MANCHESTER, N.H. — As the last major challenger in Donald Trump’s way to the Republican nomination, Nikki Haley is hoping New Hampshire voters feel so strongly about keeping the former president away from the White House that they turn out to support her in large numbers.
Haley’s Stand Against Trump
“America does not do coronations,” Haley said at a VFW hall in Franklin, joined by her daughter and son-in-law. “Let’s show all of the media class and the political class that we’ve got a different plan in mind, and let’s show the country what we can do.”
It’s an uphill battle for the former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina governor. Most conservatives want to give Trump another chance at beating President Joe Biden despite Trump’s 2020 election loss and the 91 felony charges he faces in four separate indictments.
The New Hampshire Vote
With voting about to begin in New Hampshire, almost every top Republican has lined up behind Trump. Polls in New Hampshire suggest he leads Haley in a state uniquely suited to her strengths, though his lead is narrower than the 30-point blowout he scored in the Iowa caucuses.
Haley told reporters on Monday that she is expecting a stronger outcome than Iowa.
“This is a building game for us. This has always been that,” she said. “We feel very good about it.”
Trump planned to hold his last rally before the election Monday night. He started the day in New York for his defamation trial after an earlier jury determined he had sexually abused a columnist in the 1990s, but the session was canceled due to a juror’s illness.
Trump’s Rally and Endorsements
Trump was being joined on stage Monday night by three of his former opponents who have now endorsed him: South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. The show of force is part of a broader effort by Trump’s team to lock up the primary and demonstrate the party is rallying around him.
In an interview with Newsmax taped Sunday, Trump was asked if he would call for Haley to drop out.
“Well, I would never call for it, but perhaps she should,” he said. He called New Hampshire “a special place for me,” noting his win in the 2016 primary. “I love this state.”
The Challenge for Haley
On paper, Trump had seemed more vulnerable in New Hampshire than in any other early voting state on the primary calendar. Though voters here supported him by a wide margin in 2016, the state has long been known for its moderate tradition, including allowing unaffiliated voters to participate in GOP primaries. And Haley had been on the rise, prompting Trump’s campaign and its allies to spend millions trying to blunt her momentum.
Thalia Floras, a former Democrat who manages retail stores, changed her voter registration to undeclared last fall and plans to vote in New Hampshire’s Republican presidential primary against Trump. She says she would support Haley over President Joe Biden if given the chance, even though she has never before voted for a Republican presidential candidate.
But she said she was worried the primary was “a long shot” with not enough support for Haley among traditional conservatives to beat Trump.
“What do the Republicans want?” Floras asked at a packed Haley rally over the weekend. “Are they diehard Trump or do they want the White House?”
The Impact of DeSantis’ Exit
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspending his bid turned the state into the one-on-one contest between Trump and Haley that she and a long line of anti-Trump Republicans had said they wanted.
But some evidence suggests Trump could be better positioned to capitalize on DeSantis’ exit than Haley. According to AP VoteCast, DeSantis supporters in Iowa overwhelmingly described themselves as conservative and Trump outperformed Haley 53% to 13% among that group.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Trump senior adviser Chris LaCivita told The Associated Press about Haley making it to a two-person race.
DeSantis immediately endorsed Trump upon dropping out, saying it was clear to him Republican voters preferred the former president.
The Stakes for Haley
Never before has a presidential candidate won primary contests in both Iowa and New Hampshire and failed to secure the party’s presidential nomination.
“If she doesn’t win here, there’s no path for her whatsoever going forward,” said James Blair, national field director for the Trump campaign. “Republicans control the nominating process. They are with Donald Trump, growing every day. We see consolidation all over the place since Iowa.”
To help get out the vote, Trump’s team says it has amassed a team of 2,000 volunteers, including 250 town captains throughout the state.
“If it’s a double-digit win, then, I mean, that is a New Hampshire blowout of epic proportions, especially given all of the time and money she spent here,” Blair said.
Haley’s campaign has been lowering expectations for New Hampshire after insisting for weeks that an outright victory against Trump was possible.
“Beating Donald Trump is not easy. He is a juggernaut,” Haley campaign manager Betsy Ankney said at a weekend event hosted by Bloomberg. “But how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. We have to continue to show incremental growth and progress. We are the last man — woman — standing against him.”
Trump’s Confidence and Haley’s Comparison
Trump’s confidence comes even as influential Republicans in the state like New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu warn of dire political consequences.
“I’m tired of losing, I’m tired losers and I’m sure as hell tired of Donald Trump!” Sununu shouted late Sunday at Haley’s rally in the town of Exeter.
On Monday, Haley spoke on New Hampshire Today with host Chris Ryan and compared Trump to Biden, bringing up how Trump has confused her with former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, mistakenly said he ran against former President Barack Obama, and warned about Biden leading the country into World War II, which was fought between 1939 and 1945.
“When you have two 80-year-olds running for president, you are going to see decline,” she said. “It’s natural. It’s what happens.”
Still, the tens of thousands of voters who have packed into Trump’s New Hampshire rallies in recent days don’t seem to be worried and he makes little effort to lower expectations.
Eric Holmstrom, a 43-year-old Republican from Goffstown who supports Trump, said he sees the former president’s back-and-forth travel from the courtroom to campaign events as a sign of why he’s the best person to be the party’s nominee.
“I mean, this guy’s stamina is unmatched. And that’s — we need strength,” Holmstrom said. “We need unity. We need strength. And we need stamina. And right now, the unity isn’t there but it’s happening.”