President Donald Trump smashed his way to victory through the Iowa Caucus on Monday, cruising into victory over his second-place rival Gov. Ron DeSantis by 30 points. Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley came in third with 19 percent.
That was enough for Haley to declare victory.
“When you look at how we're doing in New Hampshire, in South Carolina and beyond, I can safely say tonight, Iowa made this Republican primary a two-person race," Haley said, sparking criticism that she was delusional about her political future.
Haley disappointed her team in Iowa as they were hoping for a surprise second-place finish over DeSantis. The Des Moines Register poll right before the caucus demonstrated a late surge for Haley. A third-place finish for the Florida Governor might have knocked him out of the race entirely.
As I wrote last week, I expect Trump to continue stomping through the rest of the Republican primaries, but for the sake of those who are anxiously hoping for a Nikki Haley upset, let's examine her chances.
“She's gonna get smoked. And you and I both know it, she's not up to this,” former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie unwittingly admitted candidly on a hot-mic before his announcement last Thursday that he would drop out of the race.
Christie’s decision to exit the race gave the Never-Trumpers and the Please-Not-Trump coalition new hope, as they calculated that pro-Chrstie Independents would gravitate to Haley’s camp to boost her over Trump.
The latest poll from Boston Globe/Suffolk University/NBC-10 Boston shows that Christie’s exit has had little effect on the race. Trump is leading with 50 percent, Haley at 34 percent, and Ron DeSantis in distant third place with five percent.
It looks pretty hopeless. Trump is still widely popular with New Hampshire Republicans and he is now attacking Haley. At a rally on Tuesday, he cast his former United Nations Ambassador as disloyal, recalling she once promised not to run in 2024 if Trump chose to run again.
“These are people that can't be trusted on taxes or trade or anything else,” Trump said. “They will betray you just like they betrayed me.”
Despite her remarkable polling boost in recent weeks, the momentum behind Haley is slowing. She decided to pass on the two Republican primary debates scheduled in New Hampshire after her disappointing finish in Iowa. ABC News and CNN canceled the events in response.
Haley’s only hope is that political independents, who are allowed to vote in the primary, rally to her side and deliver a surprise. The idea is not completely unwarranted.
New Hampshire Independents came in big for Sen. John McCain in 2000, allowing him to deliver a shock victory over George W. Bush by over 18 points. His victory sparked magazine covers celebrating the “McCain Mutiny,” even though Bush ultimately prevailed and won the nomination.
But Haley is no McCain. Polls before the primary showed McCain leading Bush by single digits in the state. Exit polls of the electorate showed McCain had strong support among Republicans as well as Independents.
So what’s left? Maybe the Trump threat could rally a coalition of NeverTrumpers and Trump-nervous Independents to deliver a smash victory for Haley.
The notion that Independents are anti-Trump is oversold by the media and consultants.
Exit polls from the 2016 primary showed that Trump earned 36 percent support from independents as well as 36 percent of Republicans. Even the latest poll from New Hampshire shows that Trump only lags behind Haley among independents by six points, while he dominates Republican support.
A strong enough anti-Trump coalition has previously failed to materialize in New Hampshire. In the 2016 Republican primary, only 16 percent of New Hampshire voters united around second-place finisher former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, while Trump easily won the state with 35 percent.
Haley still has a few days to shake up the race, but at this point, it's more likely than not that Christie is right about her chances.
Charlie Spiering is a Wyoming native who works in Washington, D.C., where he opines about the White House, Congress and national politics. A former writer for Breitbart News, The Washington Examiner and columnist Robert Novak, Spiering frequently returns home to the family farm in Powell to escape the insanity of Washington. He can be reached at: Charlie.Spiering@gmail.com