US Republican final or turning point in New Hampshire?

Can Trump’s march through the US Republican primary campaign be stopped? There’s not much to be said for it. But the vote in small New Hampshire should not be underestimated.

It’s a vile video that hits like a bomb shortly before the primary election for the Republican presidential nomination in New Hampshire. “If there was anything I could do to get a favorable result, more campaign stops, more interviews, I would do it,” Ron DeSantis said in a video uploaded to Platform X on Sunday afternoon.

“But I can’t ask our supporters to volunteer their time and donate their money if we don’t have a clear path to victory.” So that’s it: Ron DeSantis is out of the Republican presidential race, leaving Donald Trump and Nikki Haley.

DeSantis’ exit bad for Haley

The former US ambassador to the United Nations’ chances in Tuesday’s vote in New Hampshire were not as bad as elsewhere. She could perhaps have won there against former US President Donald Trump. A victory would have been very unlikely, but Trump is clearly ahead in the polls here too. But the gap is significantly smaller than elsewhere.

With DeSantis’ exit, their chances of success have worsened. Because the Florida governor’s supporters are likely to defect to Trump. DeSantis’ poll numbers in New Hampshire are in the single digits. But his message is clear: “Even though I have differences of opinion with Donald Trump (…), Trump is superior to the current incumbent Joe Biden.” One cannot return to the repackaged “old Republican guard of yesterday” in the form of Nikki Haley, demanded DeSantis.

In the first primary election in strictly religious Iowa a week ago, Haley, who is considered somewhat more moderate, only came third. Her arch-conservative competitor DeSantis came in second, just a few percentage points ahead of Haley. Trump won in a landslide, winning by more than 30 percentage points. In national polls, his lead over Haley and DeSantis is even larger. The race seems to be over before it has really begun: Trump, the unstoppable favorite. It looked like a duel for second place – DeSantis versus Haley. That was settled shortly before the vote in New Hampshire. Now it’s Haley vs. Trump.

A more moderate electorate

The state with its almost 1.4 million inhabitants is in principle not important for the primary election campaign, says Andrew Smith from the University of New Hampshire to the German Press Agency. There he heads the center for opinion polls and researches voter surveys. In New Hampshire there are hardly any delegates to be won for the party’s nomination convention. But what matters is what story is in the media after the vote in New Hampshire, says Smith. If Haley were to win here, there would be positive coverage and a lot of tailwind in the coming weeks. “And that’s priceless.” He makes it clear: “If Trump wins in New Hampshire, he is the candidate. The game is over.”

The 52-year-old Haley benefits from the more moderate electorate in New Hampshire – it is therefore by no means certain that her success will continue here in other states. Even before he dropped out of the entire race, it looked as if DeSantis had more or less written off New Hampshire. According to observers, the 45-year-old, who restricts the rights of minorities and restricts teaching freedom in his state, was more focused on the primary election in South Carolina at the end of February.

“The money wasn’t there to keep going,” a leading DeSantis donor told CNN. With his early exit from the race, he can now put an end to the election campaign before he suffers any further serious defeats. And then possibly focus on running in the 2028 US election.

Trump attacks Haley

While DeSantis was once Trump’s biggest competitor in the race for the candidacy, Trump now increasingly focused on Haley. DeSantis, who often seems uncharismatic and wooden, has collapsed in the polls in recent months, while Haley has fought her way up. The two were about evenly matched in national polls – but Trump still had a lead of more than 50 percent over each of them.

His verbal attacks on the daughter of Indian immigrants showed that he recently saw Haley as a threat. As is often the case with Trump, they were racist in nature. For example, he spread the false claim that Haley could not become president because her parents were not US citizens when she was born. It almost seems cynical that Haley repeatedly emphasizes during the election campaign that the USA is not a racist country. She puts Trump’s racism into perspective: “That’s what he does when he feels unsafe. I don’t take these things personally, it doesn’t bother me.”

Haley would have to rely on Trump’s supporters

There are four criminal proceedings against the ex-president, including because of his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. At that time he lost to Democrat Joe Biden. “He was the right president at the right time,” Haley repeats like a mantra. The fact that Haley doesn’t attack Trump because of his behavior after the election is also because she doesn’t want to alienate his supporters. If Trump does drop out of the race, be it for health reasons or because of his legal problems, Haley will need this.

But she can’t count on the support of Trump supporters any more than she can count on that of DeSantis. “I will fight and I will win,” she said after DeSantis’ surprise withdrawal. How strong she is shows that only she is left as a serious opponent of Trump. However, observers assume that Haley could be aiming for the office of vice president. If Trump chooses her, it would be a smart move because he could attract more moderate Republicans to his side. But it is possible that Trump and his cult-like following would prefer to rely on someone more radical from their own camp who is loyal to Trump.