Donald Trump’s victory in New Hampshire effectively ends the Republican primaries as a contest. Both primary rules and voter demographics in NH gave Haley her best chance to beat Trump there, and she lost by ten points. Things will only be harder in the states to come. It is a matter of time before she ultimately concedes.
The primary contest has demonstrated that Trump’s bond with the Republican base, which votes in primaries, is unshakeable for now. How well he will fare with the far larger American electorate is the next big question. Early polling has suggested a close race between Trump and Biden. But polls for head-to-head matchups this far in advance, before party candidates are selected, are of notoriously limited value. All is to play for as the general election campaigns begin in earnest and the parties turn all their fire outwards.
For the Biden campaign, the hope is that the president will prevail in the November general election, despite currently low approval ratings, as voters recognise they have a straight choice between him and Trump, and are reminded of Trump’s many flaws via more sustained media coverage. Biden will make the case that Trump is a profound threat to America’s constitutional democracy at home, and its interests and reputation abroad. In an ideal world for Biden, Trump’s criminal trials during 2024 will sap his support with independent voters and moderate Republicans, while improving economic metrics and sentiment among Americans will bolster the president’s position.
For the Trump campaign, the plan will be to blame the president for economic pain caused by the high inflation of 2022-23, hammer Democrats for a surge in disorderly mass migration at the southern border and portray Biden as too old and weak to lead effectively. The candidate, meanwhile, will maintain his well-practiced pose as an outsider and victim, seeking to portray his legal troubles as persecution of him by the political ‘establishment’. That worked with the small Republican primary electorate. How well it lands with Americans at large remains to be seen.