The three most important words in American politics in 2024: “Republicans like Trump.”
The fact was on display yet again in the First in the Nation presidential primary Tuesday when GOP voters handed former President Donald Trump a double-digit win — and 55 percent of the vote — over former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.
Trump’s win makes him just the second person to win the primary three times, a fact he celebrated from onstage during his victory speech in Nashua Tuesday night.
“You know we won New Hampshire three times. This is very special to me,” Trump told the crowd. (New Hampshire gave Trump his first-ever election victory in 2016.)
And he’s also the first Republican to win both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary since then-President Gerald Ford in 1976 — both with more than 50 percent of the vote, too.
Haley and her top surrogate, Gov. Chris Sununu, mocked Trump’s win in Iowa by pointing out that only 56,000 voters showed up to caucus on his behalf (though that was more than twice the number who showed up for Haley). But Trump won in New Hampshire with record-setting turnout, undercutting the narrative that he only has the support of the MAGA fringe of the party.
In fact, Trump received more than 170,000 votes from Granite Staters, 70,000 more than in his 2016 victory. It’s also the highest total since Bernie Sanders won.
According to exit polls, only a third of Tuesday’s GOP primary voters considered themselves “MAGA,” but Trump got 55 percent of the total vote. And about 60 percent of the people who turned out on Tuesday said they would be “satisfied” to see Trump as the nominee.
“There is no longer any dispute as to whether the New Hampshire GOP is with Donald Trump, now and this fall,” said veteran political strategist Tom Rath.
One reason the GOP may be with him is his issue set. The exit poll showed the top two issues for GOP primary voters were immigration and the economy — in that order. While 54 percent of voters who said the economy was their top issue backed Trump, on immigration it was 78 percent.
And while one voter at the polls in Salem told NHJournal he was going to “hold his nose and vote for Trump,” the narrative that most Republicans are reluctant Trump voters simply isn’t true. “Eighty percent of Trump voters said they strongly favored their candidate, as opposed to liking him with reservations or mainly disliking others,” ABC News reported. “By contrast, just 29 percent of Haley voters strongly favored her and 39 percent of Haley voters mainly disliked her opponent.”
Former state Sen. Chuck Morse has decided that jumping on the Trump train is the right move. He showed up to vote at his Salem precinct Tuesday morning with a group of supporters and plenty of Trump signs to cast his vote for the former president.
“Trump got it done. He had the border closed, he drove the economy and he made the country energy independent,” Morse said as he headed into the polls. “I think people look back and say, ‘He can do that again.’”
Rath says get ready to hear plenty of praise of Trump from Granite State Republicans in the coming months.
“No matter which Republican candidate for governor wins the nomination, they will then run in the general election as Trump candidates. It remains to be seen how that will play in a New Hampshire general election. And were Trump to endorse either candidate, that would seem to diminish the likelihood of a competitive Republican gubernatorial primary.”
In a general election, Trump appears to have plenty of problems. He’s lost the Granite State to both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, and polls show he’s even less popular with the general election electorate than before. GOP primary voters have heard all discussions about Trump’s uphill climb in November, and it’s an easy argument to understand. After all, the same undeclared, independent, not-really-Republican voters are the ones Haley targeted.
So, New Hampshire Republican primary voters know — they just don’t care. They are with Trump — period.
“It was a lot of fun to pretend that there was a New Hampshire primary for the last nine months,” said GOP strategist Matthew Bartlett. “But now we’ve reached the point in this movie where we realize it was all just a dream.”
Haley says she’s staying in the race because she sees some pathway where losing 75 percent of Republicans could result in winning the GOP nomination. She says she sees a way forward, through MAGA states like South Carolina and Nevada.
After Tuesday night’s reality check, that may be a dream, too.
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this article mistakenly reported Trump is the only person to win the New Hampshire primary three times. Richard Nixon won in 1960, 1968 and 1972.