Non-Trump rivals may find a glimmer of hope in Trump’s relatively weak performance in early state polls.


BEDFORD, N.H. — As summer turns to autumn and former President Donald Trump continues to dominate the 2024 Republican presidential race despite his coup attempt and four criminal indictments, there remains one glimmer of hope for his rivals: the 11-percentage point gap.

This represents the variance in Trump’s lead in national polls compared to his lead in the states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, which are among the first to hold primary elections.

“I cannot reword”

Although Trump enjoys the backing of 57% of GOP voters across the country, his support is lower in South Carolina at 48%, Iowa at 46%, and New Hampshire at 44%.

(Nevada, the fourth “early” state, has had no recent public polling, and the pro-Trump state party is encouraging candidates and GOP voters to shun the state-run Feb. 6 primary and participate in party caucuses two days later instead.)

HuffPost reached out to Trump campaign officials to inquire about the reasons behind his lower performance in early states compared to the national level, but they did not provide a response. However, it is evident that they acknowledge the issue as they have recently planned a few events in Iowa, following a period of minimal campaigning.

According to the theory embraced by anti-Trump Republicans, the difference between national and early state figures indicates that in states where other candidates are actively campaigning, most Republican voters are receptive to a candidate who is not Trump.

Republican presidential candidate former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses a gathering during a campaign event at V.F.W. Post 1631, Monday, July 24, 2023, in Concord, N.H.
Republican presidential candidate former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses a gathering during a campaign event at V.F.W. Post 1631, Monday, July 24, 2023, in Concord, N.H.
via Associated Press

The anti-Trumpers argue that despite Trump being the current front-runner among Republicans, his under-50% numbers indicate significant vulnerability rather than the unbeatable strength that Trump and his supporters claim.

Maura Weston, a former official of the New Hampshire Republican Party, expressed her belief that New Hampshire will experience a significant increase in activity in the upcoming months. She also highlighted the potential for various opportunities and developments in the state.

If Trump ends up losing Iowa in this situation, it will break the belief that he is certain to win, increasing the chances of him losing in New Hampshire the following week.

If he does not win New Hampshire, according to the theory, the race will become unpredictable in the future. This is exactly how the candidate, who has been emphasizing his campaign on criticizing Trump, has been presenting his argument in his New Hampshire-focused campaign.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie emphasized the importance of individuals in shaping the future of the country. He expressed this sentiment to a group of voters at the Mountain Base Brewery in Goffstown, stating that if Donald Trump emerges victorious in this location, he will become the official nominee. Christie stressed that the responsibility for what follows lies with both the party and the nation. He urged the voters to recognize that America is relying on them, and he personally expressed his own reliance on them as well.

Normalizing Trump’s Coup

After January 6, 2021, it appeared clear that Trump had effectively destroyed his political future by instigating a violent assault on the Capitol. This attack resulted in the injury of 140 police officers and the deaths of five individuals. It was a desperate effort by Trump to retain power, even though he had lost the 2020 election. Both Republican leaders held Trump responsible for the chaos, expressing their condemnation on the floors of their respective chambers.

However, in a matter of weeks, Republican lawmakers realized that their constituents were upset with them for not backing Trump. As a result, GOP leaders at both the congressional and state levels started to soften their criticism or completely change their stance.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate from Kentucky, not only opposed the impeachment of Trump, which would have resulted in a lifetime ban from federal office, but also encouraged other Republicans to do the same. Kevin McCarthy, who was the House minority leader at the time, visited Trump’s residence in South Florida to reconcile with him just three weeks after a mob had stormed McCarthy’s office in the Capitol.

That refusal to criticize Trump for his coup attempt has largely continued within the GOP presidential field. Biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy a week after Jan. 6 called Trump’s behavior “downright abhorrent,” but has now become Trump’s biggest cheerleader among the 2024 contenders and has promised to pardon Trump on his first day in office.

Nikki Haley, a former South Carolina governor who served as Trump’s United Nations ambassador, went from telling fellow Republicans the day after Jan. 6 that Trump’s “actions since Election Day will be judged harshly by history” to declaring “we need him in the Republican Party” in a span of nine months. Now, running against Trump, she calls him “the most disliked politician in all of America” — but fails to mention the role Jan. 6 plays in that unpopularity.

At the previous Republican debate, a moderator inquired about the number of candidates who would continue to endorse Trump as the nominee, even if he had been found guilty of a serious crime by then. Out of the eight participants, six raised their hands in agreement.

Jennifer Horn, the former chair of the Republican party in New Hampshire, sees Haley as a prime example of how the non-Trump candidates are either unable or unwilling to confront the man who, despite all odds, still holds the position of the unofficial frontrunner in the Republican primary.

Horn stated that when Haley raised her hand on stage, she essentially removed any incentive for her followers to prefer her over Trump. Horn expressed that regardless of Haley’s abilities, by supporting Trump unconditionally, she is indirectly encouraging her own supporters to do the same.

The GOP’s De Facto Incumbent

Fergus Cullen, another former chair of the New Hampshire party, said that Republican leaders missed their window to put Trump behind them by not universally condemning him and his actions immediately after Jan. 6. That opportunity is now gone, he said, and he remains unconvinced that someone can defeat him in the primaries.

“I cannot reword”

Others, like former Republican National Committee member from New Hampshire Steve Duprey, are more sanguine about the odds of beating Trump, pointing to New Hampshire’s reputation for quirkiness and the ability of registered independents to vote in either Democratic or Republican primaries. Duprey said that while Trump may be currently favored by New Hampshire’s registered Republicans, the independents are done with him and will make up a third or more of the vote in January. “Watch the independents,” he said.

Matt Mayberry, a former state party official who currently organizes candidate meet-and-greet events for the state home builders’ association, expressed that the primary is just beginning and many of the candidates who are not Trump have favorable chances. He believes that there is a potential for any candidate to either win or lose in New Hampshire.

“I found certain aspects of Trump’s policies appealing, but his character is simply abhorrent. It’s similar to not purchasing a car from someone you dislike, regardless of the attractive price.”

– New Hampshire voter Greg Lynch

There is a notable portion of voters, including former Trump supporters, who are willing to support candidates other than Trump, without his associated issues.

Marc Colcumbe, a 63-year-old mechanical contractor who supported Trump in the previous two elections, expressed his belief that if Trump runs as a candidate again, he will face defeat once more. However, Colcumbe stated that he personally will not vote for Trump if he runs for a third time.

Greg Lynch, a 56-year-old individual who specializes in installing building insulation, expressed that he no longer supports Trump as a voter. Despite appreciating certain policies of Trump, Lynch finds him to be an awful individual. He draws a comparison by stating that one would not purchase a car from someone they dislike, regardless of it being offered at a favorable price.

Instead of concentrating on Iowa like many others, Christie is investing his efforts and resources in New Hampshire, reminiscent of Sen. John McCain’s 2000 campaign against George W. Bush. McCain conducted 114 campaign town halls in the state.

During a Rye event supported by former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, Christie expressed his belief that he would not be ahead of Trump in any pre-primary polls, similar to McCain’s situation when he unexpectedly defeated Bush on election night with an 18-point lead.

At a campaign town hall in Bedford the next evening, which attracted a large crowd, Christie reiterated his commitment to stay in the state until the primary day, which is four months away. Concluding his speech after two hours in a sweltering elementary school gym, he declared, “I will remain here until the very end, until every vote is accounted for.”