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Analysis: Trump's start to 2024 election historic, Haley’s New Hampshire finish a likely mirage

House Speaker Mike Johnson latest to call for Haley to bow out after Trump’s decisive win. RNC Chair also says she doesn't see a path for Haley win.

Published: January 24, 2024 12:36am

Donald Trump has done what no other Republican non-incumbent has accomplished in modern politics, scoring wins in the opening contests of Iowa and New Hampshire. And he scored both with more than 50% of the vote, without participating in a single debate and while facing the political machinery of two popular incumbent governors who threw their support to his competitors.

His lone remaining major competitor, Nikki Haley, tried to sound like a winner Tuesday despite trailing by about 10 to 12 points as the evening treaded on.

But even in that handy defeat, Haley’s showing was somewhat a political mirage. Exit polling showed she captured only about a quarter of registered Republicans who cast ballots.

Her strength? Independent or unaffiliated voters – some who lean Democrat – crossed over because Joe Biden chose not to appear on the New Hampshire ballot, giving his supporters a chance to try to run up Haley’s total and embarrass Trump.

Historical voting trends show just how big that crossover vote might have been. In the last competitive New Hampshire GOP primary in 2016, about 280,000 voters cast ballots. On Tuesday, the total GOP primary vote was projected to have set a record that could fall between 310,000 to 325,000 voters.

The last competitive Democrat primary in 2020, which Joe Biden lost, drew about 300,000 votes. On Tuesday, the Democrat primary was expected to draw less than 100,000 voters. The possibility of crossover vote was high, pollsters said, and exit polls showed about 6% of Tuesday’s GOP primary voters identified as Democrat.

One such voter told CNN that he voted for Haley to oppose Trump but planned on voting for Biden in the fall.

The crossover and unaffiliated vote also exposed areas in which Trump could improve: College graduates went 58% to Haley while independents went 61% to the former South Carolina governor. But Trump matched Haley evenly on women voters, a strong showing, while winning the male vote overwhelmingly. And 59% of all voters said they would be satisfied with Trump as the nominee compared to just 51% for Haley.

Voter sentiments also show how much Trump’s focus on border security has shaped the race. Like Iowa last week, New Hampshire voters declared immigration was their No. 1 concern at 41% while the economy was second at 31%. Foreign affairs and abortion – two issues Haley has flogged – rated much lower on New Hampshire voters’ radar, exit polls showed.

In the big picture, Trump’s win was both convincing and historical and kept him on his preferred strategy to wrap up enough delegates to secure the nomination by mid- to late-Mach so he can train his attacks solely on Biden.

Right now, Trump’s the only modern GOP candidate other than Richard Nixon to win New Hampshire three times. His unprecedented contested wins in Iowa and New Hampshire came even though the popular sitting governors of both states – Iowa’s Kim Reynolds and Chris Sununu – mobilized their machines to support his rivals, Ron DeSantis in the Hawkeye State and Haley in the Granite State respectively.

Trump is already guaranteed a win in the next contest, the Nevada caucus early next month where Haley has chosen not to play. And the next big primary – winner-take-all South Carolina – looks like a difficult climb even though Haley was its two-term governor.

"I don't see the path," Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said late Tuesday when asked about Haley's chance to secure the nomination.

Her comments all but affirmed what most of the Republican establishment is now saying: Trump is the presumptive nominee.  

Nearly all of South Carolina's top Republicans have endorsed Trump, including the highly popular Sen. Tim Scott who just dropped from the presidential race. Scott was on stage with Trump for his victory speech Tuesday. Most importantly, Trump has a commanding 30.2% lead in polling in South Carolina, according to the Real Clear Politics average.

The bleak path forward for Haley – with no clear winnable states in the near future – has many prominent Republicans pressing for her to step down and unify the party, something she refused to do Tuesday night.

House Speaker Mike Johnson was the latest to add his voice calling for a Haley withdrawal on Tuesday night.

“Congratulations to President Trump on his decisive victory tonight in America's first-in-the-nation primary!” Johnson wrote on X. “Our House Republican leaders and a majority of Republican Senators support his reelection, and Republican voters in Iowa and New Hampshire have strongly backed him at the polls. It's now past time for the Republican Party to unite around President Trump so we can focus on ending the disastrous Biden presidency and growing our majority in Congress.”

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