The storied New Hampshire presidential primary arrives on Tuesday, with far less drama than usual on the Democratic side — and one of the most important votes in the primary’s long history on the Republican side.
For independent voters, who can cast a ballot in either party’s primary, this ought to be the easiest call in a generation: Your vote is going to matter a lot more in the Republican race and you have an opportunity to help save the country from the alarming prospect of a second Donald Trump presidency.
Trump is seeking the party’s nomination again and pummeled his opponents in last week’s Iowa caucuses on the basis of his strength with evangelical voters. New Hampshire, though, is a different sort of contest: It’s a primary, not a low-turnout caucus, and voters have often bucked expectations and defied pre-election polls — in part because of the pivotal role of independents.
Not that plenty of dyed-in-the-wool Republicans aren’t dismayed by Trump, too. Some because of the way the twice-impeached president debased the office between 2017 and 2021, others because he’s already lost to Joe Biden once and they’re not optimistic he’d do any better in a rematch.
If Trump wins in New Hampshire, the odds are good he’ll then run away with the nomination. But if the combined votes of independents and Trump-skeptical Republicans beat him in New Hampshire, the party has at least a fighting chance to stop him in later contests and put the Trump era in its rear-view mirror.
The only candidate in a practical position to beat Trump in New Hampshire, though, appears to be Nikki Haley, a former South Carolina governor, who has a strong operation in the state and the endorsement of Governor Chris Sununu. Almost by default, if you want to stop Trump, that means voting for Haley. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is also still in the race, but he appears to have given up on New Hampshire.
Haley’s not this editorial board’s cup of tea. But she is a mainstream, traditional conservative who would not put the country through constant scandals or take a torch to basic principles of democratic government like accepting election results.
Registered Democrats can’t participate in the GOP primary, and their own is shaping up to be a waste of time. President Biden’s name does not even appear on the Democratic ballot (some of his supporters have launched a write-in campaign, however). For Democrats, writing in Biden’s name makes sense. For independents, though, there’s not much point in taking a Democratic ballot.
States that allow independents to vote in either primary, like New Hampshire and Massachusetts, have that policy for a reason. There’s nothing sneaky or inappropriate about any independent choosing a Republican ballot, even voters who don’t ordinarily support GOP candidates.
If his record in office wasn’t enough, Trump also hasn’t done much to earn New Hampshire’s support. He’s barely deigned to campaign, much less make the rounds of the states’ breakfast spots. Partisans of the New Hampshire primary like to say it forces candidates to engage in the rigors of retail campaigning, but Trump hasn’t done anything like that. If he wins anyway, it will certainly add to the growing skepticism that the state’s primary voters are really the gantlet of demanding, serious-minded voters that the primary’s defenders claim they are.
At this point, we’re not going to attempt to change anyone’s mind about Donald Trump. You like him or you don’t. But New Hampshire voters who do perceive him as a threat — to the Republican Party, to the country, to democracy, or to all of the above — have a rare opportunity on Tuesday to do something about it. It’s not a chance they should miss.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.