Is the general election already here?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden easily won their primary races in New Hampshire. Now what? Plus, a reader asks about Nikki Haley's strategy, a reminder about our latest YouTube video, and reader essay.

A quick favor.

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Quick hits.

  1. Hamas rejected a two-month ceasefire proposal from Israel in exchange for releasing all Israeli hostages. Hamas instead called for a full withdrawal in exchange for the release of hostages. (The negotiations)
  2. Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay a $700 million fine to settle investigations from 40 states about its talcum-based baby powder. (The settlement)
  3. The Los Angeles Times, once one of the country's largest newspapers, announced it was laying off more than 20% of its newsroom staff. Four days ago, journalists at the Times went on strike for the first time in its 142-year history. (The layoffs)
  4. Turkey approved Sweden for membership into NATO. Hungary is the last country the alliance requires to unanimously approve Sweden’s membership. (The approval)
  5. The U.S. conducted more airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in Iraq, responding to recent attacks on coalition forces in Iraq and Syria. (The strikes)

Today's topic.

The New Hampshire primary. Last night, former President Donald Trump won New Hampshire's Republican primary in decisive fashion, earning 54.4% of the vote to Nikki Haley's 43.3%. President Joe Biden, despite not appearing on the ballot in New Hampshire, won 53.8% of the Democratic vote via write-in (with 13,581 unprocessed write-in ballots still outstanding as of 11 am ET), easily besting his top two challengers, Rep. Dean Phillips (MN), who got 19.6%, and Marianne Williamson, who earned 4.6%.

New Hampshire, known as a moderate state with an independent voting streak, was widely seen as the best chance for the challengers to gain some momentum in the race. Both of the state's primaries are open to independent voters, Biden finished fifth among Democrats in 2020, and Republicans there are generally more moderate than in other key states. However, Joe Biden’s victory over second-place finisher Dean Phillips was decisive and more or less expected, despite Phillips targeting the state for months. 

On the Republican side, Haley invested heavily in New Hampshire, where the race was being closely watched for any signals that she could mount a serious challenge to Trump now that the Republican primary is down to just two candidates. However, despite Haley pulling support from independents and from New Hampshire's popular Republican governor Chris Sununu, Trump won nearly three in four Republican voters and beat her across almost every demographic, including in every age group and among both men and women (by double digit points), according to exit polls. Haley did well among independents, who broke for her 60% to 38%, according to The Washington Post’s survey of primary voters.

The race was called for Trump just minutes after polls closed. His victory was historic, marking the first time a Republican presidential candidate who was not an incumbent won the first two contests in a primary. He was joined on stage by former challengers Vivek Ramaswamy and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) during his victory speech and immediately began pressuring Haley to drop out.

“If she doesn’t drop out, we have to waste money instead of spending it on Biden, which is our focus,” Trump said to Fox News.

Haley had never lost an election before the Iowa caucuses, and she has vowed to stay in the race at least through South Carolina, the conservative state where she served as governor. Still, her odds there look even worse than in New Hampshire, where she has trailed Trump in the polls by more than 30 points for months. South Carolina's primary is on February 24.

Today, we're going to analyze some results from the left and right about the primaries, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • The left is discouraged by Republican voters’ clear preference for Trump at every step of the Republican primary. 
  • Some say it’s time to accept that Nikki Haley has no chance of making the race competitive. 
  • Others focus on Biden’s performance, saying it was a strong outcome that bodes well for the president going forward. 

Bloomberg’s editorial board said Republican voters have “chosen the road of anger and spite and endless division.”

“Republicans must by now realize that nominating Trump will not advance their interests. In addition to the disorder, ineptitude and ambient corruption that characterized his first term, Trump was the weakest president since the New Deal. Outmaneuvered at every turn, he caved repeatedly to Democrats, ran up huge deficits and accomplished nearly no policy goals. He couldn’t even build his border wall, the notional premise of his campaign,” the board wrote. “A second term promises more of the same, but worse.”

“Unburdened of Trump, Republicans would have a good chance of winning the White House and making gains in Congress. They could pursue the pro-family, anti-crime agenda many of them say they want while reforming the party to meet the needs of a new demographic and economic era. And they could do so without endangering the foundations of the republic,” the board added. “It’s not happening. Time has run out. Trump is their man.”

In MSNBC, Paul Waldman described Trump’s victory as “depressingly clarifying.”

“By overwhelming margins, this isn’t just Donald Trump’s party; it’s a party of Trumpists, in which his support has only broadened and deepened as his rhetoric and his intentions become uglier and more mentally addled,” Waldman said. “Republican voters had the opportunity to rally behind any one of many extremely conservative presidential candidates… To all of them, the party’s base said, ‘We want Trump.’”

“Nikki Haley couldn’t have asked for a better state to make her stand in than New Hampshire,” Waldman wrote, but the state’s moderate conservative base and open primaries were still not enough. “Haley may have done better than many expected, but according to exit polls, her performance was built on the independent voters who won’t be able to vote in most other GOP contests. Three-quarters of Republicans cast their votes for Trump. That landslide confirms the central contradiction at the heart of Haley’s candidacy and those of all the candidates who have already dropped out: Most Republicans just weren’t going to be moved from their support for the former president.”

In New York Magazine, Ed Kilgore wrote about Biden’s “double victory in New Hampshire.”

“Despite lots of irresponsible talk about Joe Biden potentially getting ambushed in an officially unauthorized New Hampshire primary where he wasn’t on the ballot, the president brushed aside two opponents and won a primary for the first time in this influential state,” Kilgore said. “Some predicted he would underperform and get knocked out of his reelection race like Lyndon Johnson in 1968. Instead Biden called into question whether Dean Phillips and Marianne Williamson have any reason to continue their unsuccessful candidacies.

“In fact, Biden won a double victory in New Hampshire. Aside from winning his own primary, his general election strategy is being vindicated by the continuing success of his preferred general election opponent, Donald Trump,” Kilgore added. Further, the South Carolina primary “should be a real love-in as Joe Biden campaigns among the voters who absolutely saved his bacon in 2020 and put him on the path to the presidency. The contrast with the glowering Trump and the Republicans who are on a white-knuckle ride with him should be richly rewarding for the 46th president.”

What the right is saying.

  • The right believes Trump is leading the most formidable political movement in modern U.S. history. 
  • Some say a Trump-Biden rematch remains likely despite notable performances from challengers on both sides.
  • Others suggest Haley should stay in the race after exceeding expectations in New Hampshire.

In The New York Post, Michael Goodwin wrote “Teflon Don shows his durability.”

“Trump appears to be unstoppable as he aims to make history by winning the GOP nomination for the third time,” Goodwin said. “Incredibly, polls in the next 10 states on the GOP calendar all show him with a lead of at least 30 points, including Haley’s home state of South Carolina. The upshot is that rather than searching for the whys of the other candidates’ defeats, we should instead come to grips with why Trump could prove to be unbeatable in the primaries and why he has a real chance of winning the White House a second time.

“The short answer is that we are witnessing a durable political movement unlike any seen in modern America. The part of the electorate that hates Trump ­really, really hates him, yet it is matched in size and intensity by those who see him as the last, best hope. Without that enormous well of support, he would have been crushed by the coordinated onslaught against him. And yet that same onslaught, much of it the result of unfair media coverage and partisan actions that shattered political norms, also played a major role in his revival.”

In Fox News, Liz Peek argued Haley and Phillips outperformed in New Hampshire but “it's still a Trump vs. Biden horse race.”

“Early Fox News voter analysis showed that about 77% of the people going to vote in the GOP primary were registered Republicans, while 10% were Democrats who changed their registration last fall to allow them to participate in the open primary, and 13% were independents. If those numbers hold, that was a disappointment for Haley; independents constitute 40% of all registered voters in New Hampshire and she needed those folks to turn out in much bigger numbers to pose any threat to Trump,” Peek wrote. 

“If Haley cannot win her home state, or comes in a distant second, calls for her to exit and to bring the party together in fighting against another four years of Biden’s presidency will be deafening,” Peek added. Meanwhile, Biden “had to rely on a write-in campaign to avoid embarrassment at the hands of Rep. Dean Phillips… Philips campaigned vigorously in New Hampshire, telling voters the truth — that Biden is too old to serve another four years. Phillips was a total unknown just a few weeks ago; by the time of the primary, he was polling at around 10%. He ended up winning over 20% of the vote.”

In The Telegraph, Henry Olsen said “Nikki Haley can’t give up yet.”

Haley “showed significant progress since her disappointing third place finish in Iowa’s caucuses. She continued to dominate among those with at least a four-year college degree, beating Trump 56-41 in this demographic according to the exit poll. She also trounced him 60-38 among voters who identify as independent,” Olsen wrote. “Haley says she will fight on, and there’s no reason for her not to. The next significant state to vote is her native South Carolina. It has no party registration, so like in New Hampshire independents can come out in droves to back her. The primary isn’t until February 24, a month from now.”

“She will have to use that time very wisely. She can’t just repeat the same things and expect different results. Haley is going to have to take the fight to Trump more sharply, drawing more direct and clear contrasts. She started to do that in the last week, but she will have to do that every day, in every appearance, and on every campaign ad now. There’s no time or money to waste beating around the bush,” Olsen said. “​​This doesn’t mean the Republican contest is even. Trump remains a strong favorite to win renomination… It does, though, give her a chance.”

My take.

  • It’s another step towards the inevitable for Trump, though I think Haley will be sticking around to fight.
  • The real story here is the tension between Trump’s huge strength in the primary and his apparent weakness in the general election.
  • 2024 is shaping up to be a historically weak incumbent vs. a historically weak challenger.

The obvious point here is obvious: The race is over.

Haley has said she will stay in the race, at least for a few more weeks, and I respect her for that. Last night, Bill O'Reilly brought me on his show to talk about the New Hampshire primary, and he made the case that Haley would drop out after she loses. I said I believe she's going to hang on through South Carolina, and I think she should. Her odds of winning are near zero, of course, but Republican voters deserve at least a few elections (surely more than two) to be sure before it's all over. As Henry Olsen argued above (under "What the right is saying") a week is a long time in politics — a month is an eternity. I don't see any point in Haley bowing out to Trump now, especially if she wants to brand herself as a fighter and, perhaps, the No. 2 candidate in the party behind him — a valuable position to hold heading into the wide-open 2028 primary.

All the focus has rightly been on the fact that this was a good night for Trump, one that affirms — even in more moderate New Hampshire — that he is the pick for Republicans. Among Republican voters, despite all the baggage the pundits obsess over, Trump's support is robust and he looks poised to cruise to the nomination.

But there is another story here very few people are discussing that I also think is worth pointing out: We got the first warning signs for the Trump campaign.

For starters, it's no small thing that Haley cleaned up with independent voters in the state. That isn't going to matter much in her crusade to win the Republican primary, but it will mean a lot when the general election rolls around. This was the widest gap ever between Republicans and independent voters in New Hampshire, a giant 71-point gulf. We know from focus groups and exit polls that there are a lot of Republican and independent voters in states like New Hampshire who simply refuse to cast a ballot for Trump, and the returns from Tuesday night reaffirmed that. Haley's loss was decisive, but she still outperformed most polls and she did it on the backs of independent voters.

Those same voters are going to be Biden’s best chance of winning states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada, which together will decide the 2024 election. Consider this, too: Only about half of the people who voted in New Hampshire said they'd cast a ballot for Trump in the general election if he is convicted of a crime, according to a CNN exit poll. That’s consistent with other polls, including one from Siena College that found almost a quarter of Trump voters don’t want him on the ticket if he’s convicted of a crime.

In 2022, one of the few people who got the midterms right was Simon Rosenberg — a Democratic strategist who repeatedly said no red wave was coming and rightly predicted the outcome of most of the races. We interviewed him shortly after the midterms and dubbed him The Man Who Was Right About the 2022 Midterms. Rosenberg is a partisan. He is a Democratic activist and organizer, and his views should be taken within that context. But in his newsletter this week, I think he made a strong case that Trump continues to be a huge risk for Republicans as a general election candidate — and that coverage of his dominance in the primary belies his weaknesses in a general election. A few points Rosenberg made really stuck with me:

  • Trump lost the 2020 race by over 7 million votes
  • Since then, Trump has accumulated 91 criminal indictments
  • Republicans have underperformed in every election since 2020
  • A sizable number of Trump supporters say they won't vote for Trump if he's found guilty of a crime
  • A jury found him liable for sexual abuse
  • He is being charged with decades-long financial fraud
  • He is being charged with mishandling classified documents
  • Biden is beating Trump in recent polls from New Hampshire, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and he’s polling ahead of his 2020 numbers in most swing states
  • 43% of Haley's Iowa voters said they'd cast a ballot for Biden, while just 23% said they'd vote for Trump
  • Abortion continues to be a winning issue for Democrats

Whether you agree Trump should be facing charges or not, or whether you believe he is guilty of anything or not, is irrelevant to those sentiments. What's important is that Trump lost in 2020 before a lot of these charges came down, and Biden is going to hammer Trump with this stuff once the general election kicks up in earnest. That’s a pretty good counterpunch for an incumbent defending his record to be able to throw, and they’re points that are going to matter a lot to that critical sector of independent and moderate voters.

In the primary, it seems clear the indictments helped Trump among Republican voters — just take a look at this:

But in the general election, I think it is clear that his legal troubles are going to hurt him. And before I forget to mention it, Biden just easily won his primary without even being on the ballot, demonstrating his team's ability to organize a well run write-in campaign.

Don’t mix up my message here. This is not me making the case for Biden. He is a historically weak incumbent and the vast majority of voters (including 65% of Democrats!) think he is too old or not fit to run again. But for all the talk of Trump's dominance in the primary, there is very little talk about the fact he remains a weak general election candidate, as some of his most ardent supporters are willing to see. Without the independent voters and moderate Republicans he failed to win in New Hampshire he is, once again, facing an uphill battle in 2024.

Your questions, answered.

Q: Why doesn’t Nikki Haley emphasize that she is the BEST to defeat Biden?

— Anonymous from Plainfield, IL

Tangle: She is emphasizing that, and she has been. As polling began in New Hampshire last night, Haley tweeted exactly that: “Here’s a hard truth for Donald Trump: 70% of Americans do not want a rematch between two 80 year olds distracted by drama and investigations. That’s why nearly every poll shows me trouncing Biden, while he barely squeaks by. Numbers don’t lie.”

The tragedy for Haley is that she probably would be a better candidate against Biden in the general election, but she’s proving that she’s not a great candidate against Trump in the primary. Finding a way to win both races at once is a dilemma a lot of presidential candidates have to solve, and Haley’s message to conservatives that she’s their best shot to beat Biden seems cogent — but it isn’t working.

The real question is why that message is failing. Republican voters either don’t believe it, don’t like her, or just don’t care. Or maybe they just aren’t listening. After the race was called in New Hampshire, “YOU LOST” was trending on Twitter, a message to Haley from conservatives that could be interpreted as any of the above. Some Republicans honestly believe Trump has a better shot against Biden than Haley does. Many of the party’s typical conservatives view her as the candidate of choice for the left, labeling her as a RINO captured by the corporate political class, and maybe they were never going to be moved by anything she said. 

Lastly, the fact that I even got the question of why Haley isn’t emphasizing a thing she is very much emphasizing shows that her signal isn’t getting boosted well enough to reach its intended audience.

For what it’s worth, I happen to think that the combination of her support from moderates, the way her candidacy would dwindle turnout on the left (without the anti-Trump vote), and the fact so many in the Republican base would probably get in line behind her against Biden all give her a better shot to beat him than Trump has. But it’s worth repeating: Republicans either don’t believe it, don’t like her, or just don’t care. 

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Under the radar.

By doing away with advanced learning programs in elementary and middle schools, Seattle Public Schools are "making a huge mistake," a Tangle reader contends. On Sunday, we published the most-engaged reader-submitted essay in our Sunday Edition’s short history. It came from an anonymous reader in Seattle, who wrote about what is happening in the public school system where her husband teaches and her kids learn. The story is about how — and why — under calls for more equity, Seattle's schools are limiting learning opportunities for advanced students. The piece generated dozens of emails and lots of feedback, but hadn't been sent to our full mailing list. You can read it here (this is a members-only post, so you'll see a paywall about halfway through).


Our most engaged YouTube video yet has garnered close to 200 comments and driven nearly 1,000 new subscribers to our channel. If you missed it, we highly recommend checking it out:


  • 17.2%. Donald Trump’s polling lead over Nikki Haley in New Hampshire on the day of the primary election, according to FiveThirtyEight.
  • 11.1%. With 95% of the votes counted, Trump’s margin of victory over Haley in New Hampshire.
  • 32. The total number of Republican delegates for Trump after his wins in Iowa and New Hampshire.
  • 17. The total number of Republican delegates for Haley.
  • 79%. The percentage of Republican primary voters in New Hampshire who voted for Trump who say they would favor a federal law banning most or all abortions nationwide, according to exit polling by the Washington Post.
  • 51%. The percentage of all Republican primary voters in New Hampshire who say Joe Biden did not legitimately win the presidency in 2020. 
  • 71%. The percentage of Trump voters in the New Hampshire Republican primary who consider themselves conservatives, according to exit polling by NBC News.
  • 72%. The percentage of Haley voters in the New Hampshire Republican primary who consider themselves moderates. 

The extras.

  • One year ago today we wrote about the reparations proposal in San Francisco.
  • The most clicked link in our newsletter yesterday was our ad in the free newsletter for the Donut newsletter.
  • Choose to defer: 551 readers responded to our survey yesterday asking how the Supreme Court should rule on Chevron with 44% of respondents favoring the Supreme Court preserving Chevron deference and 43% favoring its rejection. Specifically, 27% said they favor the court preserving it, 23% favored the court overturning it, 20% strongly favored the court overturning it, and 17% strongly favored the court preserving it. 13% were unsure or had no opinion. “The deference has been used so very few times that one must ask themselves...why now? Political parties don't get behind something unless they have an agenda,” one respondent said.
  • Nothing to do with politics: These are America’s favorite hot sauces.
  • Take the poll. Which Republican do you think would stand a better chance in a head-to-head matchup against Joe Biden? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

Every year 600,000 people die of malaria in Africa, according to the World Health Organization, and children under five make up at least 80% of those deaths. But as bad as those figures are, there’s good reason to believe that that’s the worst they will ever be. In West Africa, the world's first routine vaccine program against malaria started in Cameroon on Monday, with a baby girl named Daniella receiving the first shot in the capital of Yaounde. And there will be many more like her. Cameroon is offering the RTS,S vaccine free of charge to all infants up to the age of six months old. As part of the program, patients will be given a total of four doses. The program is being rolled out after successful pilot campaigns in Kenya, Ghana and Malawi, where the vaccine caused a 13% drop in deaths of children of eligible age, says UNICEF. The BBC has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.