From the Dispatch Politics on The Dispatch

Happy Wednesday! No time to rest for the Dispatch Politics team, with the New Hampshire primary coming hot on Iowa’s heels next Tuesday. Mike is already braving the snow in the Granite State, with David and John (and some other Dispatch personalities!) to join him there soon. Andrew, however, is headed back to D.C. so his kids don’t forget what he looks like.

Up to Speed

  • ABC News has canceled its planned Thursday primary debate in New Hampshire—which would have been another one-on-one affair between Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis—after Haley said she would not attend further debates if Donald Trump did not participate. “Our intent was to host a debate coming out of the Iowa caucuses, but we always knew that would be contingent on the candidates and the outcome of the race,” a spokesperson for ABC News said in a statement. Haley lagged DeSantis by 3 points in Monday’s Iowa caucuses, but is far outpacing him in New Hampshire primary polling.

  • Trump’s convincing Iowa win has pulled a few more endorsements out of the woodwork this week, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Blake Masters, the GOP Senate nominee in Arizona in 2022. “At this point, I believe this race is over,” Cruz said on Fox News on Tuesday evening. “I think it’s time for the Republican Party to unite, for us to come together. We’ve got to beat Joe Biden, we’ve got to beat this disastrous cultural-Marxist agenda in the White House.”

  • GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa was hospitalized this week to be treated for an infection, his office said Thursday. “He is in good spirits and will return to work as soon as possible following doctors’ orders,” it said in a statement. At 90, Grassley, who was reelected last year, is the oldest current member of the Senate.

Ahead of New Hampshire Primary, Haley Paints Trump as the ‘Chaos’ Candidate

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign event on January 16, 2024, in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign event on January 16, 2024, in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign event on January 16, 2024, in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

BRETTON WOODS, New Hampshire—For the first 15 minutes of her remarks here at the historic Mount Washington Hotel, Nikki Haley’s audience was polite, respectful, and quiet. As the former South Carolina governor rolled effortlessly through her stump speech with snow falling hard outside, her platitudes about fiscal responsibility, an active role for the United States in foreign affairs, and controlling the southern border with Mexico were greeted with silent signs of affirmation.

But the crowd here in New Hampshire’s North Country region started to come alive when Haley turned her attention to Donald Trump, the clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination. “I voted for President Trump twice. I was honored to serve America in his administration,” she said, echoing points she made in her concession speech in Iowa the night before. “Rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him.”

Appearing to sense the murmur of acknowledgement from the crowd, Haley pressed the point. “You know I’m right,” she went on, as heads began to nod. “Chaos follows him, and we can’t have …”

Haley was then cut off by a spontaneous round of applause. She kept going, getting more enthusiastic reactions as she noted that the majority of Americans don’t want a presidential contest between “two 80-year-olds” or a continued focus on “investigations” and “past issues” that keep the country from moving forward.

Whether or not she can actually beat Trump in Tuesday’s primary election, it’s clear the people who are coming to see her love hearing Haley take on the frontrunner, even in her roundabout way.

Before her remarks even began, a common word from voters milling about in the hotel lobby regarding Trump was “chaos.” Rick Wright of Whitefield told The Dispatch that he’s voting for Haley, not only because he agrees with her on most of the issues but because she represents a break from Trump’s cycle of drama. “I’d like to get out of the chaos and the bulls—t from the past,” Wright said. “All the drama and investigation bulls—t going on.”

Linda and Chuck Donovan of Bartlett were among those who said they appreciated Haley’s comments about moving the party, and the country, past Trump. The couple said that they unregistered as Republicans in 2016 once Trump got the nomination, and, while they still lean toward the GOP on policy grounds, they won’t vote for the former president in a general election. “I think there’s probably a lot of voters like myself,” Chuck told The Dispatch.

Linda chimed in to note that there appears to have been a shift even among more loyal Republicans here in the rural North Country since the previous two presidential elections. “When you drive to town,” she said, “there used to be some Trump signs. They’ve been replaced with Nikki signs.”

Whether that apparent surge in enthusiasm will translate into actual votes remains to be seen. With the clock running out, polling still indicates at least a plurality, and maybe more, of New Hampshire Republicans are still on board with Trump. The latest New Hampshire primary poll from Suffolk University, released Wednesday morning, shows Trump with 50 percent support from likely voters and Haley in a distant second place with 34 percent. On the other hand, Haley fans can take comfort in another new poll from American Research Group released Tuesday, which found Trump and Haley tied at 40 percent in New Hampshire. The RealClearPolitics average (still constituted largely of polls taken before Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy exited the race) has Trump at 44 percent support and Haley at 31 percent.

Chris Sununu, the state’s governor who is campaigning relentlessly for Haley and introduced her here Tuesday night, told reporters afterward the polling certainly shows that Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is in single digits in both polls, isn’t competing in New Hampshire. “There’s no real path forward for him,” Sununu said. “It’s definitely a two-person race. And that’s what America wants.”

Trump Once Again King of ‘Earned Media’

Some things never change.

As was the case during the last open Republican contest eight years ago, Donald Trump is commanding the lion’s share of earned media in this year’s presidential primary—the sort of media coverage that he does not have to pay for but is worth hundreds of millions of dollars in national exposure. Or, as it’s turned out this cycle, billions of dollars: nearly $5 billion since August 23, the day of the first televised Republican primary debate in Milwaukee.

That’s according to data collected and synthesized by Ax Media, a media intelligence firm affiliated with Axiom Strategies. The behemoth political firm is run by GOP strategist Jeff Roe, who was in charge of the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down until he resigned in mid-December. The information was shared with The Dispatch on Tuesday by a political operative who continues to advise Never Back Down.

How did Trump’s competitors stack up? Over the same period—from August 23 through Monday’s Iowa caucuses—Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis received $1.2 billion worth of earned media; Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and ex-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, received $942.4 million; and wealthy biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy received $489.2 million. Incidentally, this correlates with how all four candidates finished in the caucuses, the first contest on the GOP presidential nominating calendar.

When reporting on the competition for resources in a political campaign, the focus is understandably on which candidate and supportive super PAC is spending more—on television and radio, on digital platforms, on direct mail, on voter turnout. But earned media is a crucial component of any bid for office, especially for the presidency. It captures coverage, positive or negative, on cable television and network newscasts, written opinion and news reporting in newspapers, magazines, and online outlets (such as The Dispatch), podcast interviews, and discussions on social media platforms.

And Trump’s domination of this metric is providing him with a massive advantage over his Republican opponents in the key early primary states, just as it did in 2016. That’s especially true because in the case of the former president, even negative earned media has juiced his support among Republican primary voters.

Here’s how the competition for earned media played out on Saturday and Sunday, the final full two days of campaigning before the Iowa caucuses, per Ax Media’s data: Trump, $99.5 million; DeSantis, $61.9 million; Haley, $61.2 million; Ramaswamy, $24.3 million. And how did the candidates finish in Iowa? Trump, 51 percent; DeSantis, 21 percent; Haley, 19 percent; Ramaswamy, 8 percent.

Viewing a color-coded graph tracking earning media for all four candidates since July 1, Trump’s supremacy appears even more stark. The former president’s earned media coverage was eclipsed by the others only a handful of days during the six-and-a-half months leading up to the Iowa caucuses. And on most of those days that Trump garnered more earned media than DeSantis, Haley, and Ramaswamy, he did so by a significant margin.

Indeed, Trump’s edge here was particularly pronounced on the four days the other Republican candidates were sparring in nationally televised debates, revealing that even the spotlight of a major media event that received blanket coverage from the national press corps was no match for the attention the former president is able to attract. Trump did not participate in any of these debates, but often counter-programmed them with competing events. The wall-to-wall coverage from his four criminal indictments also hogged attention from the competition. It mattered, and continues to.

Notable and Quotable 

“That’s an economy-class ticket out. That’s coach, right near the bathroom.”

—A DeSantis-backing financial bundler to NBC News about the Florida governor’s claim that “we’ve got our ticket punched out of Iowa,” January 16, 2024

Read more at The Dispatch

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