What Nikki Haley (Maybe) Learned in New Hampshire

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“Eeveryone is waiting to write my obituary.

It's never a good thing for a candidate to say on Election Day.

But Nikki Haley, the candidate, was trying – by pleading – to make a broader point CNN's Dana Bash as they sat on raised chairs in the middle of Chez Vachon, the iconic cafe and makeshift television studio on the west side of Manchester, New Hampshire.

“We had 14 candidates,” Haley said, referring to the number of people running for the Republican nomination a few months ago. “There are only two left” – Haley and Donald Trump. “This is not an obituary; he is someone who is a fighter.

Fair enough. Haley was indeed still there and introducing herself, which is something to be proud of. She is the latest woman to stand in the way of the former president's unfettered run for the Republican nomination. It was Haley's “closing speech” as she made her final tour of New Hampshire yesterday, greeting volunteers at polling places, conducting interviews and visiting tables at Chez Vachon. She would continue to fight and ignore the naysayers who followed her throughout her career. Underestimate me » is the message printed on one of Haley's favorite T-shirts. It'll be fun.

Almost immediately after the polls closed, just hours later, the networks declared Trump the winner in New Hampshire. His margin of victory over Haley seemed smaller than expected, however. “THIS RACE IS OVER,” Trump insisted in a text sent to his list of supporters just after 8 p.m. No, Haley told her election night partygoers in Concord, vowing to persist as the campaign moved to her home state of South Carolina. “New Hampshire is first in the country. This is not the last in the country,” she said in her speech. “This race is far from over.”

I spent much of December and early January watching Haley campaign for the office she has clearly aspired to for years. She has proven herself disciplined and polished, good enough to survive the battalion of male challengers arrayed alongside her – “the guys,” as she has recently taken to calling her rivals, many of whom have supported Trump while they were moving away. She has repeatedly claimed to be in a “two-person race” against Trump, although she finished third in Iowa behind him and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

That seemed like wishful thinking at times, but it's unquestionably true now, and it will confront Haley with what has been a recurring dilemma of her candidacy: How willing will she be to campaign against Trump? Will she be as harmful and unpleasant as the former president surely will be against her? Will she be willing to attack Trump and exploit the many vulnerabilities he offers, even if it risks arousing his unbridled anger?

Haley was hesitant to pursue him even though the field was busier. She made only the mildest criticisms: that “chaos follows” Trump “rightly or wrongly” and that he was not “the right president” for this time (like he was before). . But it was hardly clear whether Haley would deploy her best arguments against Trump — about his strange behavior, his mental abilities and his legal problems.

The final days of the campaign in New Hampshire provided hints that she may now be willing to do so. She mentioned Trump's age throughout the day yesterday (inflating him by three years, to 80) and brought up the confusing footage from Trump's rally Friday night, during which he seemed to suggest that Haley had been in charge of security at the Capitol in January. 6 (he had apparently confused her with Nancy Pelosi).

Perhaps most notably, Haley indicated she was willing to extend the race for as long as necessary. “Joe Biden is not going to get any younger or better,” she said in her speech in Concord. “We will have plenty of time to beat Joe Biden.” It carried a sneaky message to Trump: He wasn't getting any younger or better, either. And the longer the race continued, the more his trials would advance, new facts would come to light and his behavior could escalate. Haley noted that voters in 20 states will vote over the next two months. There would be many other contests to take advantage of or stay alive for.

At the very least, Haley would live long enough to see another Election Day, in another state.

P.rimary days can gives off a strangely free and punch-drunk vibe. The candidates, staff and volunteers all did their job. Most of them are exhausted and often struggle with colds, hangovers or other ailments. There is no more practice or preparation to do.

“The hay is in the barn,” as the old politicians like to say. Or, at least one political hack told me that – but I forget who it was. I've also seen the maxim attributed to crazy football coaches (before the big game) and distance runners (before a race). The basic idea is the same: There's not much left to do except find a way to while away the hours and expend some nervous energy.

Whatever is left tends to be improvised and not very strategic. Candidates are rushing, trying to get their supporters to vote and, in Haley's case, convince them that the race isn't over, despite all the polls giving Trump a wide lead.

“I don’t even want to talk about numbers, and I don’t think you should either,” Haley chastised Bash at Chez Vachon.

She then mentions a number in particular: six.

That reflects Haley's vote total in Dixville Notch, the small village in the northern tip of the state known for counting its votes just after midnight on the morning of the primary. “There were more than 10 journalists for one voter” The New York Times said in his report on the early morning scene, which he describes as “as much a media spectacle as a serious exercise in democracy”. (The same could be said about New Hampshire primaries in general, an exercise that brings together a relatively small number of voters whose opinions are comically amplified by media swarms.)

“All six of them came to see us,” Haley reported of the Dixville Notch vote. “Not one part, not one, all six.”

Haley was joined at Chez Vachon by New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, her biggest supporter and frequent travel companion across the state in recent weeks. At one point, I asked Sununu, who was standing near the kitchen door – about to be crushed by waitresses carrying plates laden with pancakes, bacon and poutine drowned in gravy brown – if he feared it was the last New Hampshire. primary as we know it. Some predicted it, given that Democrats are no longer holding their first election there. Was he melancholy, nostalgic perhaps?

“No, we’re still in there. It never leaves us,” Sununu said. He added that Democrats had “learned their lesson” that they should never have gone after New Hampshire and tried to take away its rightful place at the head of the primary parade.

Sununu appeared willing to question Trump's age and mental health more directly than Haley had until recent days. “If he doesn't answer the teleprompter anymore, he can barely hold a convincing thought,” Sununu said of Trump in an interview with Fox News yesterday. “This guy is almost 80 years old.”

“He’s 77,” the Fox host corrected him.

“That’s almost 80,” Sununu argued. “We’ll do math later.”

He has an obvious point about Trump that's worth emphasizing. But it's one of my pet peeves. Sununu and Haley often say that a rematch between Donald Trump and Joe Biden would feature “two octogenarians.” Haley recently said that if Trump were convicted and she was elected, she would likely pardon the former president. For what? Because it’s not in the country’s interest to have “an 80-year-old man in prison,” she said.

This seems like a minor thing, but if Haley wants to attack Trump (correctly) for lying, if she wants to try to claim some moral high ground in this race, she shouldn't fudge the facts herself. It's not necessary anyway; at 52, she is clearly younger than him and Biden.

Since I thought this meeting at Vachon might be the last time I would be this close to Haley—maybe ever—I decided to be one of those unwelcome reporters and follow her out of the restaurant.

“How old is President Trump?” » I asked her as she crossed Kelley Street. Haley ignored me.

“How old is President Trump?” » I tried again. She continued walking. Someone else shouted a question that I didn't hear.

“There's a lot of energy, that's what we're seeing today,” Haley said mechanically, disappearing into a town car and heading to her next stop, then more stops along the way. following.

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