New Hampshire was cold on primary day. Worse yet, it lacked the heated two-party politics that has warmed its “Live Free or Die” soul since 1952.
This year, and perhaps in the future, the GOP was the only side to offer a battleground. The Democrats decided to bypass New Hampshire and open this year with a more racially diverse South Carolina, so no delegates are awarded on the Democratic side. President Joe Biden made it a point not to come here.
Minnesota Representative Dean Phillips’s effort to garner votes against Biden didn’t amount to much. That meant the only conflict on election day was former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley trying to stop Donald Trump, the national GOP frontrunner. With Florida Governor Ron DeSantis stepping aside before the polling stations opened, Haley was left standing as the last challenger.
I began my coverage here in New Hampshire last week, hoping that Haley would pull a miracle, the kind this state has long made famous.
Remember how Eugene McCarthy began the human bonfire of President Lyndon Johnson in 1968? Or is Bill Clinton pulling off that “Comeback Kid” number in 1992? Or Hillary’s upsetting of Senator Barack Obama in 2016?
That’s what I came to New Hampshire for in ’24. I came expecting to see the lady from South Carolina pull down Donald Trump like she did that Confederate Battle Flag from her state capitol in 2015.
But Haley never did it. She could never rise from the tepid script that chided Trump for overspending rather than denouncing for being a criminal. She could not say he was a walking disaster zone, only that “chaos follows him.” Haley has an interesting story about identity, the Tea Party—of which she was a darling, her time at the U.N., and so on. Her parents did not convert to Christianity like she did. What was that like? She was all over the map on abortion but with little to say that was personal as she aspires to be the first Madam President. She remained enigmatic and two-dimensional when she needed to be fully formed.
Even when driven from her script at one event by screaming environmental hecklers, she could never resist hitting the “Resume” button.
Sticking to the script killed her.
It’s not that she didn’t have advantages. Everyone loves an underdog. Plus, she had New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu as her warm-up act, and a great musical playlist floated and rocked in the air at her events. She had the New Hampshire Union-Leader singing her praises.
But she could never make it happen. There was never that before-and-after moment that elevated her candidacy to something magical. Like Ronald Reagan yelling out, “I paid for this microphone!” or Hillary saying, “That hurts my feelings,” when a news anchor told her the voters didn’t like her.
Trump, by contrast, could afford to play it safe. He might be in legal jeopardy, but his frontrunner status meant that all he had to do was show up, take it seriously, and not blow it.
And so, he came to New Hampshire, where he won the primary in 2016, putting him on the path to his first nomination. He led major rallies over the last few days and stayed through the voting instead of taking off for Mar-a-Lago. It was enough.
I suppose it comes down to candidates and their talents. Allan Gregg, a political pollster up in Canada, once told me the trio of rules for political success:
Motive: Why is this person running for office? What truly moves them?
Passion: What makes this candidate emotional?
Spontaneity: How well do they react?
Applying these measures to Trump isn’t hard. He is moved by grievance. He is excited by power. Standing before large audiences or on social media, he is forever ready to titillate.
By such measures, Governor Haley is hard to rate. Her motive for running against Trump isn’t clear. There’s no real ideological divide. She agrees with his policies but says chaos follows him. As she recites a lengthy and obvious retinue of positions—China and spending, bad, aiding Israel. good—it’s hard to locate or calibrate where her emotions might lie.
But it’s her lack of spontaneity that kills her. She is scripted and remains so, especially since her multiple stumbles on the hot question of the 1864 presidential campaign–slavery. She’s now laser-focused. No interruption drives her from the words that have won her mind and heart. There are moments when she runs for president with all the resolve of an average Virginia state senator debating Governor Glenn Youngkin on school curricula. Then, without warning, she lists the number of nuclear missiles in the Chinese arsenal. I don’t get it. Does she?
But is it more personal than this? Who is she?
When Ron DeSantis dropped out of the New Hampshire primary this Sunday, she was speechless.
All she could muster was something about it being now a “two” person race. But what are the questions facing the country?
She never addressed the primary audience with what was truly driving her. Was it the horror of a second Donald Trump presidency? Or the genuine excitement of there being a President Nikki Haley. There was never a human statement from her, Governor Haley herself, of what this final Republican primary means to her, the voters, and the country.
In short, I never got the idea that Nikki Haley brought herself into the room with her.
Trump, for his part, took no chances.
However weary he may have become on the stump, the Trump organization took no chances in New Hampshire.
His team blocked out the geography and built big rallies to reach it all. Even Trump let it slip late Monday night that his team was covering each “slice of the state” with a substantial rally.
Just as he did to Pennsylvania in 2016, Trump’s people ensured he got to his voters. And in each “slice,” he told New Hampshire that he, Donald Trump, was there to take the enemy’s fire, to be nailed to the cross for their salvation.
“I am being indicted for you!”
The Republican presidential nominee will be Trump for the third time. The GOP has never had a triple play like this. The last time was William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic nominee. We will see if President Biden can, once again, bar this wild, loud, and dangerous man from returning as America’s commander-in-chief even when Nikki Haley could not.
The post Nikki, We Hardly Knew Ye appeared first on Washington Monthly.
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