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Nikki Haley’s voters can still punish Donald Trump

Who's afraid of Nikki Haley? Credit: Getty

January 24, 2024 - 6:00pm

Nikki Haley has reason to celebrate. Despite losing the New Hampshire primary by 11 points, she became the first woman to win a county during a Republican presidential primary. She outperformed polls, which said she would lose by nearly 20 points.

Yet, most notably for Haley, she won big among critical demographics that Donald Trump and Joe Biden require to capture the White House in November.

Exit polls showed Haley won among college graduates, non-religious voters, independents, retirees, voters opposed to a nationwide abortion ban, and voters who think Biden legitimately won in 2020. She also won a third of voters who call themselves MAGA Republicans.

While critics correctly point out that those aren’t voters who make up the Republican Party’s base, they’re also not the current base of the Democratic Party. Those demographics helped hand Trump the presidency in 2016, only to push against him four years later.

A study of the 2020 election from Pew Research found that Trump lost ground from 2016 to 2020 with many of the same people who make up the Haley coalition. During that period, Trump lost 10 points with independents, five points with voters over the age of 65, three points with college graduates, and two with non-religious voters.

And for all the issues in which the Republican base is out of step with the average voter — such as abortion and the legitimacy of the 2020 election — Haley appeals to those who live outside of the conservative bubble. These were the kinds of voters who refused to support Trump-aligned candidates in the 2022 midterms throughout the country. They’re also the same kind of voters who aren’t all that excited to support Biden for another four years.

That’s not a big enough coalition to win the Republican nomination, but it is big enough to flip tight races in key swing states.

Many of these kinds of voters who cast their ballots for Haley in New Hampshire can be found in more affluent, secular, and college-educated parts of this country, including the collar counties outside of Philadelphia, the WOW counties in Wisconsin outside of Milwaukee, and the suburbs of Charlotte, Dallas, and Detroit.

Democrats are already seeing this much faster than Republicans. Rep. Chris Pappas from New Hampshire was on MSNBC the night of the election, reiterating the importance of Democrats reaching out to Haley voters. Meanwhile, Trump continued to call Haley “bird brain” and attacked his own former Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Truth Social for telling him to act like the presumptive nominee and reach out to Haley voters.

Despite all the crowing from Team Trump about how these voters shouldn’t count in the Republican primary, they count when it comes to the general election, and there are millions of them. A majority of them voted for Mitt Romney and Donald Trump in 2016 — in part because of their intense dislike for Hillary Clinton.

Fox News Voter Analysis showed that 46% of New Hampshire residents who voted in the Republican primary would be dissatisfied if Trump were the nominee, with 35% saying they would refuse to vote for him in the general election.

Trump cannot afford to come out of the primary with a third of the electorate refusing to vote for him in the general. And yet, if Biden bleeds youth, black, and Muslim voters as some polls suggest, he cannot afford not to make efforts to win over Haley voters, even if it costs him some of his more progressive base.

Who’s afraid of Nikki Haley? Not many people, but her voters may have the ultimate say in electing our next president.


Ryan James Girdusky is a writer and political consultant based in New York City. He’s the author of “They’re Not Listening: How the Elites Created the Nationalist Populist Revolution.”

RyanGirdusky

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Daniel P
Daniel P
5 months ago

Oh boy….Ok. I’ll take this on.

First, only 27% of Halley’s votes in NH were from republicans. The rest were independents and democrats.

Second, your core republican today, the ones that are making up the new coalition, they are hard set against the establishment that Halley represents.

Third, Biden is so bad and the democrats have so overplayed their hand in their treatment of Trump with the lawfare, that even a lot of anyone but Trump types will hold their nose and voter for him. The old donor class? They are out in the cold unless they turn to the democrats. But with so much money coming from small donors now that may not mean much.

Trump is going to win the general election with his base, a base that is actually growing, ticked off independents, and a lack of enthusiasm in the democratic base.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
5 months ago
Reply to  Daniel P

You’re right about Haley. The old guard Republicans are done. If they can’t win a two horse race with a bunch of unique advantages, they can’t win anything. Maybe Haley would be more likely to win the general election. It makes no difference if she can’t win the primary.
I’m not sure about Trump. It’s hard to tease out how much resentment there is and how deeply it goes among independent voters. If we go by the media narrative, even the conservative media narrative, Trump faces an uphill climb and is likely to lose because so many people resent him. I’m inclined to agree but I don’t remotely trust the media. If they had data showing Trump was a runaway leader, they’d still probably pick out whatever statistics that seemed to be against him as this author is obviously doing.
In ordinary times, I would think the controversy over January 6th would be enough to put people off Trump even if they sympathized with him or thought he actually won the election. These are not ordinary times, and the administration has mishandled the situation so badly that I’m not sure he hasn’t gained support from the ordeal. From the beginning Trump brought disillusioned people who hadn’t been voting or political into the process and it’s hard to say how many they are and impossible to say if he’s gained since then.
Then there’s the fact we could have as many as four third party candidates. We could see basically anything from a repeat of 2020 to something like the 1860 election where four different candidates won electors in a bitterly divided country. So far as I’m concerned, we’re in uncharted territory. I won’t believe much of anything until the election, and I’ll probably still have my doubts afterwards.

Daniel P
Daniel P
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

So, here is why I think Trump will win the general, or at least some of why.

First, he has, as far as I know, never lead in national polling until now. Not 2016. Not 2020. Yet, he over performed both times by 3 to 5 points. He won in 2016 and came very very close in 2020. He now leads by 3 points.

Second, he does not need to win the popular vote, just the electoral college. Right now he is winning in all the swing states and dominantly in most of them.

I sincerely doubt we are going to have large swings in the polls or in ultimate votes. These candidates are both well known, they are known quantities. Nothing new is gonna pop out about either one of them. People know what they think of them already.

The democrat coalition is fraying. It has been built on identity and now the interests of those identities are getting to be at odds with one another. Perfect example is the tension and lawsuits in Chicago with black people suiting the city over migrant benefits. Look at NYC for the same. We are seeing people starting to align based on economic interest and that benefits Trump. Further, there is a real lack of enthusiasm for Biden in the democrat party but Trump’s base is pumped and a lot of other republicans are just fed up with Biden and the progressives

I’ve reached a point where I am just about convinced that Trump could win from jail..

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
5 months ago
Reply to  Daniel P

I must say, I am cowed by your argument. I cannot dispute your logical reading of the facts. The only thing I can counter with is that nothing is certain. We don’t know that Trump will outperform polls again and a lot can happen between now and election day, but that’s not much of an argument, it’s more a prayer based on a combination of my personal distaste for the man’s bombastic personality and my fear of real violence from the other side and even more egregious uses of the legal system to stop him taking office doing irreparable harm to the nation.

Erik Hildinger
Erik Hildinger
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

I think that, for many, a vote for Trump is an act of sabotage against a system they see as opposed to them. How many feel this way? It’s hard to say. I’ll spare readers here a full discussion of the issue, but, if anyone’s interested, here’s more about this view.
https://erikhildinger.substack.com/p/is-sabotage-starting-to-look-good

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
5 months ago
Reply to  Erik Hildinger

Oh, you’re absolutely right. I’ve been a confirmed non-voter since the 2008 bank bailout and I thought about voting for Trump for exactly that reason. There’s a lot of people in the ‘blow it all up’ camp. The anger was already enough to bring Trump to victory in 2016 and it looked like he was going to win again but then COVID happened. With all the mail in voting and other stuff going on, who knows what effect that had that won’t be present this time around. That 2020 election may have been an anomaly. Heck, I can’t even definitively say Trump is wrong. I know enough about America and how localized these processes are to say the vote counting process is a rushed and chaotic mess in most places at the best of times and there was never a full investigation to restore confidence in the election process, and there really should have been, given how important it is in a democracy for people to believe in the integrity of the process. The Biden administration hand waving it away was colossally irresponsible and short sighted at best. The people needed reassurance and closure. They were given casual dismissals and then silence. The fact he beat Nikki Haley in New Hampshire in this particular election cycle tells me I may have been underestimating the factors you mention. It’s given me quite a pause. One thing I’m sure of is she’s doing nobody any good by remaining in the primary now. The longer she hangs on, the more she looks like a hollow candidate held up by big money donors and the worse she looks in the eyes of the base going forward. You and Daniel both have me doubting what I wrote yesterday and recognizing that I’m doing some wishful thinking of my own maybe.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
5 months ago
Reply to  Daniel P

Thanks Daniel – you saved me having to write a comment. I read this Haley apology pieces and scroll down looking, in vain, for the part where it admits Haley’s vote share came from non-Republicans and many Dems who were pump primed by their party to register for the NH open primary, precisely to frustrate Trump’s nomination.
THAT is the real story here: What is the Dems’ game? They know Trump will win (even if Haley were to have taken NH). So they must be banking on successful indictments, and having the GOP swallow Haley as a runner-up candidate. In which case, the NH result achieved its desired goal: an excuse to keep Haley in the race long enough to lock Trump in solitary confinement…

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
5 months ago

Trump loses in another landslide.
Lots of the old people who voted for him in 2016 and 2020 have died, many due to his utterly inept handling of Covid (bleach injections, anyone?!?!).
Only the utterly blinkered Trump cultists think his legal jeopardy is some kind of persecution. Every one else saw the lies and encouragement of violence, they saw the amateurish management and they know that Trump is a wrong ‘un.
The small donor money? Straight into Trump’s pocket, as it always has been.
Trump has been an electoral liability in the real world and I don’t know why anyone would think that is likely to change.
As for Biden, the economy is in great shape and that is what drives any election. The old man will coast it in November and Trump will be gone forever, unless his clown kids decide to take up the mantle of fleecing the rubes.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
5 months ago

I’ll give you some points for trolling!

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
5 months ago

Why don’t you try refuting anything I said?

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
5 months ago

As for Biden, the economy is in great shape
If you’re part of the Davos crowd, sure it is. Collectivism always benefits the collectivist. Everyone else, meanwhile, not so much. But I appreciate the laugh.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
5 months ago

Because your posts are laughable. Cannot be bothered.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
5 months ago

Because you make unsourced statements like ‘Trump is fleecing the ruble’ which don’t need to be refuted because they have no basis in fact. Show me, page number please, where in the Mueller Report it is written that Trump took money from the Kremlin?

T Bone
T Bone
5 months ago

I think you’re forgetting there are 5 candidates in this election and Trump has a floor of about 41%. If Kennedy/Stein/West get more than 10% combined, I don’t see how Biden can win. They’re currently projected to get close to 20% combined.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
5 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

Trump’s floor is lot lower than 41% and the only people voting for Kennedy will be the psycho conspiracy theorists straight out of MAGA.
The 3rd part candidates will get less than 2% combined and mostly from Trump. Won’t make a difference.
Trump is utterly toxic to the vast majority of US voters. The abortions issue will drive a huge increase in female turnout, all voting for Biden.
Trump has a very narrow path to victory through the swing states but an improving economy and his own ludicrous stupidity will close that off.
Biden in another landslide.

T Bone
T Bone
5 months ago

None of what you said is supported by the massive volume of polling data collected by 538 or Realclearpolitics. If you’re right, its based on a hunch not on empirical data.

Steven Carr
Steven Carr
5 months ago

‘As for Biden, the economy is in great shape….’
Production of oil is at a record high.
Republican states like Texas, Florida and Kansas are growing rapidly.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
5 months ago

I’ll give you credit for one thing. You managed to string together more than three sentences. For that alone, you get an upvote.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
5 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Or at least not such a swift downvote
.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
5 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

The champagne has not yet gone to his head.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
5 months ago

Despite losing the New Hampshire primary by 11 points, she became the first woman to win a county during a Republican presidential primary.
The soft bigotry of low expectations has now moved into sex, expanding from its traditional home in race. And by what calculus is “punishing” someone who is nominally from your party a sensible idea?
The scene is what it is. We had a Trump term. We’re having a Biden term. The difference are not hard to detect. However much people may object to a rematch, those are the likely choices voters have. It’s hard to imagine anyone outside of the 1% wanting more of the same, but I’ve been surprised before.
Trump’s support is based on people who believe that DC has either forgotten them or doesn’t care enough to forget them. What’s the basis for backing Haley beyond a dislike of Trump? And for every insult Orange McBadman levies against an opponent, Biden manages to do one better by going after tens of millions of Americans whom he is supposed to represent.

T Bone
T Bone
5 months ago

Nothing says “Democracy” like tinkering with the other party’s primary. How many Biden supporters do we think voted for Haley? Look at how few actually voted in the Democrat primary. We know that outside the Write-in campaign there was a public campaign to cross over because Democrats instruct their obedients how to vote.

According to Politico, there was an effort to damage Trump in the general by getting unaffiliated voters to vote for Haley in the RNC primary.

Then according to the Hill, The Democratic Establishment set up voting signs across polling places with QR codes giving people detailed instructions on how to properly write in a vote for President.”

I can’t wait for the detailed mail voting instructions to be rolled out.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
5 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

That’s the irony. The Dems are so committed to democracy that they can’t resist screwing with their own primaries and that of their opponent.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
5 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

The Democrats love the word democracy, but the way they use it, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean what they think it means.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
5 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

Add to that fact that New Hampshire’s democratic primary may not even count at the convention. If Haley couldn’t beat Trump in a two horse race with the advantage of a huge chunk of the voters being Democrats or democrat leaning and a campaign coordinated between the democratic establishment and the old republican establishment, it should be a sign to everybody that the primary is over. We will have Trump vs. Biden 2.0 unless the Supreme Court does the unthinkable and allows the legal process to keep him off the ballot. I have never been and never will be a fan of Donald Trump. His personality and lack of self-control disqualifies him in my eyes, but I also believe in and respect the principle of democratic rule, so my opinion cannot count more than anyone else’s. Shame so few people agree with me. humility is in short supply these days.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
5 months ago

This article is pure wishful thinking and not much else. For those who don’t know New Hampshire has a somewhat different primary voting scheme. Undeclared voters are allowed to vote in either primary. This has become so much of a tradition that New Hampshire has more undeclared voters than either party to start with. Nextly, there has been a dispute over the timing of New Hampshire’s primary with the national democratic party causing Joe Biden to not be on the ballot there. Further, there’s some doubt New Hampshire’s delegates will even count at the Democratic convention. Against that backdrop, it was reported that a lot of Democrats switched their registration at the last minute to vote against Trump which New Hampshire makes really easy to do. https://www.npr.org/2024/01/17/1225253439/thousands-of-democratic-new-hampshire-voters-are-switching-party-affiliation So, against that backdrop, with a bunch of ‘undeclared’ voters and who knows how many actual Democrats voting for Nikki Haley, and only Nikki Haley, against Trump, he still won, yet somehow the media is trying to spin this as a negative for his campaign. It’s anything but.
The fact is the old guard of the Republican party are getting left behind by history. All the cash the donor class can pour into a campaign may as well be monopoly money. If they threw everything they had into a contest whose rules blatantly tipped the scales in their favor, it should be a sign that they are well and truly beaten. Regardless of what would happen in a general election and how much voters say they want a candidate other than Trump or Biden, it’s high time they either pick a side or get out of the way. They can either hold their noses and vote for Trump the loud mouthed populist buffoon riding the wave of anti elitism they helped build, or they can hold their noses and vote for Biden the doddering old man trying to save the world from carbon dioxide, racism, and mean words that hurt peoples’ feelings in the five hours of the day he can manage to stay awake. Those are the choices, unless they just want to play spoiler and throw in with a third party candidate and let their 10% of the popular vote explain to them how pathetic their actual constituency is and they’ll have half the country even angrier at them because whoever loses will blame them. They’re not a large enough faction to make any serious argument except the argument the author puts forth, it’s so close that their tiny faction might be decisive. So might a dozen other factions and things that might or might not occur between now and election day. Be nice or we’ll vote for Biden isn’t going to work on Trump or most of his supporters.
As a Libertarian, I feel absolutely no sympathy whatsoever because Libertarians have basically always been last in line of the Republican coalitions going back decades. Nice to see somebody else being forced to choose between sitting quietly at the back of the bus or being thrown out into traffic. Rand Paul, the de facto leader of the Libertarian faction basically stated a couple weeks ago he was a ‘never Nikki’ Republican. He’s being an astute politician and positioning himself and his faction to be on Trump’s good side and that of whatever populist captures Trump’s faction once the man himself is done. So are Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Tim Scott. They saw which way the wind was blowing. Nikki Haley can either do the same and drop out now or suffer the embarrassment of getting blown out by twenty plus percentage points in her home state where Democrats and Independents don’t get to vote in the other side’s primary. The fact that she couldn’t win New Hampshire doesn’t help her case. It seals her fate. Believing anything else is wishful thinking. The people have spoken. It’s time to listen to them.

Simon Templar
Simon Templar
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Steve, I love your comments in the main, but I think you are missing the point here. In order to build a lasting coalition on the Center-Right, you have to include independents (aka Nikki Haley supporters) in the coalition. That means persuasion of those people to not only repudiate the Democrat manifesto, but also to recognize the need to demolish the deep state. That requires a broad coalition.
The only way out of this existential mess the Obama/Biden administrations have wrought is to persuade 2/3 of the electorate that Left politics today must never happen again. Policies such as Wokeism, mass illegal immigration, escalating crime, eviscerating the middle class (COVID lockdowns and mandates) and destroying schools by sexualizing children are anathema, yet these policies are entrenched in the administrative state. I don’t think Nikki gets this. We don’t want Nikki, but we do want centrist Nikki supporters to recognize that their greatest enemy is not Trump, but the Marxist cabal which has produced the polarization of our politics.
Only by welcoming centrists and moderate Democrats – my friends and neighbors here in NH – into fruitful conversations can we gain the country back.
Insulting Nikki and calling her birdbrain is fine for Trump, but the rest of us are wise not to follow suit. Persuasion.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
5 months ago
Reply to  Simon Templar

I can’t really disagree with you on style. I have always preferred a more soft spoken and more skilled populist like Josh Hawley or Tim Scott, or a Libertarian like Rand Paul. From the beginning I figured the donor class would rally around one anti-Trump candidate and I was going to dislike that person and regard them as a sellout pretty much regardless of who it was unless they came out really strongly anti-corporate in their policy platforms. Haley is backed by the people who brought us the Romneys, Cheneys, and Bushes. She may sound better than them, but I wouldn’t trust anyone the donor class supports. Judging by Trump’s popularity, most Republicans share that sentiment. If not appealing to centrist corporatist traditional Republicans means the populists lose to Biden, then that’s what it means. I’d rather see a Democrat in the White House than put the people who gave us thirty years of globalism in charge of both parties again.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
5 months ago

I would like to see the memo from the DNC that this account is based on. C’mon, cough it up.