Early Tuesday morning, Nikki Haley’s campaign tried to keep hope alive with a statement full of bravado and a pledge to keep going beyond New Hampshire.
The statement’s implicit acceptance of defeat turned out to be true, but it was hardly a close race and her decision to continue reflects more hope than reality.
Yet while Haley lives to fight Donald Trump another day, the road only gets harder from here. She had the endorsement of the Granite State’s popular governor, Republican Chris Sununu, and feasted on the votes of non-Republicans, advantages that will be almost impossible to repeat.
Still, she did well enough to forestall the media ritual of an autopsy of why and where it all went wrong. The insiders who can be counted on to spill gossipy details about how the once-promising effort lost its way will be put on hold.
But make no mistake: there is little reason to believe her train is bound for glory. Trump appears to be unstoppable as he aims to make history by winning the GOP nomination for the third time.
After his dismal second-place finish in Iowa, Gov. Ron DeSantis saw the light and announced he was dropping out and endorsing the former president. DeSantis’ flop was indeed a crash and burn given the high expectations attached to his campaign.
Haley will get some of that second-guessing after losing in New Hampshire because this was a state widely seen as her last, best chance to stop Trump.
And while she promises to soldier on, the results so far suggest that neither she, DeSantis, nor a half-dozen other Republicans who sought the nomination ever had a good chance of success.
Instead, it appears to me more likely that Trump would have won no matter who challenged him, how much money they raised or how well they ran their campaigns.
That conclusion reflects the former president’s victories in Iowa and New Hampshire as well as his prospects ahead. Incredibly, polls in the next 10 states on the GOP calendar all show him with a lead of at least 30 points, including Haley’s home state of South Carolina.
The upshot is that rather than searching for the whys of the other candidates’ defeats, we should instead come to grips with why Trump could prove to be unbeatable in the primaries and why he has a real chance of winning the White House a second time.
The short answer is that we are witnessing a durable political movement unlike any seen in modern America. The part of the electorate that hates Trump really, really hates him, yet it is matched in size and intensity by those who see him as the last, best hope.
Without that enormous well of support, he would have been crushed by the coordinated onslaught against him.
And yet that same onslaught, much of it the result of unfair media coverage and partisan actions that shattered political norms, also played a major role in his revival.
So did the mistakes of Trump’s Republican opponents, all of whom misjudged his hold on the party and its most faithful voters. One example: he has won a majority in each of the first two states.
Despite their experiences and motivations, Haley, DeSantis, Chris Christie and others decided to enter the nomination chase about a year ago based on false assumptions over how much of Trump’s support was solid and how much was soft, and could therefore be pulled away.
At the time, Trump’s support ranged from 30 to 40%. The belief among his opponents was that about 25% of the GOP was fully committed to the former president and that anything above that could be persuaded to switch to someone else.
The added thought was that, once Trump lost the nomination, even some of his hardcore supporters would back the party’s nominee.
They seemed reasonable assumptions, given the shambolic end to Trump’s term in the White House. Top aides, wary of his stolen-election claims and the crew of strange outsiders who suddenly became vital parts of his legal team, had started abandoning ship even before the Capitol riot on Jan. 6. Others quickly followed in protest after that awful day.
Democrats, of course, seized on the riot and Nancy Pelosi’s House quickly impeached the president for the second time, but again failed to gain a conviction that might have disqualified him from running again.
Push to prosecute
Still, like a dog with a bone, Pelosi’s crew never let go and kept pushing new Attorney General Merrick Garland to prosecute participants as a way of discrediting Trump and the GOP.
President Biden, we learned later, also let it be known to Garland that he wanted Trump prosecuted for his role in the riot.
That was clearly inappropriate, and exactly the kind of infraction Dems accuse Trump of committing. But when Biden did it, there was not a peep of protest from the party or the media.
Most congressional Republicans were silent, too, reflecting their own desire to be rid of Trump and his chaos.
Facing no resistance, the administration’s efforts mushroomed beyond and soon took on elements of a wholesale political vendetta. The solitary confinement and long prison sentences handed down to Jan. 6 rioters were often out of proportion, especially at a time when prosecutors in Washington, DC, and other big blue cities were going soft on violent street crimes, including rape, car-jacking and murder.
By August of 2022, when Garland approved the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago in a search for classified documents, many Americans subscribed to the view that Dems were weaponizing law enforcement for purely political purposes.
Coming after the Russia, Russia, Russia hoax that dominated Trump’s first years in office, the unprecedented raid and subsequent indictments ended any doubts there was a double standard of justice.
And for extra evidence, don’t forget The Post’s continuing revelations of the sordid saga of Hunter Biden and the family’s influence-peddling schemes, all of which languished in Garland’s crooked Department of Justice.
As if that weren’t enough to bring Trump’s political corpse back to life, Biden did the rest by proving day after day that he was not fit for the Oval Office.
Biden the worst ever
He was and is, quite simply, a terrible president, arguably the worst ever. From his bumbling, befuddled appearances to his enormous policy failures that are helping spark domestic and global tensions, he managed to boost the case for the man he had soundly defeated.
Because many of Biden’s key failures are in areas where Trump had succeeded, including the economy, controlling inflation and achieving border security and peace abroad, voters have a handy comparison that tilts in Trump’s favor.
One result is that while Trump’s train is gaining momentum, polls show that a majority of voters in Biden’s own party don’t want him to seek a second term. His choice of Kamala Harris for vice president has further weakened him because of the likelihood he would not make it through an additional four more years, and nobody wants her to be president.
So here we are, a full 10 months before Election Day and Nikki Haley is all that stands between a 2020 rematch. If she falters and if Trump keeps his focus and his cool, he can put Biden’s record on trial and make the incumbent play defense.
All else being equal, that’s a huge advantage.