Haley gets momentum
For months, the race for the Republican presidential nomination has been frozen with President Trump ahead and the challengers lumped together, jockeying with each other for a distant second place. According to the most recent CNN Poll, however, there appears to be a significant shift.
The Poll shows two significant changes in the status quo. Trump drops down from 51 percent to 42 percent. That means that the majority of GOP primary voters prefer someone other than Trump. And who voters are leaning toward is the second significant change.
Former South Carolina Governor and one time UN Ambassador Nikki Haley has taken a solid second place with 20 percent of the voters. That is the strongest showing against Trump since Florida Governor Ron DeSantis opened his campaign with 20 percent support.
Since then, DeSantis has been maintaining a second spot position with between 10 and 13 percent of the vote. But that has also changed dramatically. In the CNN Poll, DeSantis plunges to fourth place with only 9 percent of the vote. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie passes him with an impressive 14 percent. DeSantis is just one percent ahead of businessman Vivek Ramaswamy’s 8 percent.
As in 2016, Trump’s best chances rely on his opponents continuing to divide up the vote. That is apparent in every poll for the past year. Contrary to the analyses of most pundits and media types, Trump does not have a lock on his vote. There is no army of zombie cultists as they suggest. Most Republican voters want to beat Biden based on a range of issues … period. And Haley beats Biden by the widest margins of any of the other GOP contenders.
If it is not an outlier, the CNN Poll represents a sea change in voter preferences. It suggests that if DeSantis, Christie and Ramaswamy withdraw – as they should — it would be a real contest between Trump and Haley – and I believe Haley would ultimately win it. Virtually all the support held by DeSantis and Christie would go to Haley. Trump would do marginally better with Ramaswamy voters.
Haley could cobble together a winning coalition by taking away GOP women voters from Trump. In the recent Rasmussen Poll, Trump is actually winning the majority of women against Biden. Haley would also bring in a number of GOP voters who left the reservation over Trump.
This momentum for Haley could not have come at a better time. We are weeks away from both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. If Haley comes in second in Iowa, she has a reasonable chance of actually winning in New Hampshire – thanks to the strong endorsement of the state’s popular Governor Chris Sununu. If that happens, it’s a horse race – and DeSantis, Christie and Ramaswamy should then pack it up for sure.
Christie calls Trump unfit to be president, but ironically he may be the reason Trump wins the nomination. The only thing that keeps Christie, DeSantis or Ramaswamy in the race is hubris. If Trump is to be denied the GOP nomination, Haley is the only one who has any chance of overtaking him.
If Haley emerges as a competitive rival to Trump, what happens with Biden? His mantra is that he has beaten Trump before, so he can do it again. With Haley beating Biden by 17 points in recent polls his winnability argument weakens. Unless Biden improves his numbers – and gains upward momentum – can he remain in the race?
Most agree that Biden would have to voluntarily withdraw or have a significant health event to derail his ambition for a second term. If it turns out to be a Biden/Haley race in the 2024 November election, that is not a nightmare for Democrats. It is a reality.
So, there ‘tis.