Fresh off Iowa win, Trump sets sights on battling Haley in New Hampshire

One source predicted "scorched earth" in the days before the state's primary.

January 16, 2024, 9:11 PM

Former President Donald Trump coasted to a strong victory in Monday's Iowa caucuses which, despite depressed turnout amid brutal weather, saw him embraced by a majority of the state's Republican base.

Now he's gearing up to battle directly with former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in New Hampshire, looking to quash what appears to be her best hope at beating him in his quest for a third straight presidential nomination, sources in Trump's orbit told ABC News, offering a glimpse into his immediate next moves on the trail.

"The game plan is always to win. And whether it's 'scorched earth' or highlight the major deficiencies in her record, that's what we can expect the next week," said one former campaign official who remains in touch with Trump's current team and who asked not to be named to share internal discussions. (Spokespeople for Trump and Haley did not respond to requests for comment for this story.)

"Donald Trump has a chance of ending this race and putting the final nail in the coffin of this presidential primary in New Hampshire," the former official said. "He's not one to leave artillery in the gun."

Monday night's results saw Trump clinch a thorough victory in Iowa, taking more than 50% of the vote and winning every county except for one.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Haley, who were separated by only a couple of points for second and third place, respectively, ultimately trailed Trump by about 30% each despite months of pitching themselves as better alternatives to win the White House.

Allies of DeSantis and Haley were quick to note the results came out of just one state at the start of the 2024 race (though it is one state that receives outsized attention) and arguably few voters were making their voices heard.

Around 110,000 people voted in the Republican caucuses, which was about 60% of the turnout in the last contested caucuses, in 2016.

And even as the vote totals and entrance polls suggested Trump continues to have problems with more moderate and younger voters and in more educated and less rural areas, his win showed that the base of the party remains with him.

PHOTO: Nikki Haley campaigns during a Caucus night watch party in West Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 15, 2024. | Former President Donald Trump walks off stage after speaking at a caucus night party in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 15, 2024.
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley campaigns during a Caucus night watch party in West Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 15, 2024. | Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump walks off stage after speaking at a caucus night party in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 15, 2024.
Alex Wroblewski/UPI via Shutterstock | Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Trump is favored to win upcoming primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina, but both states offer different quirks that theoretically provide openings for Haley on a narrow path toward competing with him through the rest of the primary season, observers and experts said.

Independents and people registered as undeclared -- who typically lean more moderate -- are allowed to vote in New Hampshire's primary and South Carolina, where Trump has a 30-point edge in 538's polling average, is seen as potentially more hospitable to Haley than Iowa, given her existing connection to voters as a former governor there.

Trump and Haley have already engaged in tit-for-tat attacks, with Trump casting aspersions on Haley's intelligence and labeling her a "globalist" and the South Carolinian depicting the former president as an agent of "chaos" -- while still saying she would pardon him if she's elected and he's convicted of a crime (he denies wrongdoing) and declining to rule out if she'd be his running mate.

Sources around Trump forecasted that the attacks from his team and allies will be escalating after Iowa to several notches above what Haley has already faced.

"I think she's a significant opponent and in a primary, she's earned the right to get clobbered," said one source in Trump's orbit.

"This is a roller coaster she's only heard of, and she had the seat in the very last row," said a second person, who like the other Trump sources quoted here asked not to be named because of ongoing relationships.

The former president is already planning on upping his campaign schedule in New Hampshire in the coming days, where one source said an anti-tax message could jive with the state's "life free or die" mantra.

"I think the most important thing is obviously, taxes [are] going to be a part of the conversation. New Hampshire is a no-tax type of state, that's their political philosophy," the former campaign official said, arguing Trump "delivered on one of the largest tax cuts in American history."

Another line of attack from Trump could focus on some of Haley's wealthy donors, including those who have given to Democrats -- a charge she has also faced from DeSantis and tried to play down.

Haley's allies told ABC News she's ready to fight back.

"She is tough. There is nothing the Trump folks can say that she hasn't already heard. Of course, we have to leave room for the probability he will just make stuff up. In that case, she will just have to correct the record," said Eric Levine, an attorney and donation bundler for her.

PHOTO: Former President Donald Trump speaks at his caucus night event at the Iowa Events Center, Jan. 15, 2024, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at his caucus night event at the Iowa Events Center, Jan. 15, 2024, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Haley, too, appeared to be ramping up her responses this week, including linking Trump to President Joe Biden in the most explicit terms yet.

"Both are consumed by chaos, negativity and grievances of the past," a narrator says in a new ad running in New Hampshire.

"Our campaign is the last best hope of stopping the Trump-Biden nightmare," Haley added in remarks after the caucuses.

"Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. That’s nothing to be proud of," she said then.

Supportive outside groups, like SFA Fund Inc., the super PAC backing Haley, and the Koch-aligned Americans for Prosperity are also launching attacks on the former president.

Andrew Smith, the director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, said Haley is well-positioned to absorb attacks before next week's primary, pointing to past jabs from entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy -- who dropped out on Monday and endorsed Trump -- on Haley's family that ended up falling flat.

"You saw what happened when Ramaswamy went after Haley in the debates: The more he attacked her and accused her of things, the smaller he looked, and she just sat back and absorbed it with a smile on her face," Smith said.

"I think if [Trump] says, 'Yeah, she just does well with the moderates, those moderates, you can't trust those people, they're not all MAGA' … That's probably the best way to do it," Smith added. "I don't know if it would necessarily work."

Haley throughout the campaign has urged voters to move on from Trump, whom she attacks on some major issues like raising the national debt. But she has tempered her comments about her former boss. One frequent line is that he was "the right president at the right time."

She has also defended his right to be on the 2024 ballot in light of challenges citing the 14th Amendment's "insurrection" clause in connection with Jan. 6. (More openly anti-Trump candidates, like Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson, have already left the 2024 race.)

That balancing act underscores the difficulty for Haley or anyone else going against Trump, some experts said. In trying to undercut him with Republican voters, they risk just making themselves smaller.

"Obviously, Trump is still the favorite" in New Hampshire, Smith said. "I don't think that's changed at all. I think that Haley has a distant chance."