The Memo: Trump tightens hold on GOP

Former President Trump tightened his grip on the Republican Party on Tuesday with a solid victory in the New Hampshire primary.

Trump appeared on course for a double-digit victory in the Granite State, crushing Nikki Haley’s hopes for an upset that could have reset the race.

With roughly 75 percent of the votes counted at 11p.m. ET, Trump held an 11-point lead over Haley, his former United Nations ambassador and his last remaining credible rival for the nomination.

Haley insisted in her primary night speech that “this race is far from over.”

Not that far.

Trump has won both early contests in emphatic fashion, even if his victory in New Hampshire was much smaller than his 30-point romp in the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses. He is the first non-incumbent Republican since 1976 to win both contests.

Haley now must mull a tough decision — whether to continue her campaign into her native South Carolina, which holds its primary on Feb. 24, or call it quits.

Having served as the Palmetto State’s governor from 2011 to 2017, she might hold out hope for a home-state miracle. But there is zero evidence of that in the polls so far, where she lags Trump by an enormous margin. 

Trump is 34 points ahead of Haley in South Carolina, according to the polling average maintained by The Hill and Decision Desk HQ.

It’s hard to imagine that Haley would have the stomach to endure an electoral humiliation in her home state. But her campaign insists that she is looking to South Carolina and beyond — including Super Tuesday, March 5, when more than a dozen states will vote.

Haley also faces the question of how, exactly, she can persuasively argue she has any path to victory.

Trump and his allies insist no such path exists. The main super-PAC supporting Trump called on Haley to drop out of the race on Tuesday night. 

“Every day she stays in the race is another day she delivers to the Harris-Biden campaign,” Taylor Budowich of Make America Great Again Inc. said in a statement. “It’s time for unity, it’s time to take the fight to the Democrats, and for Nikki Haley: it’s time to drop out.”

Haley pushed back against a version of that argument in her speech, asserting that Republicans “have all the time we need” to defeat President Biden.

But Haley might not have much time left to resist Trump’s march to the nomination.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) endorsed Trump on Tuesday night, adding his name to the list of other non-MAGA figures, including Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who have given Trump their backing.

Both Rubio and Cruz ran against Trump in the bitter 2016 primary contest, while Cornyn is close to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Trump’s most highly placed enemy within the GOP.

Trump was also joined at his New Hampshire victory speech by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who had first been appointed to the Senate by Haley but who has recently endorsed the former president.

“You must really hate her,” a gleeful Trump told Scott, who responded, “I just love you.”

The accumulating endorsements from senators prove Trump is in the driving seat of the GOP — not only in the battle for the nomination but in determining the overall direction of the party.

His renewed dominance — which seemed in serious question after disappointing midterm results in 2022 — will now animate the agenda on Capitol Hill as well as on the campaign trail. It will weigh heavily on the positions Republicans adopt on everything from U.S. support for Ukraine to immigration.

Trump has recently lambasted, in vague but vigorous terms, a potential deal between Senate Republicans and Democrats on immigration. The deal is expected to make claims of asylum more difficult while also expediting some deportations.

But Trump posted on social media last week that Republicans should oppose a deal “unless we get everything needed to shut down the invasion.” 

Meanwhile, auditions for the role of Trump’s running mate look to be well underway.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) defended Trump after he clearly confused the names of Haley and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) recently. 

In addition to Scott, another former rival, Vivek Ramaswamy, appeared at Trump’s New Hampshire victory rally Tuesday night. 

And Kari Lake, a Senate candidate in Arizona who lost her gubernatorial bid in 2022, has been to the fore in campaigning for the former president and advocating for him in media interviews.

The eagerness of GOP political figures to get close to Trump is hardly surprising given where their voters stand.

Haley’s half-creditable showing in New Hampshire was made possible only by the support of independent voters, who broke for her by more than 22 points, according to a CNN exit poll.

Among Republicans, Trump beat Haley by a margin of almost three-to-one, 74 percent to 25 percent.

Haley has some strength among white, college-educated voters, who she carried by 17 points in New Hampshire according to The Associated Press’s VoteCast survey. 

But she lost white people without a degree by a margin twice as large. The latter group make up a much bigger chunk of the Republican electorate.

Haley spared herself outright humiliation in New Hampshire, which at least buys her some time, if she wants it.

But the GOP of 2024 is Donald Trump’s party.

In the Granite State, that message was etched in stone once again.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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