The voters of New Hampshire have thrust the United States one giant step closer to a general-election rematch between two unpopular candidates.
Donald Trump versus Joe Biden: the past and present president cemented their hold on their respective parties' nomination with New Hampshire primary wins Tuesday.
The current president appeared to have quelled an intra-party challenge; Biden defeated congressman Dean Phillips by potentially dozens of percentage points without even being on the ballot, as Biden's supporters wrote in his name.
He is all but certain to wind up facing his old nemesis.
Trump has become the only candidate in the history of modern contested primaries to have won the first two Republican contests, in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
His approximate 10-point margin of victory was smaller than projected by the polls, but it still led to a flood of calls from high-profile Republicans for Nikki Haley to drop out.
But the former UN ambassador emphatically brushed off demands that she withdraw, vowing to stay on as the race shifts to her home state in exactly one month.
"This race is far from over. There are dozens of states left to go," Haley told an election-night rally. "And the next one is my sweet state of South Carolina."
She quipped that the first party to dump its soon-to-be-octogenarian leading candidate will win the election and added: "I think it should be the Republican Party."
Haley won only one quarter of registered Republicans. Her support came disproportionately from non-Republicans. Her critics say this proves her campaign is doomed, as most states have more restrictive rules than New Hampshire does about who can vote in primaries. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
Anger at Haley for staying in race
Trump expressed incredulity she was still in the race.
He heaped scorn on Haley throughout an angry election-night speech, even appearing to insult her dress; Trump also posted all-caps broadsides at her on social media like, "DELUSIONAL!!!" and, "SHE CAME IN THIRD LAST WEEK!"
Just one example was Sen. Marco Rubio, whom Haley backed for president in 2016, tweeting: "Trump will be the GOP nominee." He called the prolonged race a waste of donors' money.
The disdain was sharpest from Trump's most ardent boosters.
Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene burst out laughing when CBC News mentioned to her Haley's suggestion, earlier in the day, that she might stay in the race despite losing New Hampshire.
"It's over," Greene replied in Goffstown, N.H., where she was campaigning for Trump outside a polling site.
"It's over and she's going to destroy any future political career that she wants to have. If she keeps it going and acts like such a fool and she's unwilling to listen to Republican voters, she's going to look really bad. Not very bright."
Greene said she's seeing even her Trump-skeptical Republican colleagues in Washington now starting to "bend the knee" because they see the writing on the wall: This is Trump's party now.
Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, campaigning for Trump in New Hampshire, laughed when CBC News mentioned that Nikki Haley might stay in the race after losing New Hampshire. "It's over," Greene said, adding that Haley would look like a fool and destroy her remaining political capital by soldiering on. (Alex Panetta/CBC News)
The insistence that this race is over is based on the argument that Haley has no path to victory.
If Haley can't win here in New Hampshire, goes the argument, she's doomed. New Hampshire has a more moderate primary electorate than most states.
It also has looser voter-eligibility rules than most, allowing non-Republicans to cross over — and they voted overwhelmingly for Haley.
When it came to actual self-identified Republicans, Trump won three-quarters of them in New Hampshire. If this pattern continues in future states, it would translate into crushing landslides for Trump. Especially in those states that, unlike New Hampshire, bar non-Republicans from participating.
But Haley's campaign released a memo earlier Tuesday making a counter-argument: 11 of the 16 states voting on Super Tuesday, March 5, have completely open primaries like New Hampshire – or semi-open primaries where registered Independents can vote.
"Those include Virginia, Texas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Vermont," said the memo from Haley's campaign manager Betsy Ankney.
"Until then, everyone should take a deep breath. … A month in politics is a lifetime."
Paul Sturtevant of Goffstown, N.H., says it took him a while to warm up to Trump. He was a Ted Cruz supporter in 2016, but became a Trump fan early in his presidency. He voted for Trump in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary. (Alex Panetta/CBC News)
The view from Trump voters in New Hampshire
Tangible signs of support for Trump were visible throughout New Hampshire. He drew far bigger crowds and his name appeared on more road signs than Haley, Biden and Phillips, combined.
One voter in New Hampshire said he's all-in for Trump now — but it took a while to warm to him.
Paul Sturtevant said he initially supported Sen. Ted Cruz in 2016 and saw Trump as a New York liberal. The Goffstown cybersecurity worker joked that when he voted reluctantly for Trump that year, "I said, 'God help me. Please forgive me.'"
He now calls that vote one of the proudest moments of his life.
He said Trump won him over in 2017 by cutting regulations, reforming veterans' health care, and signing a tax bill that put more disposable income in his pocket.
But what he really loves about Trump is his indifference to liberal criticism. He fears Haley would bend to it: "She can't take a punch. You apply pressure to her?... She folds up like a paper cup in a blast furnace."
He said Haley is taking a big reputational risk if she stays in the race.
If she stays in and wins South Carolina, he said, there may be a real race. If she loses her own state, he said, it's a career-destroying humiliation. "You're not just done, you are finished. If she loses in South Carolina, you may never hear her name ever again."
Tom Duffy of Goffstown, N.H., said he supported Trump. He said the economy was better for him, and others. Another thing he likes about Trump: "He sticks his finger in the establishment's eye." (Alex Panetta/CBC News)
Still, a sizable chunk of the Republican Party opposes the former president. One reason cited by his critics in both parties is Jan. 6 — and the attempt to overturn an election.
Sturtevant brushed off concerns that Trump might be an autocrat if re-elected. If Trump had autocratic impulses, he said, he could easily have declared martial law in 2020, with the pandemic, and during riots, but didn't.
The vast majority of Trump supporters deny he was at fault for Jan. 6, when a mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol while it was certifying the 2020 election result.
"He sticks his finger in the establishment's eye," said Tom Duffy of Goffstown, who voted for Trump.
"He understands how to speak clearly about topics, instead of mealy-mouthed half-truths." "You listen to a politician and it's always on guard, always hedging their bets, riding the fence. He comes out, he says something, he means it, he sticks to it."