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New Hampshire and Iowa Expose Larger Vulnerabilities for Trump

New Hampshire and Iowa Expose Larger Vulnerabilities for Trump

As Donald J. Trump pivots to a general election, early results point at the rough road ahead with critical independent voters.

For weeks, Donald J. Trump effortlessly dominated the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, effortlessly outshining his Republican competitors and basking in the adulation of crowds who fervently believe in his potential as the next U.S. president. However, as Trump confidently advances towards securing his party’s nomination, a more challenging reality looms ahead. Beyond the sheltered realm of Republican primaries, Trump’s campaign grapples with persistent vulnerabilities that pose a significant risk for the party. This vulnerability became evident in New Hampshire on Tuesday, as independents, college-educated voters, and Republicans wary of overlooking his legal troubles rallied in significant numbers behind his rival, Nikki Haley.

Despite facing opposition, Mr. Trump secured a decisive victory, with a majority of voters supporting his bid for a return to power. Nevertheless, the outcome, determined by over 310,000 voters in a politically divided state, foreshadows challenges for Trump as the presidential race transitions from the fervent support of MAGA world to a more diverse electorate—one that had rejected him less than four years ago.

On Tuesday, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida highlighted a significant issue, stating, “When individuals who have consistently voted conservative, including for Reagan in ’76, express reluctance to support Trump again, that’s a problem.” This statement came in an interview with Blaze TV, a conservative media company, shortly after DeSantis concluded his own campaign and endorsed Mr. Trump. DeSantis emphasized the need for Trump to find a solution to address this challenge.

In a potential rematch of the 2020 election, President Biden would encounter distinct hurdles. Unlike four years ago, the 81-year-old president now grapples with widespread disapproval and a majority of Americans expressing dissatisfaction with his performance. Being four years older than Mr. Trump, Biden faces significant skepticism about his age and is finding it challenging to maintain the coalition of voters that propelled him to his initial victory. To counter these challenges, he has shifted focus to issues such as abortion rights and democracy, aiming to resonate with his base, independents, and even garner support from some moderate Republicans.

Similar to Mr. Trump, President Biden encounters skepticism from within his own party. Concerns over immigration, inflation, and his backing of Israel during the Gaza conflict have eroded his support among young voters, Black and Latino voters, as well as liberals.

“The general election is truly commencing at this point, featuring the clash between the two most unpopular political leaders,” remarked Neil Newhouse, a Republican pollster. “It’s an election where voters may find themselves choosing the lesser of two evils.”

New Hampshire and Iowa

However, Mr. Trump’s challenges extend beyond the present. His dominance of the Republican Party in 2016 alienated suburban moderates and independents, and there is scant proof that he has discovered a strategy to win them back.

In the New Hampshire Republican primary, 44% of voters identified as independents. Ms. Haley secured the majority of these independent voters, winning by a margin of 58% to 39%.

Voter Sentiments and Opposition Dynamics in Recent Republican Primaries

Polls indicate that a significant portion of those voters were not merely attracted to a new candidate but were specifically expressing their opposition to Mr. Trump. According to exit polls, four out of 10 voters supporting Ms. Haley claimed that their disapproval of Mr. Trump played a more pivotal role in their vote than their approval of Ms. Haley. Additionally, over 90% expressed dissatisfaction at the prospect of Mr. Trump securing the nomination for a third time.

Mr. Trump encountered similar challenges with independent-minded voters in the Iowa caucuses, a competition that typically draws a more conservative Republican base. Exit polls revealed that 55% of individuals identifying as independents chose one of Mr. Trump’s opponents.

While it’s expected that Mr. Trump will attract a significant portion of these voters in November, the noteworthy aspect lies in the approximately 40 percent of Haley supporters, as indicated by state and national polls, who express their intention to support Mr. Biden. This statistic is striking, implying that a substantial number of Republicans, or individuals who were formerly affiliated with the party, may not be returning to support the Republican candidate.

Mr. Newhouse cautioned against overinterpreting the New Hampshire results, highlighting that the state, along with its independent voters, tends to lean left. New Hampshire has consistently supported Democrats in every presidential re-election since 2004. Nevertheless, he emphasized the need for his party to ensure that the election does not become solely a referendum on Mr. Trump.

"Trump's Electoral Challenges and Shifting Demographics: Insights from New Hampshire and Iowa Primaries"

In the eyes of Ruth Axtell, an interior designer and independent voter in New Hampshire who supported Ms. Haley, the sentiment toward Trump is predominantly negative. A former Trump supporter in 2016 turned Biden voter in 2020, Axtell expresses a desire to see Trump defeated, particularly by a woman. However, she remains uncertain about her choice in the general election, pondering the limited options. The New Hampshire primary results revealed further vulnerabilities for Trump, as he faced losses among voters with a college degree and those with higher incomes, highlighting challenges in retaining the traditional pillars of his party’s support. Notably, Trump’s significant setbacks in affluent, educated towns like Hanover, Lyme, and Lebanon, as well as struggles in upper-income suburbs in Iowa, point to a broader challenge in appealing to certain demographics that were once reliably in his corner.

Mr. Trump has dismissed worries about regaining support from Republicans who have distanced themselves from him. During a press briefing on Tuesday in New Hampshire, he stated, “I’m not sure we need too many. They’re all coming back.”

In his Tuesday victory speech, an opportunity to shift focus to a broader general election audience, Mr. Trump opted to target Ms. Haley instead of advocating for unity within the party, as he had done following the Iowa caucuses. Subsequently, he went on to criticize her attire on his Truth Social platform, stating, “I don’t get too angry, I get even.”

Trump’s aides and super PAC officials perceive Mr. Biden’s campaign as a more formidable adversary compared to any of Mr. Trump’s primary rivals. Unlike Mr. DeSantis and Ms. Haley, who were largely hesitant or unable to counter Mr. Trump, the Biden campaign is not inclined to yield ground in the face of opposition.

The Biden campaign, in response to Mr. Trump’s claims about Mr. Biden’s age hindering another term, has promptly countered by compiling clips showcasing Mr. Trump’s verbal mistakes and instances of confusion.

Lately, MAGA Inc., the super PAC that has invested $36 million in bolstering Mr. Trump’s primary candidacy through an extensive advertising campaign, has been urgently reaching out to donors. They highlight internal projections suggesting that the Biden campaign will have allocated $100 million for television expenditures by the close of the first quarter, with a potential increase to $300 million by the Republican National Convention in July.

In an email sent this week to a donor, Taylor Budowich, the chief executive of the super PAC, stated that the substantial spending by Mr. Biden is an effort to redirect voter attention toward issues that particularly resonate with independents and lean towards Democratic preferences, such as abortion rights.

According to Mr. Budowich’s fundraising appeal, the key to a Trump victory over Mr. Biden would hinge on the Trump team’s ability to maintain voter attention on crucial issues such as the economy, national security, and crime.

Emphasizing policy matters is not a forte for Mr. Trump. During his victory speech on Tuesday, he perpetuated falsehoods about his 2020 election loss and introduced a new claim, asserting that he had won New Hampshire that year (while Mr. Biden had). This statement serves as another cautionary signal for Mr. Trump as he navigates beyond the confines of the MAGA sphere.

His obsession with the previous election, involvement in the Capitol riot on January 6, and the 91 felony charges he is confronting—primarily linked to his efforts to retain authority—jeopardize his political prospects. These issues pose a threat not only with independents and swing voters who were already skeptical but also potentially impact a broader audience.

Even in the traditionally conservative state of Iowa, approximately 10 percent of his own backers indicated that they would not entertain the idea of voting for him in November if he were convicted of a crime.

Correction: January 24, 2024 – In a previous version of this article, published on the same date, there was an error in stating Taylor Budowich’s position at the super PAC MAGA Inc. He holds the position of chief executive, not executive director.

Source: NW Times

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