Ramaswamy's withdrawal could help Trump win New Hampshire

The once-promising wunderkind dropped out after finishing fourth in Iowa.

January 16, 2024, 2:15 AM

An apocryphal political axiom holds that there are "three tickets out of Iowa" — meaning that only three presidential candidates can feasibly advance out of the Iowa caucuses. That hasn't always been true in the past, but Republicans are taking it literally in 2024. After Monday night's Iowa caucuses, the GOP presidential primary is effectively down to three finalists: former President Donald Trump, who finished first in convincing fashion with 51 percent of the vote; Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who finished second with 21 percent; and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who finished third with 19 percent.

The unfortunate fourth-place finisher was businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, who dropped out of the race after taking just 8 percent of the vote. Now, if you'd have told Ramaswamy when he launched his campaign a year ago that he'd finish fourth in Iowa, he'd probably have seen that as a remarkable performance. The 38-year-old pharmaceutical entrepreneur entered the race without any political experience, and initially there was no reason to believe he'd make any more of a splash than any of the hundreds of anonymous presidential candidates who run every cycle.

But Ramaswamy parlayed his wealth, charisma and energy on the campaign trail (he held over 460 campaign events, by far the most in the field) into, if not the top, then the middle tier of the GOP field. By last summer, he rose as high as 12 percent in 538's national polling average, good for third place behind Trump and DeSantis. But his bubble burst as voters got to know him better and his favorability ratings declined — probably with the help of some poorly received debate performances.

Ramaswamy departs the race with only 4 percent support nationally and 5 percent in soon-to-vote New Hampshire, so his withdrawal won't make a huge impact on the race. However, it could help Trump's campaign on the margins, given that most Ramaswamy supporters will probably now switch their allegiance to the former president. Ramaswamy endorsed Trump on his way out of the race Monday night, and the two were already closely ideologically aligned. According to an average of recent polls that asked Republican primary voters their second choice for president, a plurality — 42 percent — of Ramaswamy supporters nationwide said Trump.

It was a similar story in New Hampshire, where an average of 39 percent of Ramaswamy voters said Trump was their second choice. (A recent Emerson College/WHDH-TV poll was a notable outlier, showing Trump in third place among Ramaswamy supporters. However, all of these polling crosstabs have very small sample sizes, so wonky individual results aren't too surprising.) And in New Hampshire, even a little bit of extra support could make a difference for Trump. According to our New Hampshire polling average, Trump is just 13 percentage points ahead of Haley in the Granite State, and all those polls were conducted before former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dropped out of the race — a development that will probably help Haley.

PHOTO: 538's polling average of the 2024 Republican presidential primary race in New Hampshire.
538's polling average of the 2024 Republican presidential primary race in New Hampshire.
538 Photo Illustration

If you simply give Trump 39 percent of Ramaswamy's 5 percent support in New Hampshire, you could expect Trump to rise about 2 points in the state as a result of Ramaswamy's withdrawal. And that's before factoring in the impact of Ramaswamy's endorsement of Trump, which could convince other ex-Ramaswamy supporters to opt for Trump too. In a world where Trump wins New Hampshire by only a couple points, Ramaswamy's supporters may be the difference-maker.

Of course, Trump may not need the help. He's coming off a huge Iowa win that could grant him momentum all on its own. Meanwhile, Haley's third-place finish isn't exactly rocket fuel for her campaign. All in all, Monday night's developments were good for Trump's chances of winning New Hampshire — which is big because it currently looks like his weakest state. If he wins there, there may be nothing left to stop him from winning every single primary of the 2024 cycle.