Editorial: New Hampshire voters can deal a blow to Trump by backing Haley

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley greets a voter at a town hall campaign event, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024, in Rye, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley greets a voter at a town hall campaign event, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024, in Rye, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Robert F. Bukaty—AP

Published: 01-12-2024 9:10 PM

Modified: 01-16-2024 1:53 PM

New Hampshire voters have the opportunity later this month to vindicate the extravagant claims made over many years for their political acumen and civic engagement. That is, they have the chance to inflict a grievous political wound on Donald Trump.

This is not out of the realm of possibility. Even though Trump continues to lead the Republican field, recent New Hampshire polling suggests that Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador, is pulling within striking distance of Trump with days to go before the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary. And that was before Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor, dropped out of the race. Haley stands to benefit, as she and Christie appealed to much the same segment of voters.

Haley is certainly conservative, and her promise to pardon Trump if he is convicted on any of the multiple felony counts he faces is dismaying. On the other hand, we would prefer a President Haley pardoning Trump than Trump pardoning himself after winning the election. But the most important point here is that Haley largely adheres to democratic norms and respects democratic institutions, which an increasingly unhinged Trump does not.

And Haley doesn’t have to win in New Hampshire to shake up the dynamics of the race. A close second would do. The vital importance of puncturing Trump’s aura of inevitably as the Republican nominee was vividly demonstrated this week in arguments before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

In arguing that Trump is immune from prosecution for his role in trying to subvert the 2020 election, his lawyer claimed that presidential immunity is absolute, unless a president is first impeached by the House and then convicted by the Senate — even if, for example, a president had ordered a Special Forces team to assassinate a political rival.

This has the authentic ring of violent authoritarianism, entered into the public record for all to see. Trump himself later underscored the point, predicting that “bedlam” would ensue if the prosecution cost him the 2024 election and pointedly refusing to rule out violence in that event.

This is only the latest sign that a second Trump term in the White House would be marked by violence and vengeance, as well as persecution of scapegoats such as immigrants, drug dealers and shoplifters. The Trump cult of personality that energizes the MAGA base is in itself a hallmark of authoritarian rule, and constitutes another sign that democracy hangs in the balance in the 2024 presidential election.

Another is the disconnect with reality evident in his base of support. A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll recently found that fully 34% of Republicans embrace the fantasy that the FBI organized and encouraged the Capitol insurrection. Too many Republican officeholders, who have every reason to know better, have expended considerable effort to minimize and excuse the violence that took place that day. None dare call it treason.

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New Hampshire voters cannot rely on the U.S. Supreme Court to let states bar Trump from the ballot under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which disqualifies anyone from holding political office who engaged in insurrection after having previously taken an oath to support the Constitution.

While it seems as though this provision was written with someone like Trump in mind, it is hard to imagine the current court enforcing it, given that he appointed three of its members and two of the other justices stand even further to the right. For the same reason, no one should expect the court to rein in a second Trump presidency as it veers off the rails toward an anti-democratic future.

The warning signs are there for all to see. A former colleague of ours suggests that 2024 may be the year that The Washington Post needs to change its slogan from “Democracy Dies in Darkness” to “Democracy Dies in Broad Daylight.”

We urge those voting in the New Hampshire Republican primary to heed the warning of Timothy Snyder, the Yale historian, in his 2017 book “On Tyranny.” Invoking a novelist’s observation that you don’t know, when you make love for the last time, that you are making love for the last time, Snyder goes on to say: “Voting is like that. Some of the Germans who voted for the Nazi Party in 1932 no doubt understood that this might be the last meaningfully free election for some time, but most did not. ... Any election can be the last, or at least the last in the lifetime of the person casting the vote.” With that in mind, make your vote count on Jan. 23.