Will DeSantis' departure help or hurt Nikki Haley?


Following Ron DeSantis’ abrupt departure from the GOP primary yesterday, it looked like he had given Nikki Haley exactly what she’d been craving. Following Trump’s blowout win in Iowa, I recall chuckling a bit when Haley declared that the primary was basically a two-person race. After all, that’s an odd thing for the person who had just finished in third place to say. And yet, barely a week later, that’s what we have. But will this turn out to be a boon for Haley, or at least keep her hopes of winning the nomination alive? There are a couple of factors suggesting that it won’t and the Florida governor’s exit might even hurt her more than help her.

The first factor is the final pre-primary poll from the University of New Hampshire and CNN. Released yesterday, they still show Donald Trump at 50. Voters were still being offered DeSantis as a choice in that survey, but 50 remains the magic number. Then, as Lisa Kashinsky points out at Politico, with one less person nibbling at the pie, it will likely be impossible for Haley to drag Trump down below that number.

Nikki Haley’s supporters cheered when she relayed the news at an event on Sunday that Ron DeSantis had just dropped out of the presidential primary.

But his exit from the race — and his endorsement of Donald Trump — could make her quest to injure or topple Trump in New Hampshire on Tuesday far harder.

“DeSantis dropping out virtually eliminates any chance Haley has at keeping Trump under 50 percent,” said Mike Dennehy, a longtime New Hampshire GOP strategist who worked on John McCain’s 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns. “There’s a chance now that Trump could get 60 percent of the vote in New Hampshire.”

DeSantis was pulling only six percent in that poll, but that was enough to keep Haley down at 39. His voters will have to go somewhere tomorrow, so if any of them migrate to her, his exit could push her into the 40s. That’s a much better-sounding number than she ever had in Iowa, but it’s still not 50 and it’s still not a win. Making it into the 40s just doesn’t bring home all of the delegates. Also, DeSantis endorsed Trump on the way out, tossing a few critical remarks about Haley’s corporatist politics in for good measure. His voters aren’t obligated to follow his endorsement, but at least some of them surely will, leaving Trump above fifty.

New Hampshire is only the second contest in the primary, but it was already shaping up to possibly be Nikki Haley’s last, best hope. An outright victory there might have ignited her campaign and shaken up Trump’s base of support. But it really doesn’t look as if that’s going to happen now. From New Hampshire, they move on to Nevada where Haley isn’t even on the ballot, and then her home state of South Carolina where Trump still holds a wide lead.

The question here is obvious. How many consecutive losses can Nikki Haley run up before she either feels compelled to drop out or her generous corporate donors tire of pouring money down a rathole? I still recognize the value of and need for a primary process. Republican voters deserve to have choices and make the final determination of who their candidate will be. But nothing thus far has seemed to slow Donald Trump’s momentum appreciably.

Personally, this battle has delivered some unexpected turns. I really thought DeSantis would be the last one standing against Trump. He basically supported all of Trump’s policies and came without the “mean tweets” and other baggage some political analysts still believe could hold Trump back. Haley has been polling the best against Biden head-to-head while Trump’s lead is slimmer. But you go to war with the general you have, not the general you might wish you had. And Nikki Haley is running out of time to take up that mantle.

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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