Trump's Primary Performances Foreshadow Recipe For General Election Loss
Trump's Iowa and New Hampshire performances put a bigger spotlight on his political liabilities, leading even conservative commentators to call out his general election weakness.
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Last week, as most media coverage framed his Iowa win as an absolute victory, I wrote an article headlined: Trump's General Election Weakness Exposed In Iowa Caucus Results. There were some glaring red flags in the results and entrance polls that showcased key general election vulnerabilities.
After his New Hampshire performance on Tuesday night, the immediate media reaction to Trump’s win was to talk about his dominant hold on the GOP. But as journalists and pundits began looking closer at the data and taking a long-term view, Trump’s liabilities started to outweigh his assets.
New Hampshire exposed more warning signs, resulting in a word Trump deplores being repeatedly used alongside his name in numerous headlines: Weakness.
From the front page of The New York Times website on Wednesday night: New Hampshire and Iowa Reveal Broader Weaknesses for Trump
Those headlines present the right takeaway. Trump’s New Hampshire and Iowa results put a spotlight on his deep general election vulnerabilities. Let’s look at some of the data from the New Hampshire exit polls.
Weakness with Moderates and Independents: While Trump won 74% of New Hampshire Republicans, Haley still managed to get 25%. With Independents, who were 44% of New Hampshire primary voters, the results were flipped. Haley won 58% of Independents, and Trump won only 39%.
Haley voters vow to oppose Trump in the general election: Compounding this weakness with Independents and moderate Republicans is a striking stat from a Fox News voter analysis. It found that 35% of New Hampshire primary voters would be so dissatisfied if Trump were the nominee that they wouldn’t vote for him in the general election. An NBC News/Des Moines Register poll echoed this finding, showing that 43% of Haley voters said they would back Biden in the general election.
MAGA movement grows increasingly toxic: 63% of New Hampshire primary voters said they don’t identify as part of the MAGA movement. About half of Iowa Republican caucusgoers, which is a very conservative and evangelical electorate, also said they don’t identify with the movement. MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) is literally Trump’s campaign slogan and the core of his appeal. President Biden’s efforts to accurately depict the MAGA movement as extreme has likely made people less willing to publicly identify with it.
Trump’s criminality could doom him: 42% of New Hampshire primary voters said Trump wouldn’t be fit to serve as president if he’s convicted of a crime. This comes after 31% of Iowa Republican caucus voters said the same thing. As I wrote in my article on Iowa, the fact that about one-third of Iowa Republican caucus voters believe Trump is unfit for office if convicted and believe Biden won legitimately indicates that the 2020 election subversion trial, in particular, could deeply damage Donald Trump’s general election chances.
The New Hampshire primary, especially, was not the performance of a dominant former president. In my article on the Iowa results, I highlighted how Trump is essentially running as an incumbent, and when viewing his performance through that lens, it’s actually weaker. Even conservative commentators agree.
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On Fox News, Brit Hume highlighted Trump’s weak New Hampshire performance through an incumbent candidate lens:
“If you think of him as an incumbent, this showing tonight’s weak, right? I mean, he should be doing better. And it’s also a sign of weakness that the independents and others who voted in this primary were… not welcomed by the Trump campaign and by a lot of his supporters… There’s weakness there with Trump. There’s no doubt about it even if wins, you know, easily… Look, he lost in 2020. His candidates lost in 2022. I mean, he has a lot of losses on his book.”
That last point about Trump’s losses was also made by Nikki Haley in her speech on the night of the New Hampshire primary.
Nikki Haley told her supporters, “With Donald Trump, Republicans have lost almost every competitive election. We lost the Senate. We lost the House. We lost the White House. We lost in 2018. We lost in 2020. And we lost in 2022.”
“Trump’s a loser!” a Nikki Haley supporter shouted in response. “He’s a loser!” another shouted even louder.
They’re right. Republicans have been on a losing streak, a fact I’ve written about extensively. A weakened Trump limping into the general election won’t help them turn that tide.
The mainstream narrative alleging Biden weakness and Trump strength relies on unreliable polls, ignoring seven years of election results showing Democratic over-performance and Republican shellackings. But after these primary results, perhaps that narrative will begin shifting.
Former Trump Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany gave a surprisingly candid analysis of the New Hampshire result, outlining that not only did these results show a fractured Republican Party, but they also showed a more united Democratic Party. On Fox News, the night of the primary, McEnany offered this even-handed take:
“This was actually a fairly good night for Joe Biden. When you look at our voter analysis, only 10% [of Democrats] said ‘I would not vote for Joe Biden if he’s the nominee.’ He won a plurality of voters who said he was too old. He won a majority of voters who are upset about the Gaza war. So the divides in the Democrat Party, and this is a small sample size, but perhaps aren't as stark as one would think. But when you look at the Republican Party, 7 in 10 Nikki Haley voters said, 'I would not vote for Trump.' There was a Des Moines Register poll, 43% said, ‘no, I wouldn’t vote for Trump.’”
A triggered Donald Trump reacted to McEnany’s analysis by calling her a “RINO” on Truth Social. But a smarter, less egomanical man would take her warnings seriously.
The problem with election denialism, aside from undermining American democracy, is that Republicans no longer make any changes based on their post-election autopsy reports. They just continue down the same extremist path in spite of losing over and over and over again.
Republicans had a golden opportunity to rid their party and the country of Trump during his second impeachment trial. In the immediate aftermath of January 6, he faced internal GOP opposition. They could’ve convicted him and banned him from future office, but they were too cowardly. Now, once again, he’s on the path to being the Republican nominee. But this time, he’s more unhinged, overtly authoritarian, and politically weaker than many realize.
Trump simply cannot win the general election if he loses double digits worth of remaining moderate Republican voters and loses Independents by wide margins. Independents and moderates helped put President Biden over the edge in key battleground states in 2020. Trump’s reliance on the shrinking MAGA base is a recipe for yet another general election loss.