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Joe Biden should tread carefully with Nikki Haley voters

Biden is targeting the upscale suburbanites who had formerly leaned Republican. Credit: Getty

March 30, 2024 - 5:00pm

As he turns to the general election, Joe Biden has a message for Nikki Haley’s voters: “there is a place for you in my campaign.” Biden’s statement kicks off an advertising campaign that is due to hit suburban zip codes in key swing states.

Suburbanites have been a crucial swing bloc in recent elections. In many of the states that flipped from Trump in 2016 to Biden to 2020, suburban voters made the difference. In Waukesha County (part of the Milwaukee suburbs), Trump’s victory margin slipped from 63,000 votes in 2016 to 56,000 votes in 2020. He ended up losing the state as a whole by 20,000 votes, so simply matching his 2016 performance in that single suburban county could erase a portion of that deficit. Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania tell a similar story: suburban counties either drifted less Republican or outright flipped Democratic.

Weak Republican performance in the suburbs also played a role in the 2022 midterms, particularly because highly-degreed voters have an outsized impact in non-presidential years. Republican candidates who did well in the suburbs (such as Glenn Youngkin in the 2021 Virginia governor’s race) instead outperformed expectations.

While Trump’s brash persona and promises of retribution may pack his rallies, they also repel many suburbanites. As the primary season wore on, Haley increasingly pitched her campaign toward those disaffected Republicans and independents — as well as the “resistance”-aligned Democrats who relish yet another opportunity to vote against Donald Trump. Her successive defeats indicate that this was not a strategy to gain traction in a one-on-one race against the Republican.

However, Haley’s strong performance in many suburban and urban areas may indicate a potential soft spot for Trump in the general election. Contrary to the spin of Trump allies, not all of Haley’s voters were simply Democrats seeking to sow turmoil in the primary. Haley got 23% of the vote in the North Carolina primary, and the exit poll found that 89% of primary voters there had voted in a Republican presidential primary before.

It wasn’t just Democratic-aligned voters pulling the lever for Haley, then; 20% of those polled said they would be dissatisfied with Trump as the nominee. The many months from now to November will give time for some of those primary wounds to heal, and no doubt many of those Haley voters will eventually come around to Trump. But Trump also won the Tar Heel State by under 1.5 points in 2020, so even a small defection of suburban voters could tip it toward Biden.

The concerted effort to brand the GOP as the “Party of Trump” seems likely to add to challenges facing Republicans in the suburbs. However, Biden’s attempt to court Haley voters may exacerbate certain tensions in his own coalition too. Some press reports indicate that Biden’s campaign may try to reach out to Haley voters on foreign policy.

While Haley’s position of maximal support for Ukraine is popular with much of the Democratic base, she is also a major proponent of supporting Israel in its war against Hamas. It is precisely this conflict in the Middle East that has divided the Democratic Party, and Biden’s efforts to appease an increasingly Israel-sceptical Democratic base might turn many Haley voters off from him. Conversely, doubling down on support for Israel might enrage some progressive activists.

On economics, Haley broke from Trump in trumpeting the need for entitlement reform. But Biden has positioned his whole campaign against entitlement reform. The current president will therefore struggle to bring in Haley voters for whom her Reagan-style economics were appealing.

This policy mismatch partly explains why Biden’s overture to Haley voters has focused on vibes so far — stringing together clips of Trump criticising Haley and boasting that he does not need her voters. His message to these voters is also likely to highlight culture-war issues (particularly abortion) and threats to “our democracy.” But there’s also a risk that, if he focuses only on elite anti-Trump sentiment, Biden could be repeating the mistakes of the Hillary Clinton campaign.

In some ways, Biden’s strategy is the inverse of Trump’s. While many Republicans have focused on trying to peel away working-class voters from the Democratic coalition, Biden is instead targeting the upscale suburbanites who had formerly leaned Republican. If a working-class realignment has at times been a challenge for Republicans, trying to capture an ever-larger slice of the affluent might pose its own headaches for Democrats.


Fred Bauer is a writer from New England.

fredbauerblog

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El Uro
El Uro
3 months ago

It is precisely this conflict in the Middle East that has divided the Democratic Party, and Biden’s efforts to appease an increasingly Israel-sceptical Democratic Party
When I wrote here that the Jews are to blame for everything, I was not joking at all. Most NSDAP members were teachers and university professors, and there is not much difference between red and brown.

James Twigg
James Twigg
3 months ago

Nikki Haley’s voters we’re mostly democrat Biden supporters who cross-voted in the repub primary or Never-Trumpers. They were already going to vote for Biden.

Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
3 months ago
Reply to  James Twigg

Indeed. Mr. Bauer misses the point that Mrs. Haley had no Republican voters. It were Democrats who voted for her in an effort to thwart Trump’s nomination. There is substantial evidencs for this from the New Hampshire primaries. In Nevada she lost from 63% ‘none of the above’. There is absolutely no viability in her, no matter how much money is thrown at her campaign.

T Bone
T Bone
3 months ago
Reply to  James Twigg

Why do we keep calling “Never-Trumpers” Republicans? If you vote two times in a row for Democrats, you’re no longer a Republican.

Elon Musk is considered a “right-wing extremist” and he voted once for Republicans…in an a midterm. I’m pretty sure we can safely call Morning Joe and David French a Democrat at this point.

Ian_S
Ian_S
3 months ago

The article doesn’t address the dimension of populist vs establishment. Lower and middle income voters see more sense in populism, as elites define themselves against the the lower classes (“deplorables”) in a process of elite-driven class polarisation. Haley tried appealing to old-style establishment Republicanism, but the numbers weren’t there. Biden’s people presumably consider that on a populism vs establishment dimension, high income suburbanites are ready to see that their class interests no longer lie with (now populist) Republicanism, but with (now establishment) Democrats instead. The political inversion between the two parties is almost complete, although Democrats also benefit from rusted-on lower-income voters who don’t know that yet.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
3 months ago

Just now Biden declared Easter Sunday to be Transgender Day of Visibility. It’s going to be fun watching the “so principled” and “so Christian” Haley voters squirm.
https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2024/03/29/a-proclamation-on-transgender-day-of-visibility-2024/#:~:text=You%20are%20America%2C%20and%20my,as%20Transgender%20Day%20of%20Visibility

Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Some people really do not age gracefully.

Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

I sincerly hope that the Holy Father next time Biden visits the Holy See covers those off white baroque chintz seats in saran wrap. After this faux pas the bathroom incident may be of biblical proportions. As a matter of fact, the Holy Father better wraps himself as well.

El Uro
El Uro
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

It’s not enough.
On behalf of First Lady Jill Biden, The Adjutants General of the National Guard are asking youth from National Guard families across the United States and all U.S. territories to submit artwork inspired by the theme “Celebrating our Military Families”. Children should depict on an egg template (see Art Submission form) a snapshot of their life – a favorite activity, scenery in your state, your military family, a day-in-your life, etc.
…The Submission must not include any questionable content, religious symbols, overtly religious themes, or partisan political statements.
.
This is about Easter Egg

Peter B
Peter B
3 months ago

One suspects that it hardly matters what the “strategy” is if you have a candidate who cannot clearly and consistently articulate it.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
3 months ago

Biden mistakes Haley supporters as Republicans who are against Trump. They’re actually ex-Democrats who are against Biden.