“In the midst of this campaign, there were once 14 contenders,” she stated in a recent email fundraising appeal following DeSantis’ withdrawal. “But today, it’s officially a head-to-head race between me and Donald Trump!“
However, Haley’s anticipated showdown with Trump in the state-by-state Republican presidential candidate selection may not unfold as she had envisioned. The recent thinning of the 14-person field has predominantly favored the former president.
Initially, DeSantis surpassed Haley for second place in the Iowa caucuses, depriving her of significant momentum as they approached the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. The day after Trump’s substantial victory in Iowa, another presidential rival, Vivek Ramaswamy, exited the race and threw his support behind Trump, generating additional headlines.
Now, with DeSantis out of contention as well, he, like Ramaswamy, has endorsed Trump, though with somewhat less enthusiasm. The Florida governor directed most of his criticism toward Haley, labeling the former US ambassador to the UN as part of “the old Republican guard of yesteryear – a repackaged form of warmed-over corporatism.” This line of attack, portraying Haley as an elite-loving globalist, has been a focal point of Trump’s recent criticism against his former Cabinet member.
It took six days for the DeSantis campaign to navigate through the stages of political grief and accept the decision. Nevertheless, the timing and manner of his withdrawal may have ultimately contributed to sealing Trump’s victory.
Most public opinion surveys suggest that a significant majority of DeSantis supporters view Trump as their next preferred candidate, indicating that DeSantis’s exit could work to Trump’s advantage.
For instance, a recent CNN/University of New Hampshire poll released on Sunday revealed that 62% of DeSantis backers in the state listed Trump as their second choice, while only 30% chose Haley.
These statistics pose a challenge for the former South Carolina governor, who has concentrated her efforts on New Hampshire, believing it to be the key to bolstering her campaign and posing a serious challenge to Trump. In theory, her strategy seemed sound, given that the state’s Republican primary is open to both independent voters and party members, providing an opportunity for moderates opposed to Trump’s conservative populism to have a say. Additionally, with 37% of the population being college graduates, a demographic where Haley is stronger, the state appeared promising.
While Haley has experienced a rise in support in recent months, positioning herself as the clear alternative for those dissatisfied with the former president, the question remains whether her people skills and more moderate message will be sufficient.
Despite her campaign being characterized as a throwback to the pre-Trump era in the Republican Party, emphasizing compromise over grievance politics and conspiracy theories, Haley’s challenge lies in proving that not being Trump and delivering a moderate message alone can secure victory.
If she fails to surpass Trump in New Hampshire, the path forward becomes uncertain, especially in her South Carolina home where Trump enjoys immense popularity and the backing of almost every other state Republican official.
For anti-Trump Republicans, the longstanding lament has been that the majority in the party doesn’t want him as the nominee again, but the field against him remains divided. The hope has always been that uniting behind one candidate would bring victory within reach. On Tuesday in New Hampshire, that theory will finally face a decisive test.