Trump looks pretty beatable. Just not by Nikki Haley.

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In this week’s New Hampshire Republican primary, the key statistic was not Donald Trump’s underwhelming margin of victory – he beat Nikki Haley by 11 points after crowing that he’d win by 30 – but, far more importantly, this one right here:

Independent swing voters, who were free under state rules to participate in that primary, rejected Trump in a landslide. Haley racked up 61 percent. He got 37.

Translation: The guy who’s been found liable for rape, the guy with four indictments and 91 felony counts, is strong within the party he has transformed into a cult – indeed, strong enough to steamroll the primary calendar and snatch a third GOP nomination – but he’s woefully weak with the swing independents he needs to pull off a November Restoration.

Disgusted as you probably are with the prospect of putting up with this demagogue for yet another campaign year, your reflexive pessimism may tempt you to conclude that New Hampshire’s swing voters are outliers, that they’re not in sync with the nation’s indies. But in truth they seem to be; according to one national poll in December, President Biden is trouncing Trump with independents by a margin of 12 points.

Even Fox News’ Brit Hume saw the key New Hampshire stat and clanged the alarm. He said on the air Trump’s showing was “weak” and after defeats in 2020 and 2022, “he has a lot of losses on his book.”

44 percent of everyone who voted in the New Hampshire primary said they’d refuse to cast November ballots for Trump if he’s convicted of a crime prior to the election, according to exit polls. Trump is trying to stall all his trials. No wonder he’s begging our highest court for a crackpot ruling of “total immunity.”

MAGA Theater, lest we forget, does not draw its spectators from the America mainstream. If you steeled yourself to watch victorious Trump preen on stage, you were rightly nauseated. He was clearly annoyed by his winning margin and Haley’s refusal to kiss his ring. So, of course, he mocked the attire she wore (“the fancy dress that probably wasn’t so fancy”) and warned that if she’s not careful, she might wind up getting investigated for “stuff she doesn’t want to talk about.” He bellowed that he’d beaten Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire in 2016 and that he’d beaten Biden in New Hampshire in 2020 (he lost the state both times), and, of course, his fans lapped it all up – none more so than his newest simpering supplicant, ex-candidate Tim Scott, last seen on a debate stage declaring his love for “Judeo Christian values” but now burbling “I love you” to Trump.

In the words of center-right political commentator Matt Lewis, “The Party of Lincoln has metastasized into a decadent and perverse cult of personality that calls evil good and good evil.” Heck, it’s even possible “that a Jesus-Reagan ’24 ticket still would have fallen short of beating Trump within the current GOP electorate.”

The current GOP electorate will likely grease his third nomination. It’s hard to envision where Haley can get traction, especially since most contests are closed to independents. But the current GOP electorate isn’t big and broad enough to elect a president, especially one who’s running for office to stay out of jail.

And Trump isn’t just weak with independents; he has also alienated a sizable share of traditional Republicans, whose votes he can’t afford to lose. Ron DeSantis (remember him?) has dutifully kissed Trump’s ring, but he also surfaced earlier this week on a conservative radio show and said: “When I have people come up to me who voted for Reagan in ’76, and have been conservative their whole life, say that they don’t want to vote for Trump again, that’s a problem…a huge warning sign.”

Center-left political analyst Simon Rosenberg, who mocked the conventional wisdom about a “red wave” in the ’22 congressional elections, and who therefore got it right, said this about Trump: “He is a weaker candidate than he was in 2016 or 2020. He is far more degraded, extreme, dangerous. His performance on the stump is far more erratic and unhinged. He keeps making deeply consequential unforced errors like coming out against (Obamacare) and admitting he ended Roe…Republicans are making a huge mistake in nominating him this year.”

Which brings us back to that New Hampshire independents stat. Granted, we inhabitants of the American mainstream shouldn’t wipe our brows in relief and assume for a millisecond that democracy will be saved in November. But it’s definitely worth remembering that when this Great and Powerful Oz huffs and puffs, there’s a very beatable con behind that curtain.

Copyright 2024 Dick Polman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at Email him at [email protected]