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Trump starts savoring his nomination as a Republican candidate after DeSantis’ withdrawal

The former president is well ahead in the polls in New Hampshire, even though it’s the state where Nikki Haley has the best chances of winning

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attends a rally in advance of the New Hampshire primary election in Laconia, New Hampshire, U.S. January 22, 2024.
Miguel Jiménez

Only Nikki Haley is left standing. Of all the Republican rivals who dared to challenge Donald Trump in the primaries, the former ambassador to the U.N. is the only one who has not yet thrown in the towel. The former president hopes she will do so soon. He is already picturing himself as the winner of the Republican Party’s nomination for the November presidential election against Joe Biden, especially after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis dropped out of the race. And on Tuesday, Trump is hoping to achieve a clear victory in the New Hampshire primary, just as he did at the Iowa caucuses last week. “That should wrap it up,” he said on Sunday at a rally in Rochester, a town of about 34,000 inhabitants.

Trump supporters gathered in droves outside the Rochester Opera House. While waiting in the subzero temperature, some supporters, like Edmond Poulin and Lisa Perkins, entertained themselves by criticizing Biden (“the country is going downhill”), defending Trump’s return (“to fix the border and the economy”) and debating who should be his running mate. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy were their favorites.

Outside the Rochester Opera House, a stall was selling Trump paraphernalia — hats, sweatshirts and other merchandise. A group of Nikki Haley followers was also there. Suddenly, Dean Phillips, the Democratic congressman who is challenging Joe Biden in the primaries, passed by. He had traveled to Rochester for a modest campaign rally. Meanwhile, activists from The Lincoln Project — Republicans who oppose Trump — were playing a video called And God Created a Dictator on a giant screen on a van. The footage — a response to the video And God Created Trump, which the former president as a Messiah — included images of Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein Kim Jong-un and Trump.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a rally in advance of the New Hampshire presidential primary election in Rochester, New Hampshire, U.S., January 21, 2024.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a rally in advance of the New Hampshire presidential primary election in Rochester, New Hampshire, U.S., January 21, 2024. MIKE SEGAR (REUTERS)

Most of those who braved the snow and cold in Rochester were left out on the street, as the Rochester Opera House was filled to capacity. Other winning Democratic and Republican candidates have campaigned in the past at that same charming theater, which dates back to 1908 and has capacity for about 800 people. This list includes Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain. Trump believes his name will soon be added to that list, and so do his followers. Like Edmond and Lisa, Trump supporters who have gone to his rallies. When it comes to who should be his running mate, they name Ramaswamy and Taylor Greene, as well as Senator Tim Scott and Congresswoman Elise Stefanik.

Trump, for the moment, is not revealing who his number two could be. He has all but written off Haley, insisting that she is not “presidential timber.” “The person that I think I like is a very good person, pretty standard, I think people won’t be that surprised,” he told Fox News, providing practically the only clue about his intentions. At times, the former president has appeared to imply that he would prefer a woman to be his running mate.

First, he wants to knock out Haley. The latest polls on the New Hampshire primaries show the former president with a clear lead. The poll by The Washington Post and Monmouth University gave Trump a voting intention of 52%, compared to 34% for Haley. It was taken before DeSantis dropped out of the race, and showed the Florida governor — who has since endorsed Trump — with 8% of support. A poll by Suffolk University, NBC and the Boston Globe, updated on Monday after DeSantis’ withdrawal, gives Trump a lead of 19 points: 57% to 38%.

It may seem like a promising result for Haley, but if she can’t beat Trump in New Hampshire, where is she going to beat him? In New Hampshire, she has the support of the state’s very popular governor, Chris Sununu, who has been campaigning for her tirelessly. What’s more, the state’s electoral rules allow independent voters to take part in the Republican primaries, which also gives Haley an advantage. Indeed, a high turnout is expected in New Hampshire, which is home to 1.4 million voters, 40% of whom are independent. While Trump has spread false claims about who is and isn’t allowed to vote on Tuesday, it is only registered Democrats who are barred from taking part. For Haley, overcoming DeSantis to reach second place has been a win. But now it is a two-way race between her and Trump. Tuesday’s primaries may be her last chance to stop Trump: if she loses by 15 or 20 points, there will be little hope for her campaign.

At his rally in Rochester on Sunday, Trump thanked DeSantis for dropping out of the race and endorsing him. The former president has been magnanimous: as a reward for his humiliating surrender, Trump has “officially resigned” the Ron DeSanctimonious nickname. That said, Trump spent less time thanking DeSantis than attacking Haley.

Then he returned to his usual script. Trump is like a rock star at a concert. Listening to several of his speeches may seem repetitive, but his rallies are more like a show, and the former president is more like a singer performing his greatest hits. In Trump’s case, this track list includes using the four indictments against him to present himself as a martyr of an alleged weaponized justice system; insisting the 2020 elections were stolen; attacking Biden as “the worst president in history;” criticizing the media and promising to end inflation and the war in Ukraine, but without explaining how.

Closing rallies

On Monday, at the final rally before the primaries, Trump was joined by three of the Republican primary candidates who withdrew from the race and endorsed him: investor Vivek Ramaswamy, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum.

At the event in Laconia, home to around 17,000 people, Trump repeated his messages from the day before in Rochester (such as “this country is going to hell”), thanked Ron DeSantis for his withdrawal and asked voters to mobilize en masse.

“Tomorrow is the day you will cast the most important vote of your entire life,” Trump said. “We’re going to do things and we’re going to do things right. We’re going to bring our country back. With your vote, you’re going to put Crooked Joe and his protectors on notice that we are coming in November; we’re coming to take over the beautiful, beautiful White House. And we’re going to run the country the way it’s supposed to be run.”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters at a campaign event in Laconia, N.H., Monday, Jan. 22, 2024.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters at a campaign event in Laconia, N.H., Monday, Jan. 22, 2024. Matt Rourke (AP)

“We started off with 13 and now we are down to two people. I think one will be gone probably tomorrow, and the other one will be gone in November,” he added, in reference to Haley and Biden, respectively. “Now is the time for the Republican Party to come together. We have to unify,” he continued, before introducing his guests, who each praised the former president.

The rally, however, was interrupted by protests by climate activists who were in the audience.

Haley’s closing rally

Haley held campaign rallies throughout New Hampshire. On Monday morning, while Trump attended a hearing (later suspended) in New York over the defamation lawsuit filed by writer E. Jean Carroll, the Republican candidate was campaigning in Franklin at a war veterans’ facility. “America doesn’t do coronations,” she said. “We believe in choices. We believe in democracy and we believe in freedom. I have said I love the ‘live free or die’ state [New Hampshire’s motto], but you know what? I want it to make it a live-free-or-die country. Let’s show all of the media class and the political class that we’ve got a different plan in mind, and let’s show the country what we can do.”

She later held a closing campaign rally in Salem, a town of about 30,000 inhabitants. After being once again enthusiastically introduced by Governor Chris Sununu, she repeated her campaign messages to an audience of around 750 people. She thanked retired general Don Bolduc, who was in the front row, for his support. Bolduc ran for the Senate in November 2022, but lost, in part because he was perceived as too extremist.

During the event, a man yelled: “Nikki! Will you marry me?” She replied, laughing: “Are you going to vote for me?” He said he was going to vote for Trump, and was loudly booed.

On Monday, the Newsmax network aired a recorded interview with Trump, in which he was asked if Haley should withdraw if she were defeated in New Hampshire. “I don’t ask people to drop out; they have to drop out of their own volition,” he said. “I would never call for it, but perhaps she should.”

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