As this installment of our Palmetto Political Stock Index was going to press, the 2024 Republican presidential primary saw some major breaking news as Florida governor Ron DeSantis withdrew from the race – and endorsed former president Donald Trump.
To read more on that breaking development (and what ultimately led to it), click here.
DeSantis’ decision reorients the calculus of the GOP contest even further in Trump’s favor … and could very well mean this Tuesday’s primary in New Hampshire will wind up being the last contested Republican election of the 2024 cycle.
“First in the South?”
This race could be officially over before South Carolinians even get their chance to go to the polls on February 24, 2024.
For the past ten months, our founding editor Will Folks and political columnist Mark Powell have been tracking trajectories in this race via our index. As previously noted, each installment is an assessment of how our subjects fared over the previous seven days. Positive reports don’t reflect endorsements, and negative ones aren’t indicative of vendettas. We just call ‘em like we see ‘em.
To view the most recent index, click here. And to get your historical fix, click here. Got a hot “stock tip” for our consideration? Email Will (here) and/ or Mark (here). Just make sure to include “Palmetto Political Stock Index” in the subject line.
With a potentially election-defining day now just 48 hours away in New Hampshire, let’s see where you should invest your political capital …
And then there were two. On Sunday afternoon, former president Donald Trump got exactly what he wanted heading into Tuesday’s voting in the Granite State: An unobstructed path to a blowout victory. Even before Florida governor Ron DeSantis dropped out of the race on Sunday afternoon – and gave Trump his backing – the prevailing political winds were clearly blowing Trump’s way.
Two big polls released on Sunday morning showed Trump as the formidable favorite of New Hampshire Republicans. A CNN/University of New Hampshire survey had Trump at 50 percent compared to 39 percent for his closest rival, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley. Meanwhile a Suffolk University/ Boston Globe poll had Trump at 55 percent compared to 36 percent for Haley.
Trump’s remarkable week commenced last Monday night in Iowa – where he routed his dwindling field of rivals. Sub-zero temperatures and even colder wind chills depressed turnout somewhat, but most caucus-goers who braved the wintry blast were solidly in Trump’s camp. He breezed to victory with 51 percent of the vote. DeSantis was second with 21.2 percent, while Haley came in third with 19.1 percent.
With the campaign shifting to New England, Trump is now like a coach trying to run up the score – and he’s finishing his campaign in New Hampshire on a distinctly Southern note. At Saturday night’s big rally in Manchester, a Who’s Who’s of South Carolina Republican officials took to the stage to showcase their support for him. They included congressman Russell Fry, House speaker Murrell Smith and governor Henry McMaster, who told the crowd that “New Hampshire is for Trump, and South Carolina is, too – we’ll see you at the finish line.”
This week is literally do-or-die for the former Palmetto State governor – although with the way the chips are currently falling, Haley’s campaign might not even make it ‘Til Tuesday. With crunch time at hand, you can track her rapidly fading fortunes in the words of her biggest Granite State booster, governor Chris Sununu.
Dec. 17, 2023: “She’s going to win in a landslide, and that’s not an exaggeration.”
Jan 3, 2023: “We’ve got this wrapped up, guys … we’re gonna win.”
Jan. 18, 2023: “You know, a strong second is going to be great; that’s wonderful.”
The aura of being the Trump dragon-slayer that Haley spent all last year careful crafting began unraveling in December with her underwhelming performance in the final GOP-sponsored debate. Just days later, she stepped in it when a Democrat plant at a town hall asked her what caused the Civil War, and she didn’t include the left’s only acceptable answer of slavery. That rankled New England Yankees, who cling to the myth that a single issue triggered the War Between the States (for a deeper dive into that topic, click here). It also gave Haley’s moderate supporters pause, and some began taking a step back from her campaign. Her much-trumpeted “surge” was over.
Next came her abysmal showing in last week’s Iowa GOP caucuses. Though she hadn’t been expected to do well in the Hawkeye State, failing to get one of every five votes there was hard to successfully spin.
Which brings us to New Hampshire. Haley immediately said “no” to a pre-primary TV debate tradition because Trump wasn’t participating. GOP political pros tried to understand her rationale. “It’s dumb; she’s behind,” one said in a no-holds-barred assessment.
Then there was Saturday, when Haley turned 52. A local activist in the liberal enclave of Nashua claims police removed her from a campaign event as she tried to give Haley a birthday present—lingerie from Victoria’s Secret. Global warming crazies crashed her speech in the same town that night, interrupting her remarks while waving banners proclaiming, “Climate Criminal.”
Haley also received some brutal questions from veterans at a local fast food joint … about how much money she’s spending with fake news media to finish a distant second to Trump.
Such is life on the campaign trail in the “Live Free or Die” state.
As it stands now, New Hampshire is shaping up as the death knell for Haley’s candidacy – although she is vowing to stay in the primary through Super Tuesday no matter what happens there or in her home state of South Carolina.
South Carolina’s junior U.S. senator Tim Scott is now formally in the corner of the man he tried to defeat. Scott burst onto the stage at a Trump rally in Concord, New Hampshire on Friday night and declared himself officially aboard the Trump Train.
Scott displayed an energy and enthusiasm that was often missing during his own quest for the GOP presidential nomination. “Is this Trump Country?” he asked the MAGA faithful with the fervor of a Baptist tent rival preacher. (For the record, the faithful faithfully roared back, “Yes!”)
Continuing in his come-to-the-altar vibe, Scott led a call-and-response round of questions, asking attendees if they supported such things as “closing our southern border,” “stopping crime in the streets,” and “protecting your Social Security and my momma’s Social Security.” (Again, for the record, they do.)
Scott’s endorsement of Trump was a major boost for the former president’s campaign. But it was also a major slap in Haley’s face. You will recall she tapped the then little-known congressman from Charleston to fill an open Senate seat in 2013. Such is loyalty in the political world.
Scott’s appearance Friday night was more than a coming attraction for the cavalcade of South Carolina GOP support displayed the following night. It was widely viewed as an audition for bigger things – including possibly becoming the former (future?) president’s running mate this summer or landing a high-profile gig should there be Trump II: The Sequel.
Most politicians expect their ring to be kissed before bestowing largesse. Trump goes beyond that, demanding a public profession of fealty.
Was that what we really witnessed in Concord last Friday night?
Ron DeSantis is trading in his parka for a Tommy Bahama shirt. Less than 24 hours after stumping in South Carolina – including a rally in Lexington with earlier stops in Myrtle Beach and Florence – the Florida governor called it quits and endorsed Trump.
Having bet everything on Iowa, his second-place finish there – combined with flagging poll numbers in New Hampshire and South Carolina – signaled an end to his once-promising bid.
Once reliably conservative New Hampshire has grown increasingly purple in recent years (due largely to an infusion of residents from neighboring Massachusetts). That made it a less-than-ideal state for DeSantis’ hardline conservative message. The two new New Hampshire polls mentioned earlier that dropped Sunday morning both showed him with only six percent support. So, DeSantis faced up to the inevitable in a video released Sunday afternoon.
His departure dropped hints that even though he’s done with 2024, the GOP may not be done with Ron DeSantis.
He quoted the ultimate Comeback Kid, Winston Churchill, as he withdrew.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; It is the courage to continue that counts.”
Sounds like the words of someone who’s already eying 2028 …
It’s important to remember Joe Biden has two primary challengers, and while his name won’t be on New Hampshire’s ballot Tuesday, theirs will.
Biden’s attempt to reorder the Democratic calendar excluded the Granite State primary – which he has deemed illegitimate. As a result, he is not officially a candidate and will receive only write-in votes (more on those in a moment).
As for his top rival, U.S. congressman Dean Phillips is finding out the hard way that his “Minnesota Nice” campaign style isn’t playing well with flinty New Englanders. He’s also discovering there’s no safe haven for him anywhere on the Left.
Biden supporters consider him a traitor for running against the 81-year-old incumbent. Meanwhile, the president’s Democratic opponents are upset with Phillips for not going after Biden’s jugular vein. That makes him a kind Maytag Repairman in Democratic circles. Though Phillips has seen a slight uptick in his polling numbers the past week, it’s not big enough to cause worries at the White House.
Nationally, Phillips remains “Dean Who?”
You can’t help feeling sorry for New Hampshire’s hundreds of voter counters. They may have a real mess on their hands Tuesday night, and it will be entirely Joe Biden’s fault.
In a spectacular burst of political pettiness, the president who was twice shellacked in the primary there (in 2008 and again in 2020), made sure it wouldn’t happen a third time. Displaying a level of vindictiveness usually seen from Mafia bosses, Biden ordered his Democratic National Committee to strip New Hampshire of its cherished place as the home of the first-in-the-nation primary, a distinction it has held for 104 years.
And this is where things get complicated.
By the rules his DNC dictated, Biden’s name can’t appear on the New Hampshire ballot. When state Democrats there vowed to go ahead with their primary anyway, top Granite State Dems launched a campaign to write in Biden’s name. (Something similar happened in 1968 when supporters wrote in incumbent President Lyndon Johnson’s name. Though he won that primary, his anemic 49.62 percent showing convinced him drop out of the race soon after.)
The DNC sent a letter to state party officials saying Tuesday’s rump Democrat primary is “meaningless” (and which was immediately blasted as being “voter suppression,” too).
Late last week, a group of progressive pro-Palestinian activists launched their “Ceasefire Campaign.” They’re asking Democrats to write “ceasefire” on the ballot to protest the Biden Administration’s support of Israel in its war with Hamas. As one organizer said, “the bombs being used in (Israel’s) genocide are coming from the Democratic Party.”
That drew the ire of local Jewish organizations. The head of one suggested, “I love the idea of a write-in. Perhaps they could write in, ‘Release the hostages?’”
Lastly, even New Hampshire Republicans are getting in on the act. GOP state legislators are pushing their own “Write in Bozo” campaign. Said one, “only a clown with a record like (Biden’s) chooses to disrespect our sacred New Hampshire primary. If you’re going to write in a clown, we would encourage you to write in ‘Bozo,’”
Biden, Bozo, Ceasefire … plus the usual cornucopia of off-the-wall names people always write in every election. Thanks to Joe Biden, New Hampshire Democrats have plenty of options to choose from on Tuesday.
THE HALEY-TRUMP FEUD
We have previously reported that back channel conversations had been underway for months between Trump World and Team Haley over a possible Trump-Haley ticket at this summer’s GOP convention.
Recently, though, something went terribly wrong. That train not only jumped the tracks; it crashed and went up in flames. Sources in both camps tell us the two sides are no longer talking. Their tête-à-tête is now buried beneath a pile of mutual animus. In fact, the situation has turned into open warfare.
Trump took things public on Friday night …
“She’s not presidential timber,” he told supporters. “Now, when I say that, that probably means that she’s not going to be chosen as the vice president.”
Those words were likely meant to also reassure anxious MAGA backers who’ve lately warned the former president against choosing her.
For her part, Haley slammed the door on that possibility as well, saying, “I don’t want to be anybody’s vice president; that’s off the table.”
But the bad blood runs deeper than that. Early last Tuesday morning, just hours after the Iowa caucuses had concluded, NBC News reported remarks from someone identified only as “a Trump adviser” that carried a cryptic threat: “Nikki should get out while people still talk about her for 2028, or she’ll end up like all the 2016s that nobody thinks of as future presidents anymore. A protracted ground war will cost us our money, but it will cost Nikki her reputation and image.”
Barely 72 hours later, that veiled threat was fulfilled. The British newspaper, The Daily Mail, ran a major piece with fresh information about an old story. South Carolina readers are well acquainted with the claims — supported by affidavits — that Haley had extramarital relationships with at least two men (including this news site’s founding editor) while a married state representative more than fifteen years ago.
Haley has vigorously and steadfastly denied those claims. However, The Daily Mail story contained new confirmation of the claims from witnesses.
Haley’s response? Her campaign banned the paper’s reporters from cover her campaign events. That made an editorial appearing in the paper ask the following question: “Is she running to be president of America… or a tinpot communist state?”
NEW HAMPSHIRE TURNOUT
Elections always come down to turnout. But the various scenarios that could play out in New Hampshire on Tuesday are especially intriguing to consider. And just like armchair coaches on the eve of a big game, political junkies are spinning an array of possibilities for what may happen.
First, it’s important to the remember that in New Hampshire, only registered Republicans can vote in the GOP primary; only registered Democrats can cast a ballot in the Democratic primary. But here’s where it gets really interesting.
Unaffiliated voters can vote in the primary of their choosing.
Nikki Haley’s big argument is that she appeals to independents. But that also leads to criticism that she’s actually more “Democrat Lite” than real “Republican.” Can she get enough of those unaffiliated voters to show up Tuesday to knock Trump off his perch atop the GOP? Or even come close?
As always, the answer lies in turnout.
Trump’s MAGA base is heading into Tuesday’s voting like crusaders marching off to the Holy Land. Moderates’ enthusiasm? Not so much.
Finally, some context to the numbers. When Trump won the New Hampshire primary in 2016, there was record Republican turnout of 285,000 voters.
New Hampshire secretary of state David Scanlan is predicting 322,000 GOP votes will be cast on Tuesday, a 20 percent increase from eight years ago. Some political pros expect the number to be closer to 340,000.
Conventional wisdom holds the bigger the turnout, the better for Haley. But then, conventional wisdom doesn’t have the best track record so far in the 2024 cycle.
This much is a sure bet: Whatever happens, Tuesday night’s election returns are not only bound to be interesting … they could be potentially decisive for an election that with each passing day appears to be over before it really even started.
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