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The First Rule of Politics: Learn How to Count - Why Trump is in Trouble, despite New Hampshire result


Donald Trump's victory in the New Hampshire primary last night has set the stage for what seems like an inevitable Republican nomination. As the race heads into more conservative states like South Carolina and Tennessee, Trump's dominance over his rivals, particularly Nikki Haley, is becoming more pronounced. Financially, Haley is struggling to keep up, hinting at a clear path for Trump to secure the nomination. Yet, the significance of New Hampshire's results goes beyond the mere confirmation of Trump as the Republican candidate.

New Hampshire's primary is distinctive in that it allows independent voters and non-party members to participate in the Republican contest. This open policy led to a surprising outcome: a substantial portion of these voters, who typically lean Democratic in general elections, backed Haley. A staggering 73% of Haley's support in New Hampshire came from independents or non-party members, while only 27% was from Republican voters.

Trump, who was expected to win New Hampshire by a 22 point margin according to the most recent poll before polls opened, only managed an 8-point victory. The lower-than-expected win, coupled with the fact that only 50% of Republican voters are participating in these primaries, and nearly half of them are voting for candidates other than Trump, raises questions about his overall electoral strength. This indicates a potential ceiling for Trump's support within the party, let alone the country.

Among Republican voters, there's a notable disconnect between Trump's agenda and their priorities. In New Hampshire, a significant 67% of Republican voters oppose the nationwide ban on abortion, a cornerstone of the MAGA movement.

Additionally, the economy, not immigration, ranks as the top concern. With signs of improvement in the US economy - decreasing inflation and rising productivity - the Democrats' message of sustaining progress might resonate more with voters, especially those affected by the cost of living crisis. Trump recently acknowledged this himself when he said he wished the economy to tank for another 12 months in order to help him in the election. For under-the-cosh Americans, this isn’t what they want to hear.

A critical aspect often overlooked in the Biden-Trump rematch analysis is the actual voter turnout. As President Lyndon Johnson famously once said, “the first rule of politics is to learn how to count.” Polls that include individuals who typically don't vote in presidential elections present a skewed view. Focusing on those who voted in both the 2016 and 2020 elections reveals a different story: Biden leads Trump by 6 points among this group. Despite Trump's increased vote count from 62.9 million in 2016 to 74.2 million in 2020, Biden still secured a record 81.2 million votes – the most ever for a Presidential candidate. Trump's challenge is not just to maintain, but to expand his voter base. Judging by his performance in the Republican primaries and his inability to inspire higher turnouts, it doesn’t look like Trump is on course to widen his electoral coalition.

So as the campaign transitions from a Republican battle to a national general election, Trump faces the need to drastically alter his tone. The controversies surrounding him - breaches of national security, sexual abuse allegations, financial misconduct, and his role in the January 6th insurrection - might be overlooked by staunch Republicans, but they weigh heavily on the minds of the broader electorate. His recent aggressive speech, laden with grievances against Haley, did not project the image of a unifying leader but rather, one deeply mired in controversy who is worried about independent and non-party member votes. It’s simple: behind the headlines there is a truth emerging here - Trump doesn’t have the votes to win in November, and he knows it.

This poses a potential disaster for Trump, especially considering the sentiments of committed Republicans in Iowa. Nearly half of Haley's supporters there have expressed an unwillingness to back Trump in November, with Biden winning them over by a 20-point margin.

Democrats have demonstrated remarkable electoral prowess, winning the House of Representatives in 2018, the 2020 presidential election, and retaining the Senate in the 2022 midterms, defying expectations of a 'red wave'. They have successfully flipped key states like Arizona and Georgia, which hold significant electoral votes. The Democrats are a ruthless machine who understand political strategy. Right now, it suits Biden for the country and the world to think this contest is ‘neck-and-neck’. It will increase turnout from his base and it will generate more cash for his campaign. The White House know, it isn’t really close and barring some disaster, Biden wins the general every day of the week.

Despite the media's sensational narratives, the undeniable truth in democratic politics lies in the numbers. As voters start to express their preferences, Trump's path back to the White House in November becomes increasingly uncertain. The dynamics revealed in the New Hampshire primary, coupled with the evolving national sentiment, suggest a challenging journey ahead for Trump's campaign.

Unless Trump can do something he hasn’t done since 2016 and totally change his tone, his policy positions and become a unifying voice, he will only ever play to the MAGA crowd, which suffers from the distinct disadvantage in US elections of always losing.


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