Nikki Haley swept the first votes cast in New Hampshire, but it was downhill from there.
In the town of Dixville Notch, which has this strange ritual of voting after midnight, all six votes went to Haley, with journalists outnumbering them 10 to 1.
It was clear that many at CNN and MSNBC were rooting for Haley, grasping at exit-poll figures that seemed favorable and downplaying Trump-friendly statistics, such as that 63% described themselves as very or somewhat conservative. “The Nikki Haley campaign has to be happy so far with what they’re seeing,” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said.
Well, not so much. When the last polls closed at 8 p.m. ET, the cable news networks said the race was “too early to call.” By then, Trump had jumped out to a 52 to 46% lead.
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Within 13 minutes, NBC and Fox News projected Donald Trump the winner. Five minutes later, CNN called the primary for Trump as well.
The only question now was the margin.
Almost immediately, Haley came out smiling and swinging away, as if she had just cruised to victory. “What a great night. God is so good. Thank you, New Hampshire!”
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She seemed detached from reality, until she devoted one sentence to congratulating Trump on his victory.
Then the former governor declared “we got close to half the vote.” Except, well, in a two-person race that’s not good enough.
Haley then started attacking the man who named her U.N. ambassador, a montage of lines she has used before. Clearly fired up, she said Republicans have lost election after election under Trump. She said it was “time to put the negativity and chaos behind us.” She said Trump had a “senior moment,” after describing how he blamed her for Jan. 6 when he meant Nancy Pelosi. And her favorite, well-worn line: “A Trump nomination is a Biden win and a Kamala Harris presidency.”
By the time Haley finished, Trump’s lead was up to 10%. Half an hour later, it was up to 12%.
On CNN, former Obama White House official David Axelrod expressed doubt that Haley would want to contest her home state of South Carolina, where Trump has a huge lead in the polls.
Even Maddow conceded “she can’t win in South Carolina.”
When Trump came out, he mocked Haley’s address:
“She’s doing a speech like she won. She didn’t win, she lost… She pretended she won Iowa… She had a very bad night… She’s still hanging around.”
Then came the accusation he can’t let go of: “We also won in 2020.”
And noting his lead in most general election polls, Trump said: “Beating Biden–who the hell can’t.”
And then he pivoted to the border mess.
When Haley’s day began with a “Fox & Friends” interview, it was clear that she had reached the when-are-you-dropping-out stage, and the former South Carolina governor pushed back hard against what she calls the “elite media.”
“No, I don’t get out if I lose today… We’ve had 56,000 people vote for Donald Trump,” Haley said, meaning in Iowa.
“I don’t care how much y’all want to coordinate Donald Trump. At the end of the day, that’s not what Americans want. Americans want a choice.”
Brian Kilmeade jumped in: “I’m really wondering why you think we’re the enemy.”
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“Because I’ve looked at the media, look at the media saying, ‘Oh, this is Donald Trump’s to have,’ look at the political class all coalescing and saying, ‘everybody needs to get out.’ That’s not democracy. That’s not who we are, who we are. When have we ever had two people, down to two people in New Hampshire? And you say, oh, it’s over.”
Could Haley have made it a tighter race in what should be her best state, in part because independents – and Democrats who changed their registration months ago – can vote in the GOP primary?
It turns out that Ron DeSantis, who also faced a barrage of are-you-toast questions, hurt Haley by dropping out Sunday and endorsing Trump. Polls show that his voters went to the former president by a 2-to-1 margin.
Haley’s miscalculations included canceling two debates with DeSantis, in which she could have made a passionate appeal to the voters, and not hitting Trump hard until the final few days. She also kept a light schedule, didn’t take town hall questions for days and basically stuck to her stump speech, which didn’t make much news.
Her campaign soon put out a memo saying “not going anywhere” and explaining why several states “are fertile ground for Nikki.”
In Trump’s final speech, in which he called Haley “not electable,” he’s widely reported to have slurred some words (though I don’t know why critics are obsessing over a brief reference to himself in the third person).
“We have become a drug-infested, crime-ridden nation which is incapable of solvin’ even the swollest, smallest problem, the simplest of problems we can no longer solve. We can’t do anything.
“We are an institute in a powerful death penalty! We will put this on!”
Joe Biden’s campaign jumped on this as part of a concerted effort to portray the 77-year-old front-runner as clearly slipping – obviously to counter the liability that even many Democrats see the 81-year-old president as too old for a second term.
Much of the media, especially some MSNBC shows, are also pushing the narrative that Trump is confused, especially since he mixed up Haley with Nancy Pelosi.
A headline in the liberal New Republic says “Donald Trump is Losing It. Will the Media Make It a Story?”
But even before the results were in, the media pivoted to whether Trump can win the general election, which shows they consider him the nominee, as does the veepstakes chatter.
Politico says “Donald Trump has a problem no matter what happens in New Hampshire on Tuesday night: There’s a whole swath of the Republican electorate and a good chunk of independents who appear firmly committed to not voting for him in November if he becomes the nominee.” Political veterans warn this “makes it much harder for him to win back the people he’s alienated, including those once willing to vote Republican.”
John Kelly, Trump’s second chief of staff, gave a statement to CNN about his ex-boss: “A person who cavalierly suggests that a selfless warrior who has served his country for 40 years in peacetime and war should lose his life for treason – in expectation that someone will take action. A person who admires autocrats and murderous dictators. A person that has nothing but contempt for our democratic institutions, our Constitution, and the rule of law.
“There is nothing more that can be said,” the retired general concluded. “God help us.”
But if he feels that strongly, why wait until New Hampshire primary day to say so?
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Look for much more of this. To be sure, Trump drew a flood of negative coverage during the runup to Iowa and New Hampshire, but it was mixed with grudging admiration for his comeback since Jan. 6, ju-jitsu flipping of the four indictments, and surge in the polls. One might even have detected a sense that the media wanted Trump to win the nomination: He’s always the best story, and was viewed as the only candidate President Biden could beat.
Now that he’s overtaken the incumbent in most polls, the media are already shifting to full opposition.