The race within a race.
With Iowa’s caucuses and New Hampshire’s Republican primary dates creeping closer on the calendar, many politics observers and pundits have all-but abandoned examining the overall horserace for first position in order to concentrate on the much lower-profile back-and-forth ensuing for second place in the geographically diverse locations.
Since none of the surviving contestants in the Republican nominating race are bold enough to claim they can challenge former president Donald Trump for supremacy with the conservative grassroots, most of the media interest has fallen to those chasing the runner-up spots in the early states instead. The way the pundits talk, one would almost think that losing and coming in second by dozens of points actually matters. It doesn’t, at least not that much.
The dynamic between Nikki Haley and Chris Christie battling each other in New Hampshire has developed a life of its own, with supporters of each begging the other to get out of the way so their candidate might gain leverage against Trump and possibly do better than they otherwise would in the multi-candidate competitions.
“In a new ad, Christie positions the election as a moral choice for voters, asking ‘Who do we want to be as a country?’
“’Donald Trump – he will sell the soul of this country,’ Christie said in a stark direct-to-camera address. ‘I’m not perfect. I’ve made mistakes. But I will always tell you the truth.’ The 30-second spot, dubbed ‘The Choice,’ is the second part of the campaign’s recent seven-figure ad buy in New Hampshire – a state where Christie has staked the majority of his 2024 hopes. Yet, the former prosecutor is polling third in the state and in recent weeks has faced mounting calls from anti-Trump allies urging him to drop out and throw his support behind a candidate with better electoral chances.
“New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, an outspoken critic of Trump who endorsed former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in the GOP race, recently described Christie’s campaign as ‘at an absolute dead end.’ ‘I know he says he wants to stay in the race to speak the truth about Trump, but that translating to votes in a primary is a very different thing and he’s hit a ceiling,’ Sununu said Sunday on CNN’s ‘State of the Union.’”
The notion of Chris Sununu weighing-in on what’s wise in the 2024 Republican race is basically absurd. Sure, Sununu could and should understand what’s in the hearts of The Granite State’s mushy moderate GOP voters, but there isn’t a whole lot of difference between Haley and Christie for everyone else in states that could go for the GOP ticket.
New Hampshire isn’t a complete write-off as a competitive state, but its voters aren’t as representative of the Republican electorate as Iowa or South Carolina would turn out to be. And it isn’t because New Hampshire is “whiter” than other states, or more liberal, necessarily. The issues of concern to voters are somewhat the same, though different.
The most relevant part is, the posturing of card-carrying establishmentarians like Chris Sununu reveals, again, just how much they hate Donald Trump and couldn’t care less about Nikki Haley as a Republican, candidate, woman, “electable moderate” – or any other argument these types of slimy politicians and self-interested bluebloods would use against the runaway favorite in the race.
If this weren’t true, why wouldn’t the newfound Nikki-backers have come out early on and endorsed Haley when she tossed her proverbial hat into the ring almost a year ago? After all, Nikki was the first “name” potential contender for the Republican nomination crown, an attractive non-male candidate in what looked to be the uber-masculine race to upend the fiendish Donald Trump, who’d made it plain months before that he was running again but had to wait until after the 2022 midterm elections to announce it. Ever since that time, Haley’s made so many references to being a woman you’d almost question whether she possessed the DNA to prove it in the first place.
Let’s not forget that Haley was lagging in the low single digits in the polls as of late summer and needed some sort of spark to get her noticed for something other than her female hairstyle, rosy chipmunk cheeks and unique ability to throw out one-liners that some highly-paid establishment political consultant dreamed up for her. Race watchers with short attention spans forget the former Trump U.N. Ambassador was trailing upstart Vivek Ramaswamy (in terms of national polling average) until late September.
Until the debates started, Haley was an afterthought, ship ballast, a hanger-on without a brand or a catchy campaign slogan. Afterwards, she morphed into the “one” the elites were searching for.
The establishment’s Haley endorsements, therefore, smell surprisingly fishy considering the amount of star power and money could’ve potentially lifted her into big-time contention early on, maybe even with Trump, if the loot had been offered when it could’ve made a difference. But instead, the haters sat on their hands waiting for Trump’s legal problems to take hold – or were possibly even considering moving towards Ron DeSantis, though the Floridian’s demonstrated conservatism and unwillingness to kiss the bluebloods’ rings made him unattractive to them from the get-go.
I don’t think the swamp creatures would admit it, but it seems they’d rather try and work with Trump than DeSantis. Trump’s political style includes a healthy dose of bombast and name-calling, but the man has demonstrated a remarkable power to forgive when the formerly wayward doubters bent on one knee and expressed newfound fealty to the Trump political brand.
It was one of the downfalls of Trump’s first administration, namely a willingness to bring in his intra-party enemies with the goal of coalition-building or “unity”. I bet one could find nice things Trump said about Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell once upon a time, only to be continually betrayed by the backstabbers until he finally learned that they weren’t with his effort to Make America Great Again. They were against him.
The same is true with anyone like Nikki Haley who plays nice with the top brass of the party, earns their endorsements, and then will feel slighted when they eventually abandon her by the side of the campaign road like so many political prostitutes (not a woman reference, by the way) when she’s no longer useful to them. This almost certainly will happen in a few months’ time when Trump secures the GOP nomination and doesn’t show signs of including her in his MAGA 2.0 plans as vice president.
What good is she then?
As far as Chris Christie goes (you know, the old saying “I trust you about as far as I can throw you”), he’s correct in maintaining that if he dropped out that not all of his voters would automatically go to Nikki Haley. Christie’s followers aren’t as ideological as much as they just don’t like Trump. If Liz Cheney were to endorse a candidate in the 2024 race, she’d almost certainly attach herself to Christie like a barnacle to a whale. Okay, enough fat jokes for today.
If it could be said that Donald Trump roused disaffected “forgotten” populist voters in 2016 and kept their loyalty to today, Christie appeals to the kind of person who simply opposes Trump. It’s not a policy thing for most of them, but they could also be remnants from the old Bush/Romney GOP establishment – big government Republicans who favor foreign intervention and military adventures because they want to “save democracy” and spread a utopian vision to places like the mountains of Afghanistan, even if the people there don’t want anything to do with it.
Christie’s backers wouldn’t automatically go to Haley – they just might go to senile Joe Biden. Or simply sit out because they view Nikki as being too close to Trump. Or head to a “No Labels” third party candidate, where they can feel satisfied that they still voted – but didn’t go for Trump.
Questions on why Christie sticks to his campaign will linger as long as he stays in the race. Nikki Haley essentially became the establishment’s flavor of the hour because she was the only one who was potentially viable and could fulfill the role. As previously stated, Ron DeSantis was far too conservative – and governed in a similar manner to Trump – so he was out.
Vivek Ramaswamy ran to Trump’s right and generally opposes the establishment’s hunger for dumping money into overseas military ventures. Ramaswamy talks as though he’s a big government cutter, which isn’t what the elites truly desire. Plus, he largely self-funded and showed no hesitation in criticizing the status quo.
Mike Pence and Tim Scott never caught on. So they were out. Nikki Haley was the only one left standing. Her more recent flubs on the cause of the civil war and reluctance to criticize Trump notwithstanding, Haley’s a Bush/Romney Republican’s dream candidate.
Regardless of the hubbub, whoever finishes second to Donald Trump in Iowa and New Hampshire can’t expect much of a bump from the result. Losing by 30 points (or however much it ends up being) is still a monumental loss. Only in a crazy, mixed-up party nominating year like 2024 would anyone care about who edges out other candidates by a point or two and still trails the winner by such wide margins.
It's probably too late for the not-Trump candidates to exit the GOP race and still hope for consolidating the not-Trump vote. The fruitless exercise that is the 2024 Republican nominating contest will continue until the respective Trump-chasers decide that it’s no longer worth it. When will that be? Will they all endorse Trump vis-à-vis the real political enemy? Time will tell.
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