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Trump-Haley primary battle shines a spotlight on the identity crisis within the GOP


In choosing which candidate they want to support for president, New Hampshire voters are also saying what kind of Republican Party they want. NPR's Franco Ordoñez reports.


FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Jim Spengler (ph) returned to his seat after bowling his third strike in a row, where he shared his disappointment with the state of the Republican primaries.

JIM SPENGLER: There are not much of them left anymore.

ORDOÑEZ: Before he votes today, the 70-year-old former salesman has to take his two grandsons to daycare, but he promises to cast his ballot. He describes himself as an independent with conservative views, but he's not pleased with the divisions in the Republican Party.

SPENGLER: I remember back when, in my youth, that the Republicans would stand tall and would vote in unison. And it seems the parties have basically flip-flopped.

ORDOÑEZ: A few lanes down, Luke Rose (ph), a 26-year-old casino dealer, sees a party wrestling with itself.

LUKE ROSE: There's sort of this MAGA idealism that is what Trump stands for. And then Haley does - more stands for what Republican used to be before Trump even entered the scene.

ORDOÑEZ: Rose expects to end up voting for Trump, but he was supporting entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy before he dropped out. He thinks the primary will once and for all give the party some clarity.

ROSE: I absolutely believe that the message that will be sent is that Trump has officially been chosen. He's the one. And beyond that, we have to prepare ourselves, whether we like it or not, for a MAGA America or a Biden America.

ORDOÑEZ: Ever since Donald Trump rode down the escalator in Trump Tower, the Republican Party has been struggling to figure out what it stood for. Alex Conant, who helped lead Senator Marco Rubio's presidential campaign in 2016, says that's why this primary in New Hampshire is so important.

ALEX CONANT: I mean, it's the first time where we have a really clear choice, right?

ORDOÑEZ: Trump is the embodiment of the new wave of conservative populism that has taken hold of the party, while Nikki Haley represents the limited government wing that also supports strong foreign policy.

CONANT: The New Hampshire primary is the last hurdle for Donald Trump to demonstrate that the Republican Party is a populist party now, and that the limited government, traditional conservatives that Nikki Haley represents do not have any real power within the party.

ORDOÑEZ: Those establishment, anti-Trump forces have long been clamoring for this kind of fight, even though in many ways it appears that Trump has already won. Meanwhile, the Trump campaign says there was never any doubt whose party it is.

JASON MILLER: The Republican Party is President Trump's party as he's unifying the base behind him.

ORDOÑEZ: Jason Miller, a senior adviser on the campaign, argues it's not just that. He says Trump is also bringing in new coalitions of voters and expanding the party.

MILLER: What President Trump has done is show that the populism and working-class Americans now side with the Republican Party.


DONALD TRUMP: And we will make America great again.

ORDOÑEZ: Bill Parker (ph) says he's one of those Americans.

BILL PARKER: I think Donald Trump has changed in the Republican Party. And, you know, I think I'm evolving with him.

ORDOÑEZ: He's a former navigator in the Coast Guard who has been working for years in transportation. I spoke to him at Trump's rally in Manchester. He says Trump connects with voters like him in a way that no other politicians have before.

PARKER: You know, I was a pretty stagnant Republican. But ever since Donald Trump started running in 2015, I think his message is revealing to who the party is.

ORDOÑEZ: It's a message that will likely reveal much more later today as voters weigh in on the future of the Republican Party.

Franco Ordoñez, NPR News, Manchester, N.H. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.