Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley looks to be doing something somewhat remarkable in New Hampshire’s Republican primary: consolidating roughly 30% of the vote in two new polls this week. But let’s focus on the poll of over 1,000 likely voters from Manchester-based Saint Anselm College Survey Center:
Donald Trump: 44%
Chris Christie: 12%
Ron DeSantis: 6%
Vivek Ramaswamy: 5%
Not only did Haley double her support since the previous Saint Anselm survey in September, nearly every November poll from other outlets put her at roughly 20%. It’s also worth noting here that if Christie were to drop out, Haley would certainly get the lion’s share of his 12% and she would be within spitting distance of Trump.
Okay, something’s happening in the Granite State, which frankly could be a wild card since undeclared voters of any political persuasion have the ability to vote in the GOP primary. In fact, a lot of independents and Democratic leaners could prioritize voting in the Republican primary over a rather meaningless Democratic contest.
But does any of this matter? Short answer: maybe not so much as a matter of the GOP primary’s outcome than as a matter of general election dynamics. There’s simply no way around the fact that Trump is still the odds-on favorite to win the Republican nomination, even with a Haley surge in New Hampshire.
But if Haley exceeds expectations in Iowa (sticking reasonably close to or even knocking out Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for second) and wows in New Hampshire (giving Trump a run for his money), she could head to her home state of South Carolina on Feb. 24 with a lot of momentum and enough money to make a run at Super Tuesday on March 5. After that, who knows? It could all be over but the crying.
But importantly, the longer Haley stays in, the longer she calls into question Trump’s fitness for office. Of course, she will primarily be jabbing at President Joe Biden, but so many of her points clearly have spillover effects for squishy Republican voters.
For instance, here’s Haley calling into question the mental competency of anyone over 75. She name-checks Biden, but can anyone think of another high-profile candidate who might be prime for a “mental competency test”?
“Don’t you think we need to have mental competency tests for anyone over the age of 75?” Haley asked an Iowa crowd, even as she gave octogenarian Sen. Chuck Grassley of the Hawkeye State a pass. “But then you have Joe Biden. These are people making decisions on our national security. These are people making decisions on the future of our economy. We need to know they’re at the top of their game. There’s too much at risk.”
Here’s an even better jab at Trump that works in Biden’s favor.
Speaking with Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody, Haley said she had a “good working relationship” with Trump when she served as his UN ambassador.
“But rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him,” she added. “We all know that chaos follows him. And we can’t be a part of that. We can’t be a country in disarray, and have a world on fire and make it through four years of chaos.”
Every time Haley reminds squishy conservative voters of the Trump chaos factor that so many Americans despised, she is doing Biden a solid.
Remember, the key to getting Biden reelected is recreating the pro-democracy, anti-Trump coalition that propelled Biden to the White House in 2020. So Haley’s ability to stick around in the Republican primary can help clarify for a critical segment of voters all the reasons they despise Trump. Does Haley’s improving strength in the polls advance that goal? Yes, it probably does.
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