How Much Does Christie's Exit Hurt Trump?
Haley gets a boost in New Hampshire, but it may be short lived.
Nikki Haley has had a great 48 hours. First, a CNN/UNH poll found Haley surging 12 points since November. She is now only seven points behind Trump in New Hampshire. She fared well in the shitshow masquerading as a debate, and then, most importantly, Chris Christie dropped out of the presidential race.
Since she is the only Republican with a chance to beat him, good news for Nikki Haley is bad news for Donald Trump.
The Haley campaign strategy is to beat DeSantis in Iowa, win or come in a very close second in New Hampshire, and then it’s off to the races as the sole primary challenger to Trump with momentum at her back. If the much anticipated Iowa poll from the Des Moines Register/NBC News due out this weekend shows Haley surging into second, the political world will be in a full lather about Haley’s “surge.”
Haley will be the vessel for the people who hope that, somehow, someone beats Trump in the primary.
Not to be a giant buzzkill, but the most likely scenario mirrors what Christie said about Haley on a hot mic right before the event where he announced his withdrawal — “She's going to get smoked, you and I know it, she's not up to this.”
Here’s why Christie dropping out doesn't change the fundamental dynamics of the race.
1. Christie’s Departure Helps Haley in NH
Undoubtedly, Christie’s departure helps Haley in New Hampshire. Nate Cohn wrote in the New York Times:
Mr. Christie is the only vocal anti-Trump candidate and, not surprisingly, his supporters are the likeliest to be anti-Trump. In a CNN/UNH poll this week, 65 percent of Mr. Christie’s supporters said Ms. Haley was their second choice. In a CBS/YouGov poll last month, 75 percent of Mr. Christie’s supporters in New Hampshire said they would consider Ms. Haley. Just 9 percent said they would consider Mr. Trump.
If — and this is a big if — the race is as close as the CNN/UNH poll suggests, Christie’s exit could put Haley over the top in the Granite State.
2. New Hampshire is Unusual
Donald Trump losing New Hampshire would be a political earthquake. However, New Hampshire is very different from Iowa and almost every other state that will decide the GOP nomination.
First, Independents can vote in either the Republican or Democratic New Hampshire primary. They can walk into their voting location and ask for either ballot. The Democratic primary is essentially rendered moot with no delegates being awarded; and President Biden’s absence from the ballot means that every Independent in the state will be voting in the GOP primary. The CNN/UNH poll estimates that nearly half of the voters in the New Hampshire primary will be Independent voters. There is no other state of consequence in the primary process where that will happen.
Second, Evangelical Christians are the most powerful constituency in Republican Primary politics and the backbone of the MAGA movement. A 2016 Gallup poll found that New Hampshire was the least religious state in the country. Evangelical Christians make up a much smaller percentage of the New Hampshire population than in other states. According to exit poll data from 2016, Evangelicals made up only 25% of the Republican Primary electorate. In South Carolina in 2016, 72% of voters identified as Evangelical or born-again Christian. If you want to know why Trump is cruising in Iowa, 64% of 2016 Iowa Caucus voters were Evangelical Christians.
After New Hampshire, the terrain gets much, much more MAGA-friendly, and unless Haley can find a way to eat into Trump’s MAGA base, her campaign will be over after the South Carolina primary on February 24th.