Thursday, January 25, 2024

state of the primary

Most of the news reports I've seen on the New Hampshire Republican primary simply say "DT won" and leave it at that. And of course that's how his people are spinning it. But that's no reason for everyone else to follow suit. Only one report I've seen - and now I can't remember which one - pointed out that he won only 54% and Haley got 43%. That's surprisingly low for a supposed triumphal march to the nomination, and shows that Haley is right that the race is still on. (Remember, too, that DT got only 51% in the Iowa caucuses, despite their being biased highly in his favor; his statewide win proves only that his support was evenly spread geographically, not that it was universal.) Though if, as seems to be in the offing, Haley loses South Carolina, her own home state, that probably will be the end of it.

At this point, with few delegates chosen, it's a game of expectations. It's possible to lose while winning: that is, to win so anemically that it shows weakness rather than strength. This was proven dramatically by the NH Democratic primaries of 1968 and 1972. Perhaps nobody else remembers these, but I do. In 1968, President Johnson running for re-election won 50%, and insurgent challenger Gene McCarthy 42%. That was so remarkably high for a challenger against a supposedly impregnable leader that the message was that Johnson lost, even though technically he won. And you could say the same of Haley against DT - if you wanted to. In 1968, Johnson dropped out of the race three weeks later: that's how bad his win was for him.

In 1972, again it was expectations. Ed Muskie was the leading candidate, he came from the neighboring state of Maine, he was expected to sweep NH. He got 46%. George McGovern, out of nowhere, got 37%. McGovern was the big news of the night, and that began the sweep that got him the nomination.

One poll says a large percentage - maybe half? - of Haley voters in NH wouldn't vote for DT in November. That sounds doubtful - the urge to rally round the nominee is strong once the finals are close - but it does indicate a weakness, in November if not in the primaries. We can only hope.

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