Nikki Haley Rising in Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire

Former South Carolina Gov. and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley may be barely a blip in national polls. But after her debate performance, she has surged into a tie for second with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in New Hampshire and is making a strong move in Iowa. And while it’s not surprising that the former governor of South Carolina would be winning her home state primary, Haley is ahead in a ranked-choice poll put out by the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce.

“She really knocked it out of the park at the debate and was able to introduce herself and throw herself into contention,” said Iowa state Rep. Austin Harris, who was the first lawmaker in the state to endorse her. “She connected with folks on a big stage and showed that she has what it takes.”

It’s not a universal analysis that Haley got the biggest bounce from the debate. Many analysts point to the performance of Vivek Ramaswamy as the breakout star of the evening.

But Ramaswamy’s reception was a mix of positive and negative. And Haley’s momentum has translated not only into a polling surge, but also a gush of donations.

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The Dispatch:

Though they concede they have not viewed fresh polling, neutral Republican operatives in Iowa say the increase in enthusiasm surrounding Haley is palpable. More GOP activists in Iowa are reaching out to Haley’s campaign offering to lend a hand. More importantly, more Republican voters likely to participate in the January 15 Iowa caucuses are attending Haley events and considering her for the 2024 nomination.

The evidence is a breakthrough in fundraising, the Haley campaign says.

In the 72 hours following the debate, the former ambassador raised $1 million, boosted by a 1,000 percent increase in contributions from grassroots Iowa donors compared to Iowa fundraising in the three days before the debate, according to her campaign. Additionally, prominent Iowa Republicans backing the former governor say their phones have been buzzing nonstop since before the Fox News telecast concluded.

“Tim Scott whiffed and Nikki looks like the real deal,” says a neutral Republican consultant in Iowa. Adds a second GOP operative based in Iowa, “People around here think Tim Scott really missed the moment at the debate. Nikki Haley, meanwhile, surged.”

In the here and now, Haley’s surging campaign, as well as movement by Ramaswamy, Pence, and DeSantis, doesn’t mean a lot. After all, Donald Trump is still far ahead — 40 points in New Hampshire. So what’s the significance?

Talk Show host Erick Erickson feels that “something is off.”

Trump’s crowds are smaller. He has less money to fly around and do big events. As a conservative talk radio show host with many pro-Trump listeners, they are far less aggressive than two years ago and more often willing on air to admit they are with Trump in their hearts, but not necessarily in their heads.

The older the voters, the more reticent they are for Trump. Those voters vote more often. But it still feels like something is off.

The other candidates are actually drawing large crowds. Money is flowing to those candidates and not just from the large donors. The enthusiasm for other candidates, particularly DeSantis, rivals that of Trump, and online one is far more likely to find a normal suburban voter who is for DeSantis. Trump’s online crowd consists of many fringe characters like Laura Loomer.

While Erickson’s analysis is subjective and anecdotal, the idea that he may be on to something is shared by myself and other analysts. The first thing to remember is that when it comes to Donald Trump, you can throw conventional wisdom out the window. And the times we live in are so unusual and unprecedented in many ways that the old verities about politics aren’t true anymore.

Related: Nikki Haley: The Senate Has Become a ‘Privileged Nursing Home’

Could Trump’s lead be a mirage? Do Republicans really believe Trump is innocent of all the major charges against him in the four indictments filed?

Certainly, the partisan witch hunt carried out by Alvin Bragg, who’s taking another bite at the Stormy Daniels apple, isn’t going to change the minds of any Republican voters. But legal experts are almost unanimous in their belief that the Georgia charges are going to be tough for Trump to beat — especially if some of his co-defendants flip on him. Will it take a conviction on major charges to change the dynamic of Trump’s support?

It’s hard to say what might start the stampede away from Trump — if it happens, which is by no means guaranteed. Indictments didn’t do it. But as Erickson says, the Republican campaign just isn’t adding up at the moment, in my opinion, and it feels as if the race may be about to turn in a major way.

If that happens, those who are moving up in the polls, like Haley, will have a distinct advantage.

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