It’s not the rematch America needed, but it’s the rematch America deserved. After Trump’s historic win in the New Hampshire primary last night, it’s looking pretty much certain that the two geriatric men who battled it out in 2020 will now do so again in 2024. These political action figures in their “NOW EVEN OLDER” configuration will both likely run on platforms about bringing back the past, which is of course their strong suit. For anyone whose memories of 2020 are fuzzy because of trauma, here’s your chance to relive one small part of it all over again (pandemic sold separately.)
You’d think that Trump would be happy about this situation. Yet somehow, the man with a problem for every solution was not. In a meandering address not long after the numbers made it clear he’d dominated, he mainly focused on Nikki Haley’s loss. It wasn’t a victory speech; it was a vintage Trumpian “look at the loser” speech.
In it, the former president described how Haley apparently thought she’d won in Iowa, much to Florida Governor DeSantis’ and his chagrin, then had “run up to the stage dressed all nice” earlier in the night in New Hampshire, too. He then underlined multiple times that she had not won. Even the cheers from his supporters started to weaken as he said it again and again. “This is not your typical victory speech but let’s not let someone take a victory when she had a very bad night,” he concluded. His face was stony. Later, he darkly suggested that there might be “investigations” into Haley if she didn’t drop out.
At least he didn’t call her Birdbrain. So far, that’s how he’s referred to Haley in public — an uninspired nickname that the New York Post lamented showed he was losing his touch (the Post also dislikes Trump’s former nickname for Ron DeSantis, DeSanctimonious, but I confess I have a soft spot for it, if only because it’s rare to hear Number 45 come out with a multisyllabic word.) Haley says that the Trump campaign even sent a birdcage and some bird food to her hotel room earlier in the primary season.
Yes, this is the same Nikki Haley who served in the Trump administration as US ambassador to the United Nations. Yes, the very same Nikki Haley who supported Trump’s re-election in 2020. And yes, this is also the same Nikki Haley who the Trump campaign has been implying recently is actually a Democratic operative who may not have been born inside the US (a patently ridiculous claim.) But no, she told gathered media in the wake of the New Hampshire results, she will not be dropping out of the race.
On to her home state of South Carolina, where she’s recently spent $4 million in ads titled “Nikki Haley’s Story Starts Right Here” and “Nikki Haley Delivers”. DeSantis has already fallen into line behind Daddy Trump, dropping out in Iowa to a flurry of memes that memorably included one of Mickey Mouse saying: “Tell Ron. I want him to know it was me.” He urged his supporters — fans of book bans, abortion bans, college course bans; bans, bans, bans in the name of freedom — to back Trump from now on.
Presumably, DeSantis did this with one eye on a plum position in a new Trump administration. The fact that Haley didn’t similarly fall into line is clearly deeply offensive to The Donald. Republicans — particularly female Republicans — are supposed to fall over themselves to cater to him. They’re supposed to roll out the red carpet and then they’re supposed to magically turn into yes-men in the White House. They are not supposed to continue to challenge him in public. That’s not how all this is supposed to work.
Yet Don must be a teeny weeny little bit scared. He’s spent all week railing against E Jean Carrol on Truth Social and his speeches sound increasingly negative, even as his position becomes stronger. In a deeply surreal moment, some of his supporters reportedly chanted, “Birdbrain, birdbrain, birdbrain,” as he announced his decisive victory last night. They’re with him in his ire — but are they with him in the positive sense? It’s difficult to tell.
Yes, it looks like the primary is over. Donald J Trump has won the battle. But he’s been playing a lot of defense in the past few weeks — and it looks like he’s not actually so sure he’ll win the war.