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Where Nikki Haley Won and What It Means


When the first New York Times/Siena College poll of the Republican primary was released in July, a quarter of Republican voters said they were not open to supporting Donald J. Trump.

These “not Trump” voters were not like other Republicans. They were relatively affluent, moderate and highly educated. They supported immigration reform and aid to Ukraine. Most of all, they had an unfavorable view of Mr. Trump. A majority of these primary voters wouldn’t even support him in a general election against President Biden.

In the end, the not-Trump voters found a candidate in Nikki Haley, who suspended her campaign Wednesday. On Super Tuesday, she won 22 percent of the vote — just shy of the 25 percent who said they weren’t open to Mr. Trump in July.

The opening for Ms. Haley emerged long before she gained in the polls. As Ron DeSantis ran to the right, he became unpalatable to the relatively moderate voters who represented the core of any anti-Trump coalition. Ms. Haley’s staunch defense of America’s role in the world and relatively moderate stance on abortion was a breath of fresh air for these voters, and she quickly became the choice of the old neoconservative, establishment wing of the party.

In doing so, she became the only vigorous opponent to Mr. Trump. At the same time, she ensured she would be nothing more than a factional candidate — someone who appealed only to Mr. Trump’s opposition, a mere quarter of the Republican electorate.

Ms. Haley’s limited appeal was on display in every primary. The exit polls routinely found her losing badly among self-identified Republican voters, a group that’s pretty important to a Republican primary.

She ultimately won just over 30 counties and D.C., many of which fit a caricature of the anti-Trump elite. Most Haley counties were either ski and beach resorts, college towns or inside the Beltway — places that bear little resemblance to the rest of the country, let alone the Republican Party. She also excelled in Vermont — the most Democratic state in the country and one where the rules allowed Democrats to vote in the Republican primary.

When only Republicans could vote, Ms. Haley was crushed. Even Humboldt County, Calif. — akin to a pot-growing sliver of Vermont on the West Coast — gave Mr. Trump a 79-17 victory without the registered Democrats and independents who powered her strength elsewhere. The only exception was in and around Salt Lake City, where Mr. Trump still faces considerable opposition from Mormons in his own party.

With Ms. Haley out of the race, these not-Trump Republicans may agonize over whom to support in the general election. This is not a new problem for Mr. Trump, as these moderate, affluent voters have been skeptical of him all along. He lost many of them years ago, if he ever won them at all.

In the last Times/Siena poll, Ms. Haley’s supporters reported backing Mr. Biden over Mr. Trump in the 2020 election, 48 percent to 32 percent. Perhaps surprisingly, Mr. Trump fared a bit better when the question turned to a 2024 rematch, with the former president winning 44 percent of these voters to 40 percent for Mr. Biden, who tried to appeal to Ms. Haley’s voters after her withdrawal Wednesday.

At 3 percent of registered voters, the Haley voters who back Mr. Trump in the general election represent only a sliver of the electorate. Many might be party-line Republicans who never loved Mr. Trump but voted for him last time and will probably do so again. Those who can be persuaded to turn their backs on him might be a critical element of a successful Biden re-election campaign.

After all, they probably helped power his narrow victory in 2020.



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