Jan 24, 2024 - Politics & Policy

New Hampshire primary exposes Trump's shrinking tent

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former President Trump's 11-point victory in New Hampshire has been upstaged not just by Nikki Haley's refusal to drop out, but by a set of flashing red alarms about his weaknesses with independents and moderate voters.

Why it matters: Trump, like any candidate, will need a broad coalition to win in November — one that casts a far wider net than the core MAGA base responsible for his dominant victories in Iowa and New Hampshire.

  • As the primary gives way to the longest general election campaign in modern history, there's no indication that Trump will moderate or change to the degree necessary to bring back swing voters he lost in 2020.
  • Even if he does, will it be enough to sway the skeptics alienated by his legal issues and years of public bombast? New Hampshire suggests the reality of Trump's challenges will soon become impossible to ignore.

Zoom in: As MSNBC's Steve Kornacki pointed out, New Hampshire's GOP primary has never seen a wider gap between the preferences of independents and Republican voters than last night's results:

  • Trump won Republican voters 74% to 25%, while Haley won independents 58% to 39%, according to CNN's exit polls.
  • 83% of Haley voters — and 42% of voters overall — said they would not consider Trump to be fit for office if he were convicted of a crime.
  • Most importantly, Fox News' voter analysis found that 35% of New Hampshire's voters would be so dissatisfied with a Trump nomination that they would not vote for him in November.

The other side: New Hampshire's unique primary system allowed Democrats to vote in the GOP primary if they switched their party registration by October, suggesting some of these voters were always a lost cause for Trump.

  • And to be sure, President Biden faces his own general election challenges — he's bleeding support from minorities and young voters, and his age remains a top concern for many voters.
  • That's why the Biden campaign is painting November's election as a binary choice between the president and Trump more than a referendum.

Between the lines: The warning signs for Trump run deeper than just the data — just look at the rhetoric Tuesday from his allies:

  • Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who appeared on stage with Trump for his victory speech, said the GOP is "completely eradicating" any Republican who doesn't adapt to Trump's policies.
  • Asked how he'll get skeptical Haley supporters to vote for him in November, Trump told reporters: "They're going to all vote for me again. ... And I'm not sure we need too many."

The bottom line: The suggestion that New Hampshire was Never Trumpers' "last stand" misses the point: These voters may have lost the GOP primary, but there are signs they could have the last laugh in November.

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