Trump defeats Haley in New Hampshire primary, bringing him closer to rematch with Biden

Donald Trump in Nashua, N.H., on Tuesday. Behind him from left are Vivek Ramaswamy, Sen. Tim Scott and Eric Trump
Donald Trump in Nashua, N.H., on Tuesday. Behind him from left are Vivek Ramaswamy, Sen. Tim Scott and Eric Trump. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
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Former President Donald Trump defeated former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, besting his last major challenger for the 2024 Republican nomination in what had been her strongest state — and moving closer to a general election rematch against President Biden.

The Associated Press called New Hampshire for Trump at 8 p.m. EST, just as the last polls closed there. With more than 80% of precincts reporting, Trump led Haley 55% to 44% — an insurmountable margin given the composition of the votes yet to be counted, according to AP.

Yet Haley claimed in her runner-up speech that by garnering "close to half of the vote," she'd earned the right to continue her campaign — even as she congratulated Trump and said he'd "earned" his win.

"We still have a ways to go, but we keep moving up," Haley said. "New Hampshire is first in the nation. It is not the last in the nation. This race is far from over. There are dozens of states left."

In response, a fuming Trump spent most of his own speech Tuesday falsely attacking Haley as an "imposter" who had claimed victory.

"Somebody ran up to the stage, all dressed up nicely," he said, referring to Haley. "She didn't win. She lost."

But "I don't get too angry," Trump continued. "I get even."

Did Haley miss her last best chance?

Nikki Haley
Nikki Haley at her primary night rally in Concord, N.H. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Trump’s victory in the Granite State’s first-in-the-nation primary comes on the heels of his historic 30-point win last week in the Iowa caucuses — a margin that forced that state’s distant second-place finisher, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, to end his campaign and endorse Trump just days before New Hampshire.

The Iowa results left Haley, who previously served as United Nations ambassador under Trump, with precisely what she had been hoping for all along: a “two-person race” in a state where pre-primary polling showed independent voters and moderate Republicans putting her within striking distance — and in some cases, within single digits — of the former president.

Given Trump’s strength with Republican voters, the hope for Haley was that a one-on-one upset in New Hampshire — or even a very narrow loss — would propel her into the Feb. 24 primary in her home state of South Carolina, the next major contest on the GOP calendar, with significant momentum.

But Haley’s failure to fully capitalize in New Hampshire now casts doubt on whether she can compete in the far more Trump-friendly primaries to come, and raises immediate questions about whether she will step aside or keep running — perhaps as a backup option just in case Trump’s legal problems eventually destabilize his campaign.

Haley’s team had long targeted New Hampshire — which has a large concentration of centrist, college-educated Republicans and allows independent voters to participate in party primaries — as the best place to put a win on the board and potentially complicate Trump’s march to a third-straight GOP nomination.

For months, a divided field of Republican rivals held Trump under 50% in the New Hampshire polls. Then, as summer turned to fall, Haley broke from the pack and started to surge on the strength of solid debate performances and the endorsement of popular GOP Gov. Chris Sununu. Some polls showed her at or above 40%.

Reflecting her rise, Haley’s campaign and its allied super-PACs spent a total of nearly $30 million on TV, radio and digital ads in New Hampshire — roughly double the $15 million spent on Trump’s side. At one point, Haley went so far as to joke that New Hampshire would “correct” the Iowa results.

With DeSantis out of the picture, Haley and her former employer focused their fire on each other in the final days of the race.

How Trump won

Trump employed what advisers called a “pincer” strategy, squeezing Haley from the right on border issues and from the left on her willingness to raise the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare.

The night before the primary, the former president rallied with a trio of ex-candidates who’d dropped out and endorsed him — South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy — in a show of force meant to convey a united GOP.

Haley, meanwhile, sharpened her last-minute attacks on Trump, suggesting Sunday that the mental acuity of her 77-year-old opponent was in decline after he repeatedly mistook her for former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a recent speech.

But ultimately, Haley’s closing argument — that the “two 80-year-olds running for president when we have a country in disarray and a world on fire” are “equally bad” — fell short in the one state that seemed most open to it.

While Haley won 60% of New Hampshire independents (who made up 43% of the primary electorate, according to exit polls), Trump still won 74% of Republicans (who comprised slightly more than half of the electorate).

Haley also fell prey to the old adage: “be careful what you wish for — you just might get it.”

As hoped, the South Carolinian overperformed her polls on Primary Day in part because fans of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — an outspoken Trump critic with double-digit local support — broke her way after Christie dropped out earlier this month.

Yet Trump also benefited from a narrower field, winning a majority of the vote with the help of would-be DeSantis backers, who preferred the former president over Haley as their second choice by a 2-to-1 margin (according to pre-primary surveys).

This dynamic may have informed the decision by DeSantis — who had been preparing a last stand in South Carolina — to drop out before New Hampshire.

The race heads to South Carolina

Nikki Haley with Chris Sununu, left
Nikki Haley with New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, left, in Hampton. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, Haley vowed to soldier on to South Carolina. Haley's campaign previously announced a $4 million statewide ad buy in South Carolina, and she will hold a rally Wednesday night in North Charleston, S.C.

“South Carolina voters don't want a coronation; they want an election,” Haley told supporters. “And we're gonna give them one."

That said, the latest polling averages show Haley (25%) trailing Trump (61%) by 37 points in her home state — and by even wider margins in subsequent, delegate-rich states such as Wisconsin (-34 points), Ohio (-48 points), Florida (-52 points) and Texas (-53 points).

Nationally, the most recent Yahoo News/YouGov survey, from mid-December, found Trump leading Haley 70 percent to 19 percent in a head-to-head matchup.

Looking ahead, the Haley campaign has identified its make-or-break moment as the March 5 pileup of primaries known as Super Tuesday — many of which are open to independents.

“Until then, everyone should take a deep breath," Haley's campaign manager wrote in a memo released Tuesday.

Trump’s first federal trial — for 2020 election interference — is scheduled to start on March 4.