The GOP primary race was once expected to be contested and potentially drawn out, but President Trump has rapidly consolidated support in early wins and drained the opposition field within the first month of the 2024 election year. In a candidate field that boasted current and former governors, sitting senators, and new-generation candidates, Trump has now earned endorsements from of the entirety of House Republican leadership, is routinely joined by former competitors on the campaign stage, and has set his final challenger in his sights before South Carolina’s primary. It even seems that Trump may be fully moving his attention away from these primaries and is now more focused on another general election tilt against President Biden. His strong primary base support has put these races all but out of reach.
The GOP’s 2020 general election performance, characterized most notably by two defeats in the Georgia Senate races, was described by numerous political analysts as “disastrous.” The man at the top of that ticket was Donald Trump, who was also called “unfit” for office by senators, former governors, and representatives from his own party. Yet now, the former president led GOP primary polls by wide margins throughout 2023, won the first Iowa caucus by 30 points, and carried New Hampshire by a 10-point margin.
Trump has centered his campaign on immigration issues, Joe Biden’s tenure and unpopularity, and perceived ‘radical leftist’ assaults on American life. Despite skipping all nationally televised primary debates, Trump has maintained sizable polling and fundraising leads throughout the early campaign. After Trump’s victory inTuesday’s New Hampshire primary, Idrees Kahloon, Washington bureau chief for The Economist, states it is now “incredibly hard to imagine” Trump not securing the GOP nomination in the coming weeks.
Trump’s lead can be credited first to an unshakable support base, giving him a general 30% floor in GOP primaries. These primaries put into question whether moderate Republicans and independents, however, view him as a candidate able to even thescore in a general election against President Joe Biden; analysts debated whether those voters may instead support a primary challenger without Trump’s “baggage.” Of these challengers, only former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley remains in the race at time of publication. All other GOP candidates, including once-touted Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have dropped out; many have subsequently endorsed Trump.
Haley’s campaign has followed a reverse trajectory from DeSantis’ since August of last year. With a tough-on-China, lower taxes, and staunch immigration policy platform, Haley’s stock rose thanks to strong debate performances, where she separated herself from fellow candidates by promising executive restraint regarding abortion, expansion for Medicare Advantage plans, and full-throated monetary support for Ukraine amidst Russia’s invasion. Her campaign found its stride going into the new year, as major contributions flooded in during December. Leaving the “America First” platform to other candidates, Haley has carved out her strongest support among college-educated and moderate conservatives as the preferred alternative to Trump.
After Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, however, analysis now suggests Haley’s staying power in this race is dependent on winning the South Carolina GOP primary on February 24. Though Haley is the former South Carolina governor, Trump holds a 40-point lead among its conservative voters. South Carolina is seenas the critical race for the former U.N. Ambassador, as Axios writes, a Trump win would “convince the GOP establishment to further consolidate behind Trump because…none of Trump's rivals have a chance going forward.”
“Governor Haley, whom some of us support, has run a valiant campaign. But, her best chance for a primary win was in NH. Ironically, her home state is also one of Trump’s best states in terms of primary support. We credit her for charging up this hill, but it is awfully steep,” says Charlie Black, Prime’s Founding Chairman and a top GOP Strategist.
Should former President Trump secure more early wins and lock up the GOP nomination before March, he still faces a series of non-political obstacles before the Republican National Convention in July. Facing numerous criminal charges across two state courts (GA and NY) and two U.S. District Courts, the former president’s case for national support may be undercut as the trials progress. Trump enjoy slasting support from strong conservative voters in most states, yet the general election polling lead he had at the turn of the year may not reflect the full impact of the pending court cases.