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Donald Trump continued his romp through the Republican presidential primaries on Tuesday with a victory in New Hampshire, where he was on track to win a comfortable majority, with 53 per cent of the vote as early results came in.
His only remaining opponent, Nikki Haley, trailed by some 10 points in a state where she had invested a huge amount of time and resources. It was an echo of last Monday, when Trump sailed through the Iowa caucuses with a record-setting majority. The former president’s polling lead is even larger nationwide.
No Republican presidential candidate in an open primary has ever held such a commanding position at this early point in the modern primary calendar.
How much better has he performed?
Trump’s results in New Hampshire and Iowa were improvements on his presidential debut in 2016, when he went on to win the White House. Then, against a roster of Republican rivals in New Hampshire, he won just 35 per cent of the vote, and in Iowa he finished second to Ted Cruz on 24 per cent.
Trump’s improvements come despite his facing a series of 91 criminal charges across four indictments, and refusing to show up in a series of debates with his opponents.
He is the first non-incumbent Republican since the modern primary system began in the 1970s to win the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.
For Haley, the former US ambassador to the UN, history is bleak: no Republican has ever won the nomination without winning at least one of these two contests.
There have been late-blooming nominees on the Democratic side who lost early and recovered — Joe Biden, for example, didn’t win a 2020 primary until South Carolina, the fourth contest. But winning early is a signal of viability, especially for donors. Haley, who has enjoyed the backing of several billionaires, stands to lose funding if she continues to perform poorly in the primaries.
Candidates who flounder early, especially those lacking national support, struggle to recover. “It can doom their campaigns,” said Alex Bolton, a political scientist at Emory University. Big losses in Iowa and New Hampshire “can have devastating headwinds for campaigns with lesser-known candidates”.
Tuesday’s result in New Hampshire aside, Haley is trailing even further behind Trump elsewhere. In the latest averages from FiveThirtyEight, Trump commands 68 per cent support nationwide to Haley’s 12 per cent — though many recent polls were conducted before Florida governor Ron DeSantis left the race over the weekend, and most of his supporters are expected to back Trump.
The next contested primary will take place late next month in South Carolina — Haley’s home state, where she served as governor from 2011 to 2017 — but she trails Trump in polling there by some 37 points.
Even before Tuesday, the Republican field had narrowed at a historic pace, daunted by a clear frontrunner, from six main candidates to two in just the past two weeks.
Despite her loss in New Hampshire, where she spent tens of millions of dollars on advertising — nearly double Trump — Haley has vowed to press on. Her campaign said on Tuesday morning that although “members of Congress, the press, and many of the weak-kneed fellas who ran for president are giving up and giving in — we aren’t going anywhere”.
According to tracking company AdImpact, Haley has already bought at least $2mn in ads that will run over the next month in several states with upcoming primaries, including South Carolina.
It was not impossible for a candidate to win the nomination after losing early, said Jacob Neiheisel, a political scientist at the University at Buffalo. But primary voters in places such as South Carolina and Michigan were not going to be “any less favourable towards Trump”.