HALEY: She’s Nuked | Steve Berman

A week ago, it was a dream that Nikki Haley could pierce the bubble of inevitability that Donald J. Trump is the next nominee of the Republican Party. Now it would now take a miracle, and the Haley campaign’s think tank is fresh out of them.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ kneeling before the Orange Zod before New Hampshire voters got to hand him his walking papers must have been one of the countless scenarios Haley’s brain trust gamed out. I would think the combination of literally everyone else exiting the race and not a single one endorsing their candidate (Haley said she “didn’t want” Christie’s endorsement), plus Tim Scott and DeSantis both yielding to Trump in the final days, was in the “Hiroshima” column.

So it’s a two-person raceLast week when I made a wishcast for Haley, the CNN/UNH poll showed Trump with 58% to Haley’s 21% among Granite State registered Republicans. The latest January 19th poll, including only DeSantis, Trump and Haley shows Trump at 67% to Haley’s 39%. Haley has narrowed the gap by 9 points, but the cold math reveals there’s just not enough Republican or independent votes out there to push her over the top.

If there is to be a miracle, it would be in the form of two scenarios. One: a massive crossover vote by Democrats. Most independents and Democrat-identifying voters have already decided who they are voting for, leaving just 11% “leaning” and 3% “still trying to decide.” Among Republicans and undeclared, between 17-25% say they’re either “leaning” or “still trying to decide.” These voters would have to actually show up to the polls, overcome their “who cares?” ennui, and vote against Donald Trump.

But that’s really unlikely because among those who have already decided and don’t support Haley, just 7% pick her as their second choice. And there’s nobody else in the race. Even worse, the biggest second choice, DeSantis, at 34% for undeclared and 50% for Republicans (i.e. second choice to Trump), endorsed Trump, not Haley. Those votes just aren’t there.

The second scenario is that New Hampshirites buy Haley’s last ditch message, delivered to a fawning crowd in the Exeter High School auditorium Sunday night.

“So far, only one state has voted. Half of its votes went to Donald Trump, and half did not. We’re not a country of coronations. Voters deserve a say in whether we go down the road of Trump and Biden again, or we go down a new conservative road.”

I know Haley said this—or at least planned to say it—because she emailed it to me at 8:30pm tonight in a desperate campaign email. Sure, Haley supporters don’t want a Trump coronation. It would take a miracle to change the hearts of voters who feel that not only do they want a coronation, they also want to be at the head of the royal parade.

The favorability numbers are grim. Among registered Republican voters in the latest UNH poll, 31% find Haley “favorable” in their opinion. But 47% find her “unfavorable.” Among registered undeclared voters (which is nearly half), 32% view Haley as “unfavorable.” In that same group, 59% find Donald Trump “unfavorable.”

There’s a glimmer of hope among Democrats and independents. In that group, 28% find Haley “unfavorable,” with 62% either “favorable” or “neutral.” Here’s the problem: among those who don’t like Trump, there are two opportunities to vote against him. Either take a Republican ballot Tuesday and vote for Haley, or wait until November and vote for President Joe Biden. I think most voters motivated by “defeating Trump” are happier letting Trump become the nominee then defeating him in November.

The numbers in the poll support that. For all voters, “defeating Trump” is the first issue for just 1%. The biggest issues by far are “protecting democracy or the Constitution,” the “border/immigration,” “cost of living,” and “winning the 2024 presidential election.” These issues hold true for undeclared voters and independent/Democrat voters. Republicans are less interested in “protecting democracy” and more interested in “winning.” Only extreme liberals, progressives and socialists value issues like abortion and don’t care about the border. Those whose political taste runs to libertarian (about 15% of the voters), care about the issues Trump harps on every day. A miracle would be that these voters all rise up together for Haley on Tuesday.

In general, voters aren’t talking about foreign policy or education in New Hampshire. They care about issues related to meat and potatoes economic reality and liberty. Haley only shines when she can correct someone like Vivek Ramaswamy (who supports Trump), and now there’s nobody to correct, except Trump. 

Trump spouts a lot of nonsense, but his voters hear silver-tongued clarion calls to a better America with borders, security, and liberty. Of course, he had four years to deliver something and other than a Supreme Court majority, he followed through with nothing. We still have Obamacare, no border wall, wars to fight or avoid, and excessive spending.

Haley’s got multiple problems that she cannot overcome in two days. Her campaign tries to cover all bets and avoid all risks, frequently ending up looking too clever by half, or just a bad look, like when she avoids answering questions by teenager Quinn Mitchell, who only wanted to ask “was the U.S. a racist country from inception?”

She waited a long time to turn on Donald Trump. My brother Jay and I had long discussions about this, never really reaching agreement. I thought Haley should have turned long ago, before Iowa, but with Christie in the race, they calculated there’s too much “me too” overlap with him (probably—I have no insight into their calculations). Jay thought she appropriately sought not to alienate Trump voters. But now, Trump turned on Nikki before Nikki turned on Trump. He played a strong hand and Haley has no cards to call him.

Haley has two cards left to play: a very motivated Gov. Chris Sununu, and a Hail Mary to ask NH voters not to coronate Donald Trump.

It’s clear that nationally, voters detest the thought of choosing between another four years of Joe Biden, or another four years of Donald Trump. But this is not about the national mood, it’s about a small state that will either pierce the bubble of inevitability of Trump on the ballot, or will coronate Trump as the GOP’s nominee before two primaries are done (I don’t count the Iowa caucus as a primary).

In my life, I’ve only witnessed a few bona fide Hail Mary miracles. One was the “Miracle on Ice,” the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team victory over the Soviet Union.

One was the Miami miracle with Doug Flutie’s pass to Gerard Phelan to give Boston College a victory. One was Larry Bird’s steal of Isaiah Thomas’ inbound pass to win game 5 of the NBA conference finals on May 26, 1987.

I am not sure if the Patriots victories over Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX in 2015, and two years later with the biggest comeback in NFL history in Super Bowl LI over the Falcons qualify as miracles per-se. Either could be seen as simple collapses of coaching and the tragic end of a normal season for the Dirty Birds.

It will take a miracle for Haley’s Hail Mary to connect and for her to win in New Hampshire. It will take repeated miracles for Haley to defeat Trump voters again and again, as it seems clear they have answered her campaign statement “we’re not a country of coronations.”

Yes, the voters are saying, we are.

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevengberman.

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