2024

Nikki Haley Ducks New Hampshire Debate

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It’s dumb. She’s behind.”

That’s the blunt assessment from one GOP political strategist about Nikki Haley’s decision to skip a big debate heading into next week’s New Hampshire presidential primary. The move is all the more puzzling because Haley’s candidacy received a significant shot in the arm after performances that were widely viewed as positive in the first three Republican debates last summer and fall.

“I think it’s a monumentally stupid move,” GOP campaign veteran Michael Dennehy told a New Hampshire news outlet.

ABC News and its local affiliate WMUR-TV had been planning for weeks to host a GOP candidates debate this Thursday night – just five days before the important “First in the Nation” presidential primary that has turned into a head-to-head battle between Haley and former U.S. president Donald Trump.

But just hours after her dismal third-place showing in Monday’s Iowa Republican caucuses, Haley threw a curveball into those plans Tuesday morning. When a New Hampshire radio show host asked if she would be participating Thursday night, Haley fired back with this:

“Is Donald Trump going to be there?”

That was her new line in the sand: No Trump, No Haley.

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“If Trump gets on that stage, then I’m on that stage,” Haley continued. “Why would I debate anyone other than the person I want to defeat? I’m not going to debate people who are in single digits.”

Given that the former president passed on all five previous debates, using him as a fig leaf for bowing out was a sound tactical move. But was it wise strategically?

“Now is the time when she needs to drive independent voter turnout and use every media source available,” Dennehy noted. “She has chosen to duck the debate for fear of losing to DeSantis as she did last week. She will live to regret the decision because many independents are just starting to pay attention.”

Speaking of DeSantis, the Florida governor quickly pounced on Haley’s decision.

“We were supposed to have a debate Thursday night,” he said. “I committed to it, she’s now saying she’s not going to debate, and I understand why.”

DeSantis accused Haley’s campaign of having her “hermetically sealed” because “she’s got this problem with ‘ballistic podiatry:’ Shooting herself in the foot.”

Haley brushed off that broadside, moving the narrative back to her versus Trump.

“I’ve debated Ron five times already,” she said. “I don’t need to debate him again. I’m going after the frontrunner.”

However, Trump won’t be on that stage. And with the departure of entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy from the race earlier this week, that leaves only her and DeSantis. Because it takes two to make a debate, with Haley bowing out ABC pulled the plug on the encounter.

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“While our robust election coverage will continue, ABC News and WMUR-TV will not be moving forward with Thursday’s Republican presidential primary debate in New Hampshire,” the network said in its statement of surrender.

Even if Haley and DeSantis had gone head-to-head for a second time in two weeks, would it have mattered with the race’s biggest attraction again staying out of sight?

“Without Trump, the debate won’t get much of an audience,” said longtime New Hampshire political veteran Tom Rath. However, he added Haley “should take advantage of every opportunity to reach out to New Hampshire voters.”

Given her widely panned performance in the final GOP-sanctioned debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in December – and her lackluster showing when she went toe-to-toe with DeSantis in last week’s CNN debate in Iowa – Haley potentially had the most to lose this time around. After underwhelming in Iowa, finishing below expectations in New Hampshire next week could seriously undermine her claim that she and she alone is the only candidate capable of defeating Joe Biden in November.

Despite her mask of false bravado, it’s clear that was a risk Haley was unwilling to take.

So, Haley’s Granite State water carrier, outgoing governor Chris Sununu, is handling the dirty work of calling out the former president.

“This is a one-on-one race,” he said. “Donald Trump is chicken. He won’t get on the stage. He doesn’t want to engage with voters.”

If Trump has lost any sleep over skipping the planned ABC debate or any of the five encounters that came before it, it didn’t show at his first post-Iowa rally in Sandown, N.H., on Tuesday. A large crowd stood in line in the snowy cold for hours, awaiting admission into a resort ballroom. Then they waited several more hours while Trump was delayed due to court proceedings in Manhattan.

When he finally arrived, Trump apologized for keeping the crowd waiting. He then turned to the criminal cases he faces.

“They’re bullshit indictments,” Trump said. “I call them Biden indictments.”

He then added for good measure, “I’ve been indicted more times than Alphonse Capone.”

One quick update: As this article was going to press, news broke that Haley’s father, Ajit Singh Randhawa, had been hospitalized. Thankfully, early reports on his condition were positive and Haley was able to return to campaigning after a brief absence. We wish Randhawa a speedy recovery.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Mark Powell (Provided)

J. Mark Powell is an award-winning former TV journalist, government communications veteran, and a political consultant. He is also an author and an avid Civil War enthusiast. Got a tip or a story idea for Mark? Email him at mark@fitsnews.com.

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5 comments

Biden's Easiest Layup Yet? January 18, 2024 at 10:50 am

Call it for what it is. Trump won’t show up. Haley won’t show up. Most of the other dudes have either dropped out or have a morbid case of Ron Desantitis.

The right can’t debate.

Reply
Lord Barfington January 18, 2024 at 11:02 am

Trikki Nikki is afraid of appearing anywhere but Fox “News” where she can get softball interviews from sympathetic (and pathetic) questioners who won’t expose her ignorance and shallowness. Hey Nimrata, if there’s no racism in America then why don’t you go by your given name?

Reply
Nanker Phelge January 18, 2024 at 10:21 pm

“I think it’s a monumentally stupid move,”

It doesn’t matter. After she tanks in SC she’s toast.

Reply
Your Average Republican January 19, 2024 at 8:08 am

Debating political issues with real policy positions is Marxist. Give us vague platitudes about scary trans people or give us death!

Reply
RC January 20, 2024 at 12:56 pm

Guessing Fits will never write a “Trump ducks all debates” column

Reply

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