Trump’s Voters vs. Haley’s Donors

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michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.”

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Inside the Republican Party, a class war is playing out between the pro-Trump base, who’s ready for the nomination fight to be over, and the anti-Trump donor class, who thinks it’s just getting started.

Today, my colleague, Astead Herndon, a political correspondent and host of “The Run-Up,” reports on that clash.

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It’s Tuesday, January 30th.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

astead herndon

Hello.

michael barbaro

Hello.

astead herndon

Hey, how are you?

michael barbaro

Good. Let me know when you’re ready.

astead herndon

I’m ready.

michael barbaro

OK. So Astead, at this moment in the Republican presidential race, two kind of baffling things are occurring at the same time.

[CHEERS]

nikki haley

This race is far from over. There are dozens of states left to go.

[CHEERS]

michael barbaro

The first is that former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley is behaving as if she really has a shot at beating Donald Trump.

nikki haley

We still have a ways to go, but we keep moving up.

michael barbaro

Which all evidence suggests is false. And the second thing that’s happening is that Donald Trump —

donald trump

And just a little note to Nikki — she’s not going to win.

michael barbaro

— is fixated on attacking Nikki Haley and her campaign over and over.

donald trump

And I said, wow, she’s doing a speech like she won. She didn’t win. She lost. And you know —

michael barbaro

Despite the fact that she has no real shot at beating him.

donald trump

But let’s not have somebody take a victory when she had a very bad night. She had a very bad night. And you —

michael barbaro

And you have been studying the Republican presidential race very closely over the past few months. So my question for you is, why are both of these things happening, and what do they tell us about this political moment in the Republican Party?

astead herndon

Yeah. I mean, I think if you see it through the lens of just Donald Trump versus Nikki Haley and two candidates that are vying to get the nomination, then you’re right, it is kind of baffling. You know, Haley has always been a long shot to become the Republican nominee. And that’s even become more clear as voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, and particularly the Republican base, has made it overwhelmingly obvious that their preference is Donald Trump.

michael barbaro

Indeed.

astead herndon

But I think if you view it through a different lens, and specifically the kind of broader coalitions that these two candidates represent and the donors that support these campaigns, then I think you understand why they feel so diametrically opposed and why the slices of the Republican Party who are supporting them see themselves as diametrically opposed.

michael barbaro

Mhm.

astead herndon

So what I mean by that is the more Nikki Haley stays in the race, the more it fuels the distaste on the Trump MAGA movement side, specifically because they see her as a candidate who represents the interests of an elite donor class, of a moderate Republican wing that’s more lenient on issues of immigration, that is more deferential to the foreign policy establishment and embrace kind of American intervention in wars abroad. And those are such fundamental beliefs, when you think about the kind of Donald Trump wing of the Republican Party, that they see someone like Haley as being offensive to the idea that that’s what the Republican Party in 2024 represents.

michael barbaro

Hmm.

astead herndon

And when I was at Donald Trump’s victory party in Nashua, New Hampshire last week, when we see the results rolling in that confirm another victory, it wasn’t just that the supporters in the building were mocking Nikki Haley and kind of gloating on the fact that they were winning. They were also mocking what they call the elite donor Republican class, who they think is funding Nikki Haley. So when we were watching the results on the screen on Tuesday —

astead herndon

First, off reintroduce yourself.

john fredericks

My name is John Fredericks. I’m a TV and radio talk show host.

astead herndon

And more importantly, the Godzilla of the truth.

john fredericks

I am the Godzilla of the truth. I’m on in the morning —

astead herndon

I talk to a conservative radio host named John Fredericks. He’s someone who has aligned himself with Donald Trump and really gives a good articulation of what the MAGA movement represents.

john fredericks

Listen, this is the greatest movement, the populist movement of working people in the history of the Republicans. And these donors on Wall Street don’t get it. They don’t understand the party has changed. This is a working-class party now. White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, it doesn’t matter. If you work for a living and you are punching a clock and you’re not part of the elite, right, you’re getting screwed. And they know it.

Your jobs are going away. Your wages are eroding. Your profit share is going down. Your savings is getting obliterated with inflation. You’re getting wiped out. They don’t care. Illegals are overrunning your country. They’re taking your jobs. They’re shipping them to China. And the elites and the donor class, and the Wall Street gangster banksters who live for open borders and cheap labor just think they can buy this stuff.

astead herndon

Those are the type of messages that the Donald Trump wing of the Republican Party is putting out there about Nikki Haley, kind of framing the efforts as a elite, undemocratic idea that they can talk over what the working-class Republican person wants. And of course, what they’re saying that working-class Republican wants is Donald Trump.

michael barbaro

Mhm.

astead herndon

But one of the things that he said that really sticks with me is that they see the MAGA movement as something that is independent from any individual candidate.

john fredericks

It’s our movement. Right now, Donald Trump is the conduit for that. Post-Trump, there’ll be someone else, because the populist movement is on the verge tonight of obliterating the establishment uniparty elite. And we’re weeks away from taking over the whole Republican Party apparatus. If not weeks, a year.

astead herndon

And so in supporting Donald Trump, they’re not only doing that because they want him to be the individual candidate, they’re doing that because they see him as a conduit to be able to root out that slice of the Republican Party, the kind of donor class that supports Haley, which they find kind of detrimental to their overall interests.

michael barbaro

Right. They want to reclaim the Republican Party from rich donors and fully ensure that it’s in the hands of the MAGA movement, which, in their minds, is a working-class movement, kind of profoundly and inevitably at odds with a bunch of rich donors.

astead herndon

100 percent. And not just at odds with rich donors — odds with party leadership, at odds with the kind of Washington establishment. They feel that they are distinct from the kind of political institutions and apparatus that keep people in defined lines that they want to bust out of.

michael barbaro

Hmm.

astead herndon

And so I think that’s a little bit of a different way to view the different candidacies. I think Nikki Haley has supporters, people who are voting for her because of her stances on particular issues or because their desire to see them as the nominee. Donald Trump runs a group that thinks of themselves as a movement, as more than just supporting a candidate, but is a vehicle to overtake the party itself.

michael barbaro

But to the question of why she’s still in the race when all the signs point to that movement you’re describing working and defeating her, what do you say?

astead herndon

I mean, candidates drop out of races not because of their own volition, but mostly because they run out of money and they run out of support and the path to making them president.

michael barbaro

Right.

astead herndon

And so I think that it is critical to understanding, if you’re asking why is Nikki Haley still in this race, it’s because there are enough Republican donors who are willing to continue to support her to stay in this race. Right? And I think this is unique to this year, partially because some people don’t want to see the primary end so fast, partially because Donald Trump has legal issues hanging over his head.

And so there are some reasons in the air about why that support has continued. But for the kind of Trump wing of the party, what they are saying is that the existence of that support is a kind of anti-democratic perversion of the people’s will.

michael barbaro

Hmm. So thinking back to my question about why is Haley staying in the race, why are Trump and his supporters kicking her around so hard, the answers are kind of interrelated. And they’re very much tied to what you just laid out, which is the sense that donors, whose values and visions are very much at odds with the MAGA movement, they’re fueling the Haley movement beyond its expiration date, according to Trump supporters. And that is why Trump and his supporters are so mad at this campaign.

astead herndon

Exactly. And I think it’s important to not just view this in the vacuum of 2024, but this is the entire premise of Donald Trump’s candidacy and his ascension in the Republican Party. He came in as the, quote unquote, “outsider,” as the person who had his own individual money and was therefore unreliant to big donors. There is a sense among his supporters and a sense that he furthers in his own kind of rhetoric that he is the only candidate that is untethered to the political institutions that serve the elites. And that is not only donors, but that is the political establishment in Washington, right? Like, this is the message of Donald Trump.

michael barbaro

Right.

astead herndon

And so being at that event in Nashua, seeing the open vitriol not only do the Haley campaign, but to the Republican donors who are backing her, made me think about the kind of broader question of the party’s unity going forward.

michael barbaro

Mm.

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astead herndon

So the next morning, after the results had come in, I decided to call a Haley donor, a billionaire who was backing her, to see how he saw the race going forward and how he would respond to the argument that, in giving so much money to a candidate who is such a long shot, he is kind of seeking to upend the will of the voters.

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michael barbaro

After the break, Astead’s conversation with that donor.

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We’ll be right back.

tim draper

Hi, Astead. How are you?

astead herndon

I’m doing well. How are you?

tim draper

Good.

astead herndon

Tim Draper is a venture capitalist who’s invested in companies like Tesla, Skype, Hotmail, Twitch, and Robinhood.

astead herndon

I mean, can you tell me a little bit about yourself? Can you tell me about how — tell me about your business career and how you made money in the first place.

tim draper

Yeah. So I started out as an entrepreneur. Oh, let me go way back. My grandfather was the first Silicon Valley venture capitalist. My father was a venture capitalist. I had venture capital in my blood. It was —

astead herndon

He’s given more than $1 million to Haley’s campaign and the outside groups that are backing her.

astead herndon

I guess I would start with just saying, like, what caused you to back Nikki Haley, and specifically what caused you to donate your money to Nikki Haley?

tim draper

Yeah. I have been really impressed with her. I think she has very good character. I think she is kind. She is very thoughtful. She sees all points of view on things like pro-choice versus pro-life. She understands foreign policy, which is — I travel a lot. I go all over the world. And I’ve seen how important our foreign policy is and how we’re represented internationally. And I like her attitude of I support my friends, I support democracies, I don’t support dictatorships.

When I first met her, I just thought, wow, this woman is strong and capable, and she gets things done. And you see that she does it in an effective way, where everybody comes out feeling good. And I think there’s a strong character there. And she’s tough and she’s willing to run for president. I mean, for somebody that amazing to be willing to run for president, I think we were just lucky.

astead herndon

One of the things that we’ve reported on through this show is how Nikki Haley has a difficult path to win the Republican nomination, partially because the ways the party has changed in the Donald Trump era. When you were giving to her, when you were backing her originally, I guess I’m wondering kind of how were you thinking about her path to victory in the primary, considering Donald Trump has changed the party to such a degree.

tim draper

You know, it’s funny, I miscalculated on one thing. And that was that I didn’t realize that those Trump supporters just want retribution. They’re just angry, and they want retribution. And they stopped listening. And I was thinking, oh my god, a Trump-Biden combination? It would be ridiculous. We’ve got so many great candidates out there. Why would we ever want these two octogenarians to be our two candidates?

astead herndon

You thought everyone was kind of on the same page, that you wouldn’t want the same thing again.

tim draper

Right. I didn’t think anybody really wanted that. But I think that there is so much animosity built up. And I don’t know which side is right here. I don’t have a really strong feeling about whether the people who are saying he was wronged or the people who are saying he’s a felon are right. I don’t know. That’ll come out in the courts or whatever. But I did think he might have been a good candidate eight years ago. I’m not so sure that makes any sense today. But his supporters are just so much after retribution that I think they stopped listening.

astead herndon

Yeah, I mean, that’s kind of where I wanted to go. I mean, obviously there were high hopes for Nikki Haley in New Hampshire, specifically, because it has so much more of the independent votes, the moderate kind of Republican voter. And I think about the results last night, as I’m sure you watched. Would you say, like, is an 11-point loss there an example of her gaining traction, or should we take the results from Iowa and New Hampshire as evidence that the majority of the Republican base is squarely behind Donald Trump?

tim draper

No, I think — you know, she had 2 percent of the vote when I started backing her, and she is now at 43 percent of the vote. She had 20 percent in Iowa. The trend is good. He still polls better than she does, but I think that that is changing. And now is the time to support her so she gets into the general election.

astead herndon

So what I hear, you’re saying the trend line is such that you still feel good about that investment in the Haley campaign. And will you give more money going forward? Should she stay in this race? I know that’s an open question that some people are trying to pressure her to get out. What’s your message to that?

tim draper

No, no. A lot happens in politics, and she’s down to just the two of them. She should definitely stay in. A lot can happen through South Carolina, Super Tuesday. So no, I think she should go, go, go. I’m very happy with the investment I’ve made. And I wrote a song for her.

astead herndon

I mean, I was going to go to the song next, so I’m glad you brought this up because I recently heard —

tim draper

It’s fantastic.

astead herndon

— the song. It’s a real earworm. I listened to it yesterday, and I have to say, I did wake up today with “we need you, Nikki, right now” still stuck in my head.

tim draper

Isn’t it cruel?

astead herndon

[LAUGHS]:

I was going to ask, can I hear some of the rap? Can you drop a little for us right now?

tim draper

[LAUGHS]:

No, I’m not sure I can because I don’t have it all in my — I know it sticks in your ear.

(SINGING) We need you, Nikki, right now to lead our nation. We need you, Nikki —

astead herndon

There we go.

[LAUGHS]

(SINGING) We need you, Nikki, right now to lead our nation.

We need you, Nikki, no doubt, to lead the conversation.

We need you, Nikki —

tim draper

And then it’s — oh, I can tell you this part of the rap. It’s —

astead herndon

Mhm?

tim draper

[CLEARS THROAT]: (RAPPING) Trump, the bully who’s afraid of a fight against five-inch heels with twice his might

(RAPPING) And Biden is dying to drain our reserves. When voters come out, he’ll get his desserts

(SINGING) We need you, Nikki, right now

astead herndon

I mean, that’s a different level of dedication to a candidate than we typically see, right? I guess I’m asking, like, considering the high road she has to climb to become the nominee, what made you say this moment right now is all in? Is that the candidate, or is that the political moment at large?

tim draper

It’s the candidate. I think it’s Nikki Haley. And we tend to get the candidate we need at the time we need it in America. Nikki Haley gets it.

astead herndon

One of the things that stuck out to me at the Trump victory party last night is that they’re not just mocking or kind of demeaning Nikki Haley, which there was a lot of. There was a lot of mocking and demeaning of the kind of donor class, too. They would say pretty openly that the reason she’s going to stay in this race is because people who are rich Republicans are going to fund her money.

And what they’re trying to do is speak over the will of the voter, who have made clear the kind of working-class Republican voter wants to back Trump. I guess I wanted to hear you respond to that idea. What do you say to the idea that what the donor class is trying to do in terms of keeping Nikki Haley afloat is against the will of the base Republican voter?

tim draper

Well, I’m rich, but a lot of the donors are not. You know what they’re getting? It’s interesting, the Haley campaign, they’re getting a lot of small donations from women. And they’re getting donations from Democrats. That —

astead herndon

Who aren’t Republicans, you know? Like, that’s not the base of the Republican Party. Is that a problem?

tim draper

Well, I mean, it depends on what you mean by a base. I think Trump just has a lot of people who they’re just thinking of, hey, he needs retribution. And they’re saying I’m not thinking about anything else. And I hope that they open their minds. And I hope that they start looking at it in a new way. But I can’t see that happening overnight.

astead herndon

Mhm. Well, kind of my last question is to look ahead. I know you’re hosting a fundraiser for Nikki Haley soon. I guess I’m asking —

tim draper

Two.

astead herndon

Two. You’re hosting two. OK.

tim draper

Yeah.

astead herndon

I guess the question I have is, like, what are the markers that you’re looking for for the campaign to continue the upward trajectory that I think we both know it needs? And then a follow-up question I have is, if it does end up being Biden versus Trump again, do you know what you would do? Would you donate? Would you vote Trump? Would you — do you know?

tim draper

Um.

[SIGHS DEEPLY]

I don’t think that’s going to happen. And I think Nikki Haley will be the president. If it were in that situation, I would kind of desperately look for a third party. And I think a lot of people would, too. I think there’s going to be a very interesting couple of months here. A lot of things happen in politics. And I think a lot of things will happen.

astead herndon

So I hear the first step being look to South Carolina and Super Tuesday, invest more to try to give Haley the bump that she needs and continue to close that gap with Trump. And then maybe a secondary step, if this does get to a thing that you don’t want, being a rematch of 2020, would you invest money in a third — or you’ll just deal with that. We might have to follow up in a couple of months.

tim draper

I don’t know, the —

[LAUGHS]

— the thing that went off in my head was a — what do you call it? A fight or run?

astead herndon

Yeah. Yeah, the fight or flight.

[LAUGHS]

tim draper

The fight or flight. [LAUGHS]

astead herndon

You’re saying some instinctual nature would kick in.

tim draper

I don’t know. I don’t know which way I’m going to go. I’m going to either fight this thing out or I’m going to run.

[LAUGHS]

[MUSIC PLAYING]

michael barbaro

Astead, ultimately, what do you make of this donor, of Draper? Is he in denial about the state of this race and the reality of the Republican Party in this moment? And how representative is he of donors to Haley, in both senses?

astead herndon

Yeah. I mean, when I talk to him, I definitely hear a person who is disconnected from the Republican base, right?

michael barbaro

To say the least.

astead herndon

[LAUGHS]: In Draper’s defense, a lot of people are. You know, his presumption that the Republican base would not come back to Donald Trump considering all the things that have happened in the last couple of years was a widespread belief.

michael barbaro

Right.

astead herndon

That was not just true among a donor class. I think that was true among a lot of people who have underrated the consistency and cohesion of the MAGA movement. So I would say if he is in delusion, it’s a delusion that’s shared by a lot of people.

michael barbaro

Well, looking back, why was there so much delusion, given the steamroller that Trump has always been within the Republican Party?

astead herndon

Well, I mean, I think certainly post midterms, there was a overly presumptuous idea among the party establishment that Donald Trump’s electoral losses would start to weigh on the base and that some people would look for other options because of it. And one thing I think was the biggest part of the shared delusion was the secondary presumption that his indictments would hurt him.

michael barbaro

Right.

astead herndon

That the candidates themselves did not have to make Donald Trump unpalatable because the legal cases would do the work for them.

michael barbaro

Which, as we know —

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

astead herndon

Not only wrong, the opposite of the truth, right?

michael barbaro

Right.

astead herndon

Like, it was —

michael barbaro

It made him more popular —

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

astead herndon

And so after the midterms, normal political logic would tell you that the electoral results, the legal cases would inherently add up to a universe where Donald Trump could not be the Republican nominee again, and particularly not at this kind of wide of a margin or clarity of result. And that was a presumption that was made without the Republican base input.

[LAUGHS]

You know?

michael barbaro

Right.

astead herndon

But this is why I keep going back to movement politics, is because that’s the answer to why those rules don’t really apply here, is because they are not thinking in the traditional political calculus. And they’ll tell you that. They simply tell you that all the time. I just think it’s an unwillingness to believe them.

michael barbaro

Hmm.

astead herndon

So the Drapers of the world are not just trying to make Nikki Haley happen, they are trying to undo reality.

michael barbaro

Right. And when we think about Haley’s donors, all of them, I mean, how representative is Draper and his view of the situation? Basically, that if Haley loses, he’s out of the Republican Party?

astead herndon

To the question of how representative is he of the larger donor class, I think we’ve gotten some answers to that in the last couple of days since the New Hampshire primary. Big donors like Reid Hoffman, the founder of Home Depot, who’s a big mover and shaker in Republican politics, announced that he was going to take a pause on supporting Nikki Haley because he sees a hard time seeing the path forward.

At the same time, there’s clearly enough donors still supporting her that the Trump campaign is taking it very seriously. Trump announced that he would try to blacklist donors who continue to support Nikki Haley, a clear attempt to pressure people to kind of abandon her and make the party rally around him as the presumptive nominee.

michael barbaro

Mhm.

astead herndon

But the thing that I think is important is when you talk to the Trump movement, they say they don’t care either way. They have multiple goals. And the biggest goal is to return Donald Trump to the White House. So even losing the general election is obviously not what they want. Certainly, the MAGA capture of Republicans has given them problems with independents. And they would need a Nikki Haley base if they want to unite the Republican Party to go against Joe Biden.

michael barbaro

Right.

astead herndon

But a subset goal, a thing that John Frederick says very explicitly, is to own the Republican Party. That’s why it’s important to see it not as a traditional political campaign that operates in tactics, but to see it as a movement that operates in ideals, right? Because —

michael barbaro

Mhm.

astead herndon

— the most important thing is to run a campaign that’s based on those ideals. And they basically think they’ll get with us or they’ll get lost.

michael barbaro

There’s an understanding, it sounds like you’re saying, that this effort to obliterate the Haley-style donor class and the establishment of the party, it might mean they lose the election. They understand that Haley has not just donors, but lots of supporters who they may not win over. And because it’s a movement, what you’re suggesting is they may be able to live with that.

astead herndon

Yes. But remember, they already asked Nikki Haley on the stage, would she support Donald Trump in the general election, and she’s already raised her hand. The majority of Republicans are going to vote for Donald Trump no matter how much he mocks, no matter how much he demeans. Right?

michael barbaro

Mhm.

astead herndon

You know, Democrats work from a premise of appeasing a kind of liberal or moderate group and expecting progressives to come along. And the Republican base has basically appeased their most conservative sect, and think that middle will come along.

michael barbaro

And we’ll find out if they’re right.

astead herndon

Yeah. [MUSIC PLAYING]

I think the specific thing this year is, considering the staleness of the candidates, does that lead people to drop off all together? Does that lead people to vote third-party? How does that fall? I don’t think we know the answer to that.

michael barbaro

Hmm. Well, Astead, thank you very much.

astead herndon

Thank you for having me.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Here’s what else you need to know today. On Monday, the most important United Nations relief agency in Gaza, the UNRWA, warned that its funding could dry up by the end of next month after more than a dozen countries suspended their financial support. The collapse of support was the result of Israel’s claim, made on Friday, that 12 of the agency’s workers in Gaza participated in Hamas’s October 7th terror attack on Israel. The United Nations has fired the accused workers, but outrage from Israel’s allies has mounted. Among the countries that have suspended support for the UNWRA are the United States, Canada, Germany, and the UK.

And a former IRS contractor who pleaded guilty to leaking confidential tax records to journalists, including those of former President Trump, was sentenced on Monday to the maximum of five years in jail. The contractor, Charles Littlejohn, admitted that he disclosed Trump’s tax information to The New York Times in 2019 and later leaked tax documents from thousands of wealthy Americans to the news organization ProPublica. Taken together, the documents showed that wealthy Americans like Trump pay little or no federal taxes.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Today’s episode was produced by Caitlin O’Keefe and Mary Wilson, with help from Asthaa Chaturvedi and Clare Toeniskoetter. It was edited by Rachel Dry, Rachel Quester, and Paige Cowett, with help from John Ketchum, contains original music by Dan Powell, and was engineered by Alyssa Moxley. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

[MUSIC PLAYING]


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