January 24, 2024 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
A lot of Republicans stopped believing Trump is invincible
The spell is broken. No wonder he’s mad.
Donald Trump won the first-in-the-nation presidential primary last night in New Hampshire, a little over a week after winning the Iowa caucuses. He has bested his nearest rivals, though Nikki Haley is still in the race. The path to securing the nomination for a third straight time is standing clear before him. You’d think he would be happy. He’s not.
“Trump furious as he fails to knock out Haley before South Carolina.” That’s Reuters. “Trump, 77, was full of fury after Haley, 52, vowed in a Tuesday night speech to fight on, just two days after the other leading Republican contender, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, ended his campaign. ‘Who the hell was the imposter who went up on the stage before, and like, claimed a victory?’ Trump asked a crowd of supporters in New Hampshire, adding, ‘I don’t get too angry. I get even.’”
Why so angry?
He may be winning, but he’s hardly dominating. He’s hardly invincible. His victory, in the end, is hardly inevitable. That’s how he sees himself. That’s how he wants others to see him. He’s a winner, because he can’t lose. He can’t lose, because he’s a winner. Anything short of total dominance is a result of enemies conspiring to take what’s rightfully his, which is total dominance. That’s how it works in his head. But reality doesn’t always cooperate, and when it doesn’t always cooperate, it’s the kind of thing that makes a criminal former president mad.
Before Iowa and New Hampshire, we knew that Trump was going to have trouble expanding the GOP base. He never reaches beyond it. He always doubles down on it. He alienates anyone who isn’t stewing in paranoia and conspiracy. But afterward, there are now signs that his base of power is shrinking.
Iowa is white, rural and very conservative. It should have offered the most ideal conditions for demonstrating Trump’s invincibility. It didn’t. In 2020, when he was the incumbent, he won 97 percent of the vote. In 2024, when he pretended to be the incumbent, he won 51 percent. Nearly half of the Republicans in an extremely Trump-friendly state decided that they wanted someone else to carry their mantle.
New Hampshire isn’t as conservative as Iowa, but it’s just as white and rural. Trump still acted like he was the incumbent. He still acted like he’d won the election already, and that voting for him was merely confirmation after the fact. The state also demonstrated that he’s not invincible and that his victory, in the end, isn’t inevitable. Trump won more than 54 percent of the vote. However, Haley won more than 43 percent. Trump promised to rout her by 30 points. Instead, he got 10.
A win is a win, you might say. But winning isn’t enough. He has to dominate. He has to seem invincible. He has to seem inevitable. This is more than a profound emotional need. It’s an election strategy that used to work. He said he was a winner. Republicans used to believe him. And he won! But the con isn’t working like it used to. Indeed, according to Politico, “there’s a whole swathe of the Republican electorate and a good chunk of independents who appear firmly committed to not voting for him in November if he becomes the nominee” (my italics).
Before Iowa, a Times poll found that “Biden had slightly more support among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (91 percent) than Trump did among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents (86 percent).” After Iowa, an NBC News poll found that 43 percent of Haley supporters in that state said that “they would back President Joe Biden over Trump. And, according to Politico, that’s “a dynamic that has been on vivid display as the campaign shifted this week to New Hampshire.”
Presidential elections are won or lost on the margins. Nominees must have the backing of their party, plus support from swing voters (indies and voters from the opposing side). Before Iowa and New Hampshire, we knew that Trump was going to have trouble expanding the GOP base. He never reaches beyond it. He always doubles down on it. He alienates anyone who isn’t stewing in paranoia and conspiracy. But afterward, there are now signs that his base of power is shrinking.
“When I have people come up to me who voted for Reagan in ’76 and have been conservative their whole life say that they don’t want to vote for Trump again, that’s a problem,” Ron DeSantis said after dropping out. “I think there’s an enthusiasm problem overall, and then I also just think there are some voters that have checked out at this point.”
Why aren’t they showing up? It could be that these Republican voters don’t want the party’s standard-bearer to be a fraud, insurrectionist and proven rapist, who also is facing nearly 100 felonies, including some for treason. It could be that they just presumed that he’d win. (That’s DeSantis’ theory). But it could also be that they just don’t believe him anymore. They don’t think he’s invincible. They don’t think he’s inevitable. They’re looking around. They’re even open to Biden.
The spell is broken.
No wonder he’s mad.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.