of them believe it.
The still-popular-among-Republicans Ron DeSantis (62.2% favorable, 22.3% unfavorable) could un-suspend his campaign. MAGA stalwarts might urge primary voters to keep voting for Trump as a placeholder for a Trumpist substitute candidate (Donald Trump Jr.? Mike Flynn?). There could be convention chaos.
That would be fun. It seems very unlikely, but I hope it happens.
Republished with permission from No More Mister Nice Blog.