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Nikki Haley Courts New Hampshire Voters Who Dread Trump-Biden Rematch
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Nikki Haley Courts New Hampshire Voters Who Dread Trump-Biden Rematch

Plus: No Labels suggests criminal charges for its critics.

Happy Friday! The New Hampshire primary is only four days away, and the March for Life will take place in Washington, D.C., today. Asked about his message to those attending, President Joe Biden yesterday said: “March.”

Up to Speed

  • Nikki Haley’s Thursday night town hall at New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire, was the former South Carolina governor’s final chance before Tuesday’s primary election to make her case for more than an hour on prime-time national TV. The event was hosted by CNN, which earlier this week canceled its plans to hold a debate between Haley and Gov. Ron DeSantis after Haley made it clear she would only participate in a debate if Donald Trump did as well. Haley’s answers on Thursday to questions from the audience and host Jake Tapper stuck to the themes of her stump speech: drawing a comparison between Trump and Joe Biden, presenting herself as part of a “new generation” of national leadership, and arguing that Republicans need to win a broader coalition of voters.
  • Tapper did ask Haley to respond to a statement Trump had just made during the former president’s appearance on Fox News Thursday night. “She’s got no chance, she’s got no way,” Trump said in an interview with Sean Hannity. Haley said she did not take it personally but argued that the GOP frontrunner was making these statements because he is concerned about her candidacy. “The reason he’s throwing these temper tantrums is because he knows I do have a chance.” 
  • In Michigan, former Rep. Justin Amash—who left the GOP and later the House of Representatives in protest of Trump—has announced he is exploring a bid for the Republican nomination for Senate. Amash would join a crowded GOP field to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, and among the other Republicans running are former Rep. Peter Meijer, who succeeded Amash in the House; former Rep. Mike Rogers, who once chaired the House Intelligence Committee; and former Detroit police chief James Craig. Rep. Elissa Slotkin and actor Hill Harper are the leading Democratic candidates for their party’s nomination.

‘I’m Going to Shoot Myself’: Voters Dread Biden-Trump Rematch

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu at a campaign event on January 19, 2024, in Hampton, New Hampshire. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu at a campaign event on January 19, 2024, in Hampton, New Hampshire. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

HOOKSETT, New Hampshire—Retirees Pete and Mary ducked out of Nikki Haley’s meet-and-greet early on Thursday to avoid the rush of voters and reporters soon to exit the Robie Country Store. They’re likely to duck out of the general election completely if stuck with a rematch of President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump in November.

Pete, 85, and his wife Mary (she’s “younger,”) declined to give their last names, but they said they are independent voters who plan to vote in Tuesday’s crucial Republican presidential primary here and cast ballots for Haley, the former South Carolina governor and ex-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. And if Haley fails to pull off an upset win over Trump and the fall contest offers a Biden-Trump do-over? 

“I’m going to shoot myself,” Mary told The Dispatch Thursday. “Can we stand four more years of either of them?”

“The question is: How did we get here?” she added. “How did we get here where we have two 80-year-old men who have huge deficiencies and this is our choice?” Pete similarly lamented the two likeliest presidential nominees for each major party in 2024. “I might stay home,” he said. 

They’re not alone. Public opinion polls show a majority of Americans dreading another election featuring Biden, 81, versus Trump, who hits 78 in June.

Of course, given no other choice, some voters are indeed resigned to supporting Trump. “If it comes down to between Biden and Trump, I’ll go with Trump, but I prefer a change,” Rick Wright, a Haley supporter from New Hampshire’s North Country, told us earlier this week while attending one of her campaign events in Bretton Woods.

With Biden a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination, the New Hampshire primary may be voters’ last chance to avoid a Biden-Trump rematch. But the odds are slim. Trump leads Haley 46.3 percent to 33.5 percent in the RealClearPolitics average of Granite State polls. The former president is stronger with self-identified Republicans. Haley, who served in Trump’s cabinet as his U.N. ambassador, does better with independents, who are permitted to participate in the GOP primary.

Gov. Chris Sununu, the popular Republican who endorsed Haley last month, is campaigning with her up and down the state heading into Primary Day. In an interview with The Dispatch in Hooksett, Sununu conceded Haley is facing an uphill climb but insists an upset is attainable. “It’s going to be hard; no question. Trump’s been leading for a long time, he has a kind of built-in, presumptive base there. But she’s making headway,” the governor said. “The momentum is very real.”

“Sky’s the limit, really,” he added. “It’s just a matter of, okay, can we get her over the line in the next four days.”

On Wednesday, Republican insiders in New Hampshire were buzzing about Haley’s supposedly light campaign schedule until we reported that the former governor had made a quick trip home to South Carolina to visit her 90-year-old ailing father. That helped calm the nerves of Haley supporters, who expect the ex-ambassador to furiously crisscross the state through Tuesday, holding a mixture of town hall meetings and quicker meet-and-greets to allow her to cover more ground. 

At press time, Haley’s Friday schedule issued to the media included five campaign stops, beginning just after 7 a.m. ET with a retail meet-and-greet at a country store in Newfields and concluding in Manchester with a traditional rally scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Sununu, who has won four consecutive two-year gubernatorial terms since 2016, said Haley is doing everything she should be doing to put herself in a position to compete for a first-place finish. “She’s campaigning the right way, she’s hitting the right issues, she’s talking to people on the issues that are affecting them every single day,” the governor said. “Then she’s doing the retail stops and shaking hands and meeting people.”

Centrist-On-Centrist Violence

When the nonpartisan group No Labels announced a Washington, D.C., press conference Thursday to discuss “critical developments around the 2024 election,” campaign reporters everywhere pricked up their ears. No Labels, after all, is the group laying the groundwork to get a “unity” candidate on every state’s presidential ballot in the event of a Trump-Biden rematch: What interesting developments might they have to share days after Trump strolled to a commanding finish in Monday’s Iowa caucuses?

But the answer turned out not to be news on No Labels’ candidate selection process. Instead, the group made another eyebrow-raising announcement: They had lodged a criminal racketeering complaint with the Department of Justice alleging an “unlawful conspiracy to subvert Americans’ voting rights, intimidate potential candidates, and shut down the organization’s effort to secure ballot access for the 2024 presidential election.”

That alleged conspiracy? The efforts of a number anti-Trump groups—on both the center right and center left—alarmed by the possibility of a unity ticket throwing the race to the former president, who have therefore pledged to fiercely oppose No Labels’ efforts and pressure donors and operatives not to get involved.

The complaint, which was sent to assistant attorneys general in both the criminal and civil rights divisions of the Justice Department, rattles off acts that supposedly furthered this ostensible conspiracy. At one meeting of several such groups organized last year, Matt Bennet, co-founder of the center-left think tank Third Way, argued for trying to convince No Labels donors that “if you get involved with this, you are throwing—you’re really risking your entire reputation and your legacy.”

Another attendee of that meeting discussed arguments for dissuading candidates from running on No Labels’ ticket: “Through every channel we have, to their donors, their friends, the press, everyone—everyone—should send the message: If you have one fingernail clipping of a skeleton in your closet, we will find it. If you think you were vetted when you ran for governor, you’re insane. That was nothing. We are going to come at you with every gun we can possibly find.”

No Labels also highlighted for the Department of Justice’s convenience public comments made by other anti-Trump figures deploring No Labels’ efforts. In one tweet last year, Lincoln Project co-founder Rick Wilson raged that No Labels needed to be “burned to the f—ing ground politically.” And Bulwark editor Jonathan V. Last said on a podcast that “anybody who participates in this No Labels malarkey should have their lives ruined … if people are going to act irresponsibly like this, they should be absolutely shamed to our society’s utmost ability to shame.” (Quick disclosure: Andrew worked at The Bulwark in 2018.)

“Such inflammatory rhetoric crosses the line into calls for violence,” No Labels argued in its complaint. “We know all too well from experiences with other contemporary politicians how fighting words like that can trigger chaos in the electorate.”

Undoubtedly the described acts constitute bare-knuckle politics. But the legal theory that they amount to a criminal racketeering conspiracy might be diplomatically described as “untested.” Some experts have been less diplomatic.

“The letter is an embarrassment,” former federal prosecutor, defense attorney, and RICO expert Ken White told The Dispatch. “It doesn’t plausibly allege any federal crime, let alone predicate crimes for RICO. The letter complains about activities that are clearly protected as exercises of the right to speak, assemble, and petition. It tries to spin obvious political rhetoric as violent but is utterly unconvincing in doing so. The tone of hysteria is unearned.”

No Labels representatives emphasized at their press conference that it would ultimately be up to the Justice Department to decide whether it was appropriate to bring charges and said they had had no communication from Justice since filing their complaint. They then cut off their press conference after just a few questions, telling press in the room the speakers would gaggle with reporters off-camera. Once the speakers had left, a representative from No Labels told reporters there would be no gaggle after all, but that they would respond to additional questions over email. No Labels then did not respond to repeated emailed questions from The Dispatch.

The whole affair underlines just how tall an order any third-party presidential candidate this year will face despite widespread public dissatisfaction with the likelihood of another Trump-Biden rematch. No Labels hopes to put forward a candidate who can cut across partisan lines to draw support from a broad base of disaffected commonsense Americans from every part of the political spectrum. We’ll see whether they can make peace in their escalating war against other groups from their own neighborhood on that spectrum first.  

Notable and Quotable 

“A PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES MUST HAVE FULL IMMUNITY, WITHOUT WHICH IT WOULD BE IMPOSSIBLE FOR HIM/HER TO POSSIBLY FUNCTION. ANY MISTAKE, EVEN IF WELL INTENDED, WOULD BE MET WITH ALMOST CERTAIN INDICTMENT BY THE OPPOSING PARTY AT TERM END. EVEN EVENTS THAT ‘CROSS THE LINE’ MUST FALL UNDER TOTAL IMMUNITY, OR IT WILL BE YEARS OF TRAUMA TRYING TO DETERMINE GOOD FROM BAD. … ALL PRESIDENTS MUST HAVE COMPLETE & TOTAL PRESIDENTIAL IMMUNITY, OR THE AUTHORITY & DECISIVENESS OF A PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES WILL BE STRIPPED & GONE FOREVER.”

—Donald Trump elucidating some constitutional theory on Truth Social, January 18, 2024

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

Michael Warren is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was an on-air reporter at CNN and a senior writer at the Weekly Standard. When Mike is not reporting, writing, editing, and podcasting, he is probably spending time with his wife and three sons.