NASHUA, N.H. — Donald Trump seemed truly befuddled.
Addressing the crowd at his Tuesday night primary victory party in Nashua, N.H., the former president expressed genuine disbelief that former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley had finished the night in second place — yet she had taken to a stage before him for what he viewed as, essentially, a victory lap. While she briefly acknowledged his win, Haley went on to boast about what she depicted as a strong finish.
“I said, ‘Wow, she’s doing like a speech, like she won,’” Trump marveled. “She didn’t win. She lost.”
Later, an exasperated Trump continued: “Who the hell was the impostor that went up on the stage before and like claimed a victory? She did very poorly, actually.”
It was as if game (Trump) thought he recognized game (Haley) — and that made game (Trump) a little bit grumpy.
Trump, after all, is the king of portraying a loss as a victory, though in his case dangerously so. He has a long history of claiming that any election he doesn’t win is RIGGED or STOLEN, and still refuses to accept the results of the 2020 election, which he lost to President Biden.
“Frankly, we did win this election,” he declared on election night 2020, as the polls tilted away from him and toward Biden.
Trump’s denialism helped spur his supporters to mount the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, and the former president now faces 91 charges across four criminal cases — two of which are directly related to his refusal to accept the results of the free and fair 2020 election.
“It’s forever been true that Donald Trump thinks there are two kinds of elections — the ones that he wins and the ones that are stolen,” said David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama.
But that didn’t stop Trump on Tuesday night from growing piqued that Haley had touted her election loss as a kind of triumph — relatively standard political spin in which a defeated candidate emphasizes the cloud’s silver lining.
Haley finished with about 43 percent of the vote compared to Trump’s roughly 54 percent in New Hampshire — an outcome closer than many of the polls were predicting in the final days before the state’s primary, but still a sizable loss.
In fact, Haley did briefly address Trump’s New Hampshire win Tuesday night, saying she wanted to congratulate him on his victory: “He earned it, and I want to acknowledge that,” she said.
But then Haley struck a more ebullient tone.
“Today, we got close to half of the vote,” Haley told the crowd at her primary party in Concord, after reminding her supporters: “I’m a fighter and I’m scrappy and now we’re the last ones standing next to Donald Trump.”
Speaking to his supporters, Trump proclaimed, “This is not your typical victory speech — but let’s not have somebody take a victory when she had a very bad night.”
Conservative writer Jonah Goldberg posted on X, “Funny irony listening to Trump complain about a competitor acting like she won when she lost. You know who else did something like that?”
Trump also engaged in some dark rhetoric that felt discordant on a night that was, for him, an actual victory — the second of two, following a first-place finish in the Iowa caucuses eight days earlier.
Trump mocked Haley’s “fancy dress that probably wasn’t so fancy” — referring to the garment with a deep, almost midnight, violet shade, embroidered with large flowers. He also warned, with no evidence or specifics, of multiple investigations that he claimed would dog a Haley candidacy.
“And just a little note to Nikki,” Trump said. “She’s not going to win. But if she did, she would be under investigation by those people in 15 minutes. And I could tell you five reasons why already — not big reasons, a little stuff that she doesn’t want to talk about — but she will be under investigation within minutes.”
He also struck another nasty note while turning to Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who had recently endorsed him over Haley, despite owing his Senate seat to her appointing him to the role in 2012.
“You must really hate her,” Trump sneered.
Scott responded with a laugh: “I just love you!”
Trump has long deployed a form of “I’m rubber, you’re glue” projection, accusing rivals and perceived enemies of the very things of which he is guilty — wielding shamelessness as a superpower.
Late last year, for instance, amid growing concern that Trump was echoing authoritarians and dictators, he unveiled a new line of attack against Biden. It was Biden, the former president argued, who was the real fascist tyrant working to upend the nation’s fragile institutions.
On Tuesday, Trump also touted what he called his “winnability,” and extended his anti-Haley gripes back to the Iowa caucuses. He complained that then, too, Haley had lost — she finished third, just slightly behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who dropped out several days later — but delivered the enthusiastic speech of a winner.
“I remember I sort of had the same feeling,” Trump recalled. “I’m up and I’m watching and I said, ‘She’s taking a victory lap.’ And we beat her so badly. But Ron beat her also.”
Trump noted that Haley “came in third and she’s still hanging around.”
And if there was still any doubt as to how Trump felt about Haley’s determination to spin two losses into a fiery momentum she hopes will carry her into the South Carolina primary next month and the Super Tuesday contests on March 5, Trump threaded his feelings into several dozen increasingly frenetic messages on his personal social media site, Truth Social.
“Could somebody please explain to Nikki Haley that she lost — and lost really badly,” he wrote just before 1 a.m. Wednesday morning. “She also lost Iowa, BIG, last week. They were, as certain Non-Fake Media says, ‘CRUSHING DEFEATS.’”