Saturday, May 18, 2024

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Nikki Haley’s Surprising Staying Power: A Warning Sign for Trump?

One in five Indiana GOP voters reject Trump, opt for Haley's suspended presidential campaign.

Nikki Haley drops out
Brian Snyder/Reuters

In a stunning rebuke of Donald Trump’s stranglehold on the Republican Party, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley continues to pull in significant support from disgruntled GOP voters months after suspending her presidential campaign. Haley’s enduring appeal represents a growing dissatisfaction with Trump’s divisive brand of politics and his alleged criminality. It also highlights the deep fissures within the party that could spell doom for the former president’s chances in the upcoming general election.

Donald Trump Nikki Haley Indiana

The latest evidence of this anti-Trump sentiment came on Tuesday, when Haley garnered an astonishing 128,170 votes—or 21.7% of the total—in the Indiana Republican primary, despite having dropped out of the race back in early March. This follows similar showings in other state primaries, including Pennsylvania, where she nabbed over 158,000 votes (16.6%), and Washington, where she won 19.3% of the Republican vote.

The GOP’s Anti-Trump Movement

nikki haley primary results

These numbers have to be extremely concerning to the Trump campaign, with a sizable chunk of the Republican base effectively rejecting Trump, even in the absence of an active opposing campaign. It’s a resounding repudiation of the MAGA movement and a clear sign that many traditional conservatives are sick and tired of the chaos, scandals, and norms violations that have come to define the Trump era.

For Trump, these defections could prove fatal. In battleground states like Michigan, Arizona, and Georgia, Biden’s margins of victory in 2020 were razor-thin—ranging from just 10,457 votes in Arizona to 154,188 in Michigan. If he can’t win back these Republican voters—and his recent dismissive comments suggest he has no intention of doing so—those narrow losses could easily be repeated or even amplified. And the Biden campaign has been making serious efforts to reach out to disaffected Haley supporters through advertising ever since Haley dropped out of the race. 

So, what’s driving this Republican resistance against Trump? According to recent polling, one key issue appears to be abortion rights. A recent Wall Street Journal poll found that nearly 40% of suburban women in swing states cited abortion as their most important issue, with a majority believing Trump’s policies are too restrictive. And those voters might find it hard to believe Trump when he says that he’ll leave the abortion issue up to the states. After all, he is the reason that Roe v. Wade was overturned in the first place. 

But abortion rights are far from the only factor at play. For many Republicans, the constant drama, distractions, and legal entanglements have simply become too much to bear. From the Stormy Daniels hush money payments to the recent $83.3 million defamation verdict against him, Trump’s personal and legal woes have become a constant source of embarrassment and distraction for the party.

Then there are the MAGA acolytes in Congress, like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, whose unhinged antics and embrace of white nationalism have tarnished the Republican brand. For more traditional conservatives like Mitt Romney, Liz Cheney, and Ken Buck—all of whom have voiced concerns about the MAGA movement’s hold on the party—their extremism bridge too far.

Haley, for her part, has taken a strategic approach in capitalizing on this discontent. In her farewell speech, she refused to endorse Trump outright, instead challenging him to “earn the votes of those in our party and beyond it who did not support him.” 

Biden Targeting Nikki Haley Voters

Trump has dismissed Haley’s voters as irrelevant, actively pushing them away with comments like “We don’t want them, and will not accept them,” which is a risky gambit that could come back to haunt him. As President Biden’s campaign has wisely recognized, courting these voters represents a prime opportunity, leading his campaign to run ads explicitly appealing to Haley supporters.

In many ways, Haley’s unexpected staying power is a microcosm of the broader identity crisis gripping the Republican Party. On one side stand the MAGA faithful, unwavering in their cult-like devotion to Trump and his brand of populist nationalism. On the other are the traditionalists—the Mitt Romneys and Liz Cheneys of the world—who are increasingly disillusioned with the direction their party has taken under Trump’s leadership.

It’s a rift that shows no signs of healing, and one that could have profound implications for the GOP’s future. If Trump cannot bring these factions together, the party could find itself hopelessly fractured, unable to mount a united front against Biden and the Democrats.

Whether Haley’s supporters ultimately stay home, cross over to Biden, or rally behind a third-party candidate remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: Trump’s path to the White House grows increasingly narrow with every vote cast for the former ambassador—a silent but powerful rebuke from within his own party, and a harbinger of the uphill battle he faces in uniting a fractured Republican base.