From an initial crowded field of contestants, the Republicam presidential race has now narrowed to two.
It is now a one-on-one combat between between former South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley and Donald Trump.
This came as Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis ended his Republican presidential campaign on Sunday, January 21, 2024, following a distant second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.
He endorsed Donald Trump.
DeSantis’s decision comes less than two days before the New Hampshire primary, in which polls showed him far behind Trump and Haley.
When DeSantis entered the 2024 presidential contest, early primary polls suggested he was in a strong position to beat Trump, who faces numerous court cases including for interference in the 2020 presidential election.
The Florida Governor built a campaign war chest well in excess of $100m supported by a significant legislative record on issues important to many conservatives such as abortion and the teaching of race and gender issues in schools.
However, he failed to make headway and connect with voters.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, a top Trump ally, reacted to the news of DeSantis leaving the race. He said, “Welcome home, Ron.”
“Welcome back to the MAGA movement where you have always belonged and where we will welcome you and be honored to count you among our legion as we go forward unifying this Republican Party for victory,” he added.
He also stated, “A reasonable person might honestly ask the question to Nikki Haley, ‘What are you still doing in this?’”
Meanwhile, at a Sunday evening rally in Rochester, New Hampshire, Trump set aside months of criticism and mockery of DeSantis to praise the governor, saying he was looking forward to working together to defeat President Joe Biden, the probable Democratic nominee.
“I just want to thank Ron and congratulate him on doing a very good job,” Trump said at the outset of his remarks. “He was very gracious, and he endorsed me. I appreciate that, and I also look forward to working with Ron.” Trump described DeSantis as “a really terrific person.”
Trump continued to hit Haley on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, saying she isn’t conservative enough to be the Republican nominee.
Trump accused Haley of forming an “unholy alliance” with liberals, never-Trumpers and so-called RINOs, or Republicans in Name Only, to try and win the New Hampshire primary.
Haley returned fire, insisting that she is the candidate best positioned to beat President Joe Biden in a general election.
Haley opened her rally by saying: “Do you hear that sound? That’s the sound of a two-person race.”
“This comes down to what do you want: Do you want more of the same or do you want something new?” Haley asked a cheering crowd in New Hampshire.
Next Stop; New Hampshire
Ahead of Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary in New Hampshire, three different New Hampshire polls have predicted three different double-digit leads for Trump.
Haley is now the last candidate standing between Trump and his third-straight Republican nomination and total dominance of the Republican party.
Trump’s campaign team hopes a second consecutive win will make his eventual nomination all but inevitable.
Trump also has a commanding lead in South Carolina, which votes on February 24. A Haley loss in her home state – where she was Governor from 2011 to 2017 – would probably mean the end of her campaign.
David Kochel, a Republican strategist who has worked on five presidential campaigns, said DeSantis’s exit was unlikely to change the basic contours of the campaign, given that his support had cratered.
“The race needs a big dynamic shift, and I don’t feel that DeSantis dropping out is that big a deal as he didn’t have that much going on in New Hampshire, and he didn’t even have that much going on in South Carolina,” he said.
Let the two-person race begin!
And may the best candidate win.