Let’s call this a split decision. Not terrible for Trump. But definitely not great either. Losing would have been terrible. (Terrible on the way to winning the nomination.) At the moment Trump is beating Haley by about 54% to 45%, which isn’t a lot better. That margin may go up two or three points. As we knew last night and a year ago last night, Trump is absolutely going to be the nominee. But having a candidate who is basically no more than a stand-in for opposition to Trump pulling upwards of 50% is definitely suboptimal for him, to put it mildly.
Earlier today I said that Haley’s threshold was somewhere between 35% and 40%. She’s coming in at 45%. That’s solid.
Watching Trump speak tonight I got the sense that he was one of the few people watching the results tonight who realized this was kind of embarrassing for him.
It’s true that New Hampshire is almost certainly the peak for a candidate like Haley. (She’ll get smoked in her home state of South Carolina next month.) The New Hampshire GOP isn’t like the national GOP. You don’t have a lot of right wing, white evangelicals and you don’t have the Greater American South. You do have independents who can vote in the primary, though a lot of those “undeclareds” who make up a plurality of voters in New Hampshire are in effect voting Republicans. So it’s not like the substantial number of “undeclared” indies who voted in tonight’s GOP contests are all moderates or centrists.
So yes, New Hampshire is probably the peak for a non-Trump vote. But this is pretty much the result Trump got in Iowa too, which is much more representative of the national GOP. So it’s not just New Hampshire.
I’m not saying this is the most important part of this year’s campaign. Trump’s going to be the nominee. Partisanship and negative polarization are going to unite Republicans in his column. But it’s also not nothing. These are tepid showings for a man who has been the leader of the GOP for seven years and is running as the de facto incumbent.
Meanwhile Biden appears to be on track to get about 70% of the vote in New Hampshire despite not even being on the ballot.