Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley thinks she’s running in a two-way race. She’ll have to win far more than just New Hampshire to turn that fantasy into a reality.
As the final votes were tallied in the first caucuses of the 2024 campaign, Haley declared that the primary contest had been narrowed down to between her and former President Donald Trump. Trump carried every county in the Hawkeye State except one, where the Republican frontrunner tied with his U.N. ambassador.
“I can safely say tonight Iowa made this Republican primary a two-person race,” Haley said.
The former two-term governor of South Carolina claimed to be triumphant despite a third-place finish with less than 20 percent of the vote. Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis was the runner-up with 21 percent, and Trump carried the contest in first with 51 percent.
On Tuesday, Haley defended her third-place finish as some sort of vindication that she was running against Trump, and no one else, in the Republican primary.
“We came out with a strong showing. That’s what we wanted in Iowa,” she said.
Haley dropped out of the ABC News debate in New Hampshire, refusing to stand on stage with anyone other than the former president.
“We’ve had five great debates in this campaign,” Haley wrote on platform X. “Unfortunately, Donald Trump has ducked all of them. He has nowhere left to hide. The next debate I do will either be with Donald Trump or with Joe Biden.”
Haley’s campaign now hinges on New Hampshire, where an electorate contaminated by Democrat and independent voters registered as “undeclared” may vote in what is allegedly a Republican primary. The state’s semi-open primary, however, is no small part of Haley’s plan to pick up the advantage. Haley has openly professed to courting Democrats and independents to carry her over the finish line in New England.
“If we get independents, if we get conservative Democrats, that’s what the Republican Party should pursue,” Haley told reporters last month. “Our goal is to get as many people in the tent as we can.”
It’s a fine message for the general election in November, but it’s not the one to run on in a Republican contest when campaigning for the trust of conservative voters. Haley’s cross-party appeal threatens to dilute any victory in New Hampshire. Her courting of Democrat support in the primary provides evidence that she is more of a lefty politician running in the shadow of ex-Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney than someone who carries the blessing of the GOP’s base. Her third-place finish in Iowa was already buffered by Democrats who still plan to vote Democrat this fall. Haley’s home state of South Carolina will vote just one month later, and polling shows Trump commands a consistent 30-point lead.
Of course, polls don’t vote. People do. But a Haley win among Democrats in New Hampshire is unlikely to offer the former South Carolina governor the momentum she needs to convince home-state voters of conservative credentials that could out-Trump Trump. Voters are likely already suspicious of Haley’s aggressive platform on foreign affairs as the establishment’s neocon favorite in the primary. While Haley routinely bangs the war drums over China and Ukraine, most Republican voters say the U.S. has already spent enough on Kyiv.
Haley’s White House effort being bankrolled by Democrat megadonors, on the other hand, does little to shake off her brand as another “Cheney in 3-inch heels.” In December, LinkedIn Co-Founder Reid Hoffman gave $250,000 to Haley’s super PAC. Who was another neocon Republican reliant on left-wing money to court Democrat voters in a GOP primary? Liz Cheney.
Victory in New Hampshire is far more validation that Haley is an imitation of the ousted Wyoming lawmaker than she is the incoming Republican standard-bearer.