OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: On road to GOP nomination

Iowans head for their Monday-evening caucuses in 39 days, and New Hampshire voters go to the polls for their primary in 47 days.

So, it's about time for me to tell you how all that will go--not only in Iowa and New Hampshire, but with the whole kit and caboodle.

Let's lay out the storyline for the Republican presidential nomination.

Because the GOP has tragically lost its way, Donald Trump is the overwhelming favorite for the Republican nomination, above 50 percent in nationwide polls. But he polls much better nationwide--superficially--than in the two states where voters are seeing a lot of the Republican candidates, thus getting a reading on them, and beginning to ponder a thoughtful choice, which Trump of course isn't.

In those two states, Trump is below 50 percent and Nikki Haley is on the upswing while Ron DeSantis is dropping.

No other candidate matters now that people have figured out that Vivek Ramaswamy is kind of way out there.

Trump may not have picked up any new Iowa support with his speech at a rally there Saturday. He obsessed as usual on the election in 2020. He asserted that he'd carry even confirmed blue states like California, Illinois and New York if God and Jesus would come down and monitor the voting.

Haley, buoyed by strong debate performances and now an endorsement of her by the corporate-conservative force that is the Koch political organization, has reached a virtual second-place tie in the high teens with plummeting Ron DeSantis in Iowa.

She is now solidly in second place in New Hampshire where DeSantis has dropped into single digits in fourth place while Chris Christie hangs around 10 percent with a mostly failed attempt at the John McCain straight-talk express that enthralled New Hampshirites in 2000.

The insider handicapping on the full GOP race is that the only way Trump might be overtaken is for one other candidate to stand out in Iowa and New Hampshire and gather enough momentum that other candidates drop out and leave that candidate to a classic two-way battle--Trump's popular ego-madness against solid conventional conservatism.

Haley fits that bill, parlaying her U.N. ambassadorship under Trump into an informed hawkish worldview; being sufficiently aligned with the view that the business of America is business to win Koch backing; and being pragmatic enough to say Congress is not going to ban abortion statutorily nationwide, although, if it would, she'd be fine with a ban after six weeks.

She offers the prospect of taking on Democrats with a genuine philosophical and policy debate rather than with personal grievance and resentment. Polls show she'd beat Biden by a wider margin than Trump might, or DeSantis might.

It is likely that she will run a solid second to Trump in Iowa, getting above 20 percent and keeping him around 40. She and DeSantis would effectively force Trump into what we call a runoff in Arkansas, though they don't have those in presidential caucuses or primaries.

From that she'd have momentum for New Hampshire where she already polls a solid second. She would come even closer to Trump there. She might pull off a stirring first place.

Remember, though, that the big winners in Iowa and New Hampshire for Democrats four years ago were Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. It mattered not a whit. They dropped out in days to endorse Joe Biden, who'd run miserably in the two states where voters got the best look at the field. The idea was that Biden would run best against Trump.

Similarly, Haley's momentum won't hold. The race would next head South where voters haven't done the right or smart thing in decades.

What's worse, the race goes to South Carolina, Haley's home and where she was governor, and Trump will beat her there.

Then would come Super Tuesday with nearly 20 states, including several Southern ones, taking part. That would mean a more superficial choice, and superficiality is Trump's home field.

Further complicating Haley's task will be that DeSantis, being odd, won't do the right thing by dropping out early. He'll stay in too long and take too many non-Trump votes that might have gone Haley's way in a head-to-head.

Haley and the world would be better off if DeSantis would go on back to Florida, where he remains governor, to lobby for his new proposed state budget that contains $1 million to sue over Florida State being denied selection for the four-team national football championship competition.

He's conceding Alabama with that kind of affront to the Crimson Tide.

P.S.--I can't see how Asa Hutchinson figures into any of this.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected]. Read his @johnbrummett feed on X, formerly Twitter.

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