Trump Has a Big Problem With GOP Voters

Welcome to Trail Mix, your 2024 election sanity guide. See something interesting on the trail? Email me at jake.lahut@thedailybeast.com. To get Trail Mix in your inbox, subscribe here for free.

This week, we look at a sneaky problem for Donald Trump. Plus, fallout from the Supreme Court’s oral arguments on mifepristone and how Democrats could run on “Project 2025.”

ZOMBIE PRIMARY

Donald Trump may believe the 2024 Republican presidential primary is done—but clearly, it’s not done with him.

In a series of state primary elections held after Nikki Haley became the last Trump challenger to drop out, stubborn and sizable minorities of Republicans have continued to cast ballots against the former president.

In Kansas’ primary on March 19, for instance, Trump secured 75 percent of the vote—impressive if he were facing active competition, but troubling given the competition had all withdrawn. Haley got 16 percent of the vote in Kansas, while 5 percent voted for “none of the names shown.”

In Arizona’s primary on the same day, Trump won 79 percent of the vote, while Haley won 18 percent. The former president also failed to crack 80 percent of the vote in Ohio.

While some non-Trump voters mailed in their ballots, meaning that a share of them registered their support for Haley before she dropped out on March 6, it’s all but certain that many thousands of them took the effort to cast ballots simply to express their preference that Trump not be the GOP nominee for president.

Dave Smith, the chairman of the Pima County GOP in Arizona, told The Daily Beast that early mail ballots were only part of the explanation for why Trump got 75 percent of the vote to Haley’s 20 percent in that county.

Based on his understanding of the in-person turnout and Haley voters in his life, Smith told The Daily Beast that “for those who voted after she dropped out, it was simply, the way you get your messages to your national party is how you vote.”

The Arizona primary, for Haley voters, became “an internal communication document, really.”

Smith added that the continued opposition to Trump among conservatives and moderates in southern Arizona isn’t that complicated.

“There’s still residual hostility about Trump and his tweets. In my own family, that’s discussed quite a bit,” he said. “Remember out West, too, that New York persona—the in-your-face persona—it’s got an abrasiveness to it.”

There are still 16 presidential primary contests left in the calendar, and GOP voters in states like New York, Maryland, New Jersey, and Wisconsin will have opportunities to cast similar protest votes.

voter

A voter puts a ballot in a ballot dropbox at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center the day before the Democratic and Republican parties hold primary elections in Phoenix on March 18, 2024.

REUTERS/Caitlin O’Hara

Republicans on the ground in those states are betting that they will. “There will be a lot of people voting against Trump,” Ed Baecher, the chairman of the Fishkill, New York, GOP committee told The Daily Beast ahead of the state’s primary on April 2.

“These are centrist Americans, people in the center,” Baecher continued. “They’re not the crazy liberals. Trump does a very good job. He does a very good job at disenfranchising people.”

For all that has been made of President Joe Biden’s primary protest vote problem—which stems from his handling of the Israel-Hamas war—it’s clear that Trump has his own very real obstacles to consolidating core GOP voters that could be crucial to winning in November.

Given that Trump seemed tepid at best about the prospect of bringing Haley voters into the fold and truly persuading holdouts to support him, though, the results may not be especially surprising. And Haley herself has declined to endorse Trump so far.

“What you’ve seen since then is Trump has done next to nothing to earn their vote, so there’s still a lot of hostility among the people we’ve been talking to about Trump’s lack of outreach,” said Robert Schwartz, who is running a PAC focused on persuading Haley voters to support Biden.

Karoline Leavitt, Trump’s national press secretary, did not mention Haley voters in a statement when asked about what the campaign is doing to bring them back into the fold.

“Americans from all backgrounds, including Republicans, Independents and disillusioned Democrats, are coalescing around President Trump and joining the greatest political movement in history to end Joe Biden’s chaos and make America strong, safe, and successful again,” Leavitt said, adding that some polls indicate Biden losing support among core Democratic Party demographics.

Biden, who issued a conciliatory statement welcoming Haley voters into his campaign, continues to strike a markedly different tone. Earlier this week, his campaign hit Trump for his “nonexistent” outreach to them.

“Donald Trump and his campaign have made it clear: If you are not part of the MAGA disciples then you aren’t welcome in his campaign,” Biden-Harris 2024 spokesperson James Singer said in a statement to The Daily Beast.

“For independent, moderate, and Nikki Haley voters who all care about protecting democracy and lowering costs for families, President Biden is reaching out his hand to welcome them into his coalition while Donald Trump is slamming the door in their face,” Singer continued.

Schwartz noted how Haley supporters are not necessarily receptive to messaging about Jan. 6 or protecting democracy—a core focus of the Biden team—based on his PAC’s continued outreach.

“They don’t feel like they need to be lectured on democracy, so I would say they’re more concerned with things like the border and fiscal economic issues,” he said.

The Biden campaign has “made good noises about welcoming Haley voters into the coalition,” Schwartz added, “but I think they need to do some more intensive outreach over what Haley voters care about… These are high-propensity, highly educated, wealthy suburban voters. So I think the Biden campaign needs to have serious discussions with them about policy.”

In Arizona, Smith said part of the challenge is convincing conservatives turned off by Trump that their vote still matters down-ballot, noting how “at the local level, we don’t decide abortion or immigration policies. We decide things like the local tax rate, whether or not we build a new jail… in terms of reaching out at our level, we’re reaching out to Independents and Republicans that Trump is just the top of a ticket.”

Perhaps predictably, however, some foot soldiers in a GOP reshaped by Trump’s bluster and conspiracies are simply denying that these protest votes are real at all—or say they are at the very least inconsequential to Trump’s march to a second term.

nikki haley

Haley holds a placard, given to her by a member of the audience, during a campaign event in South Burlington, Vermont, on March 3, 2024.

REUTERS/Brian Snyder

A volunteer with the Johnson County GOP in Kansas, who declined to identify herself when reached by The Daily Beast, suggested without evidence that Haley’s 3,791 votes compared to Trump’s 11,558 were the result of a long-running voter fraud scheme. Reached for comment later, Maria Holiday, the Johnson County GOP chair, chalked up Trump’s performance in Kansas to the former president’s favorite excuse.

“Unaffiliated voters are allowed to declare at the polls in Kansas,” Holiday told The Daily Beast in an email. “Democrats make a habit of being Unaffiliated so they can vote in Republican primaries. Simple explanation really. Kansas is Trump country though.”

THE GOP’S NEXT ABORTION PROBLEM

At this point, nearly two years after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Democrats have developed a kind of muscle memory. When reproductive rights are being debated in the courts, they know what to do: immediately mobilize their message to voters.

That revved-up Democratic apparatus was on full display this week as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that could lead to the restriction of access to mifepristone, the best-known pill in a family of drugs responsible for more than half of all annual abortions in the United States.

The Biden campaign, for instance, featured a guest press release from Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel right after the Tuesday arguments wrapped up.

“Donald Trump and his MAGA allies will stop at nothing to ban abortion and restrict reproductive health care access nationwide,” Nessel said in the release. “We can’t forget that Trump appointed the judge who ruled to ban abortion medication and nominated the justices who cast the deciding votes” overturning Roe.

The Democratic Party’s official arms for House and Senate races, sent out similar releases, as did prominent Democratic governors, like J.B. Pritzker in Illinois, who called the court challenge “the latest blatant attack against women’s rights by anti-abortion, far-right extremists.”

The judges appeared skeptical of the case against mifepristone, but the case underscored the very real threats that still exist to Americans’ access to abortion and reproductive health care.

Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow, who is increasingly being tapped by Democrats as a national surrogate, told The Daily Beast that it’s all “starting to feel like exactly what happened in 2022.”

That year saw a dramatic rollback of abortion rights after the Dobbs decision—as well as a groundswell of support for pro-reproductive rights candidates at the ballot box, which was underestimated as pollsters predicted a “red wave” in 2022.

Ahead of 2024, McMorrow said polls are still missing how galvanizing an issue abortion remains for women—and the fact that states like hers now have strong abortion rights protections enshrined helps explain why.

“Part of the big reason that we have a historic democratic trifecta in Michigan is because we had extremist candidates running on the Republican side who offered no exceptions for rape or incest, and were OK with 14-year-old girls getting pregnant and carrying kids to term,” McMorrow said of the 2022 election.

Now, Democratic organizers have a playbook to keep in touch with volunteers and make sure they’re staying engaged with door knocking or phone banking. They keep it simple, reminding voters where the Democratic Party stands on protecting abortion and other reproductive health services anytime the courts scrutinize anything related to the issue.

protesters

Demonstrators for abortion rights take part in a protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court as justices hear oral arguments in a bid by President Joe Biden’s administration to preserve broad access to the abortion pill on March 26, 2024.

REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

To their dismay, federal and state courts have continued to provide material. Democrats mobilized aggressively after Alabama’s top court issued a ruling effectively banning in vitro fertilization earlier this year, which continues to be politically toxic for the GOP.

While the most significant electoral fallout will likely be at the state and local level, McMorrow said that keeping voters who are concerned about access to reproductive care engaged could be a boost to Biden, who is trailing Trump in polls of her home state.

“As we start to separate whether either of these men are your favorite candidate, when you start to dig into here’s what’s happening on the ground and here are the issues that are at play, and voters are forced to actually think about, OK, there’s a difference between answering a phone call and talking to a pollster and filling in a circle on my ballot in November,” McMorrow said.

“I think Michigan voters take that responsibility very, very seriously.”

2025 VISION

As Democrats prepare their campaigns against Republican congressional candidates running under the Trump banner, one tantalizing potential weakness has already emerged: Trump’s own second-term agenda.

The former president’s allies have laid an extensive policy foundation for a Trump return. The right-wing Heritage Foundation think tank, for instance, has developed a “Project 2025” agenda, which proposes leveraging a Trump return to dramatically slash the ranks of the federal civil service, curtail abortion access, and rein in the federal government’s ability to address climate change.

The Biden campaign has already seized on Project 2025, mentioning it in statements seemingly wherever and whenever possible. But now, a major Democratic campaign organization is eager to tie that hard-right agenda to House Republicans—who represent the hotbed of MAGA support in Washington—as the party builds the case that the conference is too extreme to hold the chamber’s majority.

In a memo to donors obtained by The Daily Beast, House Majority PAC, the party’s main super PAC for House races, framed the fight to flip the chamber as a crucial opportunity to reject the Project 2025 agenda. The PAC did so by outlining where Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and the GOP conference align with key planks of the proposed foundations of a second Trump administration.

For instance, the memo states, Heritage’s Project 2025 proposed tapping the Comstock Act, a 19th century law that restricts the sending of “immoral” materials through the U.S. mail, to prohibit the abortion pill from being mailed.

Last year, Johnson and the vast majority of House Republicans voted against an appropriations bill that included language limiting access to abortion pills. And in February, over half of the House GOP conference signed a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court that cited the Comstock Act to justify limiting the mail distribution of mifepristone ahead of arguments this month.

The memo also cited House GOP support for a key plank of Project 2025: the proposal to reinstate Trump’s 2020 order to strip employment protections from many federal employees, effectively letting his administration fire career bureaucrats and replace them with loyalists.

Mike Johnson

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) makes a statement to members of the news media in Washington on February 27.

Leah Millis/Reuters

In October 2020, Johnson—then head of the House GOP’s influential Republican Study Committee—touted legislation to create the new “Schedule F” federal employment category that would make bureaucrats easier to fire.

House Majority PAC pleaded with donors to support the group, which specializes in running TV attacks on GOP candidates, “so we have the resources necessary to stop Project 2025, win back the House, and elect Speaker Hakeem Jeffries.”

OFF THE BEATEN PATH

Mitch perfect. On Thursday, GOP state lawmakers in Kentucky overwhelmingly approved legislation to drastically change how the state fills U.S. Senate vacancies—though they swore the move had nothing to do with a particular octogenarian Kentucky senator’s health status. The bill takes away the power of Kentucky’s governor to appoint a senator in the event of a vacancy and instead mandates a special election be held.

Andy Beshear, Kentucky’s freshly re-elected governor, is a Democrat, and he’s scheduled to serve until the end of 2027—the year that Sen. Mitch McConnell’s current and final term in office is scheduled to end. The Kentucky legislature’s bill would prevent Beshear from appointing a Democratic successor to McConnell—thus temporarily altering the balance of power on Capitol Hill—should the longtime senator be unable to serve out the remainder of his term.

Beshear has called the legislature’s move a clear power grab and has indicated he could try to circumvent it—even though Republicans insist they are simply implementing the “cleanest” way to fill Senate vacancies at a moment when, coincidentally, McConnell’s health is faltering. The governor can veto the bill but Kentucky Republicans have the numbers to override it.

With friends like these. Not for the first time this cycle, former U.S. senator and current New Hampshire Republican gubernatorial candidate Kelly Ayotte is touting an endorsement she might end up regretting.

This week, Ayotte thanked state Rep. Lisa Mazur for her endorsement. While there are 400 state representatives in New Hampshire, only Mazur compared Nazi persecution of Jews to COVID measures at a high school prom.

It happened in 2021, when Mazur testified at a local school board meeting in response to Exeter High School putting Sharpie marker on unvaccinated students’ hands during senior prom.

“In 1939 when [the Nazis] put those stars on those people—‘Oh, it’s just a star,’ that’s what they said at the time,” Mazur, who did not live in the school district, said at the meeting, according to Seacoast Online. “Oh it’s just a Sharpie marker, that’s how it starts. You branded your kids… In World War II, we said ‘never again,’ but here we are.”

The Ayotte campaign did not return a request for comment.

Husker do. Nebraska labor organizer Dan Osborn said on Thursday that he had gathered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot as a nonpartisan candidate for U.S. Senate, a development that makes GOP incumbent Sen. Deb Fischer’s re-election campaign a little more interesting.

Osborn came to prominence after leading a monthslong strike at four Kellogg’s plants in the state last year. The tattooed labor leader launched a nonpartisan campaign for Senate centered on workers’ rights and blue collar appeal. A controversial poll commissioned by a progressive shop last December showed a potential race between Osborn and Fischer could possibly be competitive, but he would have to run a near-perfect campaign against the two-term incumbent in a state that should be firmly in the GOP column.

Indeed, Democrats have not competed for a Senate seat in Nebraska since Fischer was first elected in 2012, and it’s unclear if state or national Democratic organizations will back Osborn.

CAMPAIGN LIT

Look, Jack. Key data points are looking up for the Biden campaign while Trump is mired in legal and cash problems—leading Democrats to see a golden window to close the gap for 2024, Jake Lahut reports.

Nothing to RNC here. The Republican National Committee is already behind in the 2024 cash race, but read the fine print and the situation gets much worse, report Roger Sollenberger and Reese Gorman.

Vetting zoo. A previously unknown but major donor to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s presidential campaign has a dark history: he shot and killed his brother, William Bredderman scooped.

Alabama shake. Marilyn Lands, a Democrat, flipped an Alabama state House seat this week by running against the state court’s recent ruling on in vitro fertilization. Emily Shugerman has the interview with Lands.

Cheering section. Congressional Republicans can’t wait for Trump’s return and are already talking about how to support his second term agenda, from immigration crackdowns to a “deep state” crusade, Reese reports.


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