Trump keeps up momentum – but how far behind is too far for Haley?


It was Trump’s night, no question. New Hampshire delivered numbers that cement his position as the Republican nominee in waiting and tighten his grip on the party.

This primary race has been coloured all shades of anti-Trump, strategies from attack to appeasement, but he remains seemingly untouchable. He has consolidated and grown support in a Republican movement that he has reshaped and has rallied behind him.

The early rounds in this process are all about momentum. They are fond of calling it the “Big Mo” on the primary trail and, right now, the Big Mo remains with the Big D.

For Nikki Haley, the question that will be answered in due course is: how far behind is too far?

In the Granite state, she had the conditions she craved – an independent, moderate crowd passing judgement on a two-person contest. It still didn’t get her as close to Donald Trump as she wanted.

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‘This race is far from over’

The question is whether it got her close enough to the notion that she can challenge in different and more difficult places.

Before Tuesday’s primary, Nikki Haley pledged that she would continue to the next big contest in South Carolina. She maintained that will still be the case last night and spoke like she meant it. “I’m a fighter, I’m scrappy.”

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There has to be doubt around her longevity. It won’t be her decision alone. Big money donors will subject the night’s numbers to close examination to measure her chances of success going forward – and their appetite for continued investment.

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She will want to remain in the process as long as she can, given the uncertainty around her rival. Four criminal trials lend uncertainty to Donald Trump and his future plans. Nikki Haley will want to style herself as natural successor, should the favourite take a fall.

Trump’s early success feeds his strategy. Team Trump has sought to create a sense of inevitability around his nomination and to have it wrapped up before his legal difficulties further encroach on the political process.

Whatever the campaign benefits of time spent in court, polls indicate that any conviction would become an electability issue. Trump wants to be the last man standing long before it does.

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‘See you on the trail’

His success in Iowa and New Hampshire reflect how his support base has consolidated and grown, in line with his campaign organisation.

New Hampshire was also a footnote in Democratic Party history. Joe Biden was top of the ballot in the vote that neither he, nor his party, recognised. The state of New Hampshire staged the primary for Democrats nonetheless and Biden won a symbolic victory in a so-called ‘write-in’ vote.

Democrats speak freely about their desperation to have Trump as their opponent at November’s presidential election.

The sight of Trump success has to unnerve them to some degree, however. The support he enjoys demonstrates an enduring appeal despite the chaos that surrounds him – they will worry about how far that extends, bearing in mind the opinion polls that have Trump ahead of Biden in a hypothetical presidential race.

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