Trump has choice to make when it comes to Haley voters

Former President Trump has a choice to make after Nikki Haley’s exit from the primary race: Try to win over the former South Carolina governor’s supporters or just ignore them?

Trump won all but two primary contests before Haley dropped out, a sign of his dominance within the party.

But exit polls found significant percentages of Haley supporters in states such as New Hampshire, Virginia and North Carolina were cool to the idea of backing Trump in November.

That’s given some hope to Democrats worried about President Biden’s weaknesses. They think Trump will struggle to unify Republicans and win the support necessary to defeat Biden in the Electoral College.

Haley did not endorse Trump as she suspended her campaign Wednesday, saying the former president had to “earn the votes” of those who did not support him. 

There was no immediate olive branch from Trump or his team, with the former president blasting Haley’s support as largely driven by Democrats before inviting Haley supporters to back his White House bid.

Trump allies downplayed the need for any direct outreach to Haley voters, but in a general election that both sides agree will likely be close, the former president can ill afford to alienate swaths of moderate Republicans.

“The primaries told us that both Biden and Trump have serious vulnerabilities within their respective parties that weaken them in November,” said Doug Heye, a former Republican National Committee spokesperson.

“Trump may have the steeper climb because he told a lot of Republicans to pound sand, and a lot of them might do that,” he added. 

Haley never seriously threatened Trump’s path to the nomination, even as she made the case she was a surer bet to defeat President Biden in November. Some of her best showings came in states including New Hampshire and Vermont, which make it easier for independents to vote in a GOP primary.

Still, exit polling has shown some warning signs for Trump since the beginning of the primary, and Super Tuesday was no different. NBC News found 31 percent of primary voters in Virginia and 34 percent in North Carolina said they would not vote for the GOP nominee regardless of who it is.

Haley also won a majority of self-identified moderate or liberal voters in North Carolina and Virginia. Trump won a majority of women voters in both states, though by a smaller margin than he won male voters.

A majority of Haley voters have consistently said in primary exit polling that Trump would not be fit to serve as president if he is convicted of a crime. He is facing 91 felony charges across four separate cases, with his trial over an alleged hush money scheme set to begin later this month in New York City.

“It is now up to Donald Trump to earn the votes of those in our party and beyond it who did not support him, and I hope he does that,” Haley said Wednesday. “At its best, politics is about bringing people into your cause, not turning them away. And our conservative cause badly needs more people. This is now his time for choosing.”

Trump lost the 2020 election and will need to grow his coalition beyond his fervent base of supporters to flip at least a handful of states in November.

But Trump was largely dismissive of Haley’s support as she dropped out of the race.

“Nikki Haley got TROUNCED last night, in record setting fashion, despite the fact that Democrats, for reasons unknown, are allowed to vote in Vermont, and various other Republican Primaries,” Trump wrote on Truth Social. “Much of her money came from Radical Left Democrats, as did many of her voters, almost 50%, according to the polls.”

Vermont has an open primary, meaning all registered voters in the state can choose to cast a ballot in either party’s race.

Senior Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller called any outreach from Haley to Trump “meaningless” and instead pointed to several other 2024 candidates who dropped out and backed the former president.

Miller also dismissed the Haley campaign’s suggestion that Trump needed to appeal to the GOP primary voters who indicated they are concerned about his candidacy, calling it “just plain wrong” during a Fox News interview.

Decision Desk HQ average of national polls shows Trump with a roughly 2 percentage point lead over Biden at the national level. Polling averages also showed Trump leading Biden in key swing states including Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Nevada.

A New York Times/Siena College poll published last weekend found Trump winning 97 percent of voters who said they backed him in 2020, compared with Biden winning 83 percent of those who supported him in 2020.

Trump lost the 2020 election, but he would only need to flip a few states to get the 270 electoral votes needed to win in 2024.

“Right now, I’d rather have Donald Trump’s hand than Joe Biden’s hand in terms of the Electoral College, the states that are in play, as well as the issues that are driving the electorate right now,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said. “This was always going to be a tight race irrespective of who the nominees were because of this iteration of the Electoral College.” 

The Biden campaign argued in a Wednesday memo that Trump was a vulnerable general election candidate, as evidenced by the primary results.

Top Biden campaign officials wrote in a memo that Trump “is greatly underperforming with the voters who will decide the election in November,” noting the former president underperformed in suburban counties in Michigan, Virginia and North Carolina, while only winning roughly a quarter of moderate voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Biden campaign officials are not planning to make persuading Republican voters a core part of their strategy with eight months left until Election Day, but the president himself made clear Wednesday he would welcome moderates disillusioned by Trump with open arms.

“Donald Trump made it clear he doesn’t want Nikki Haley’s supporters. I want to be clear: There is a place for them in my campaign,” Biden said in a statement.

“I know there is a lot we won’t agree on,” he added. “But on the fundamental issues of preserving American democracy, on standing up for the rule of law, on treating each other with decency and dignity and respect, on preserving NATO and standing up to America’s adversaries, I hope and believe we can find common ground.”

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