Accessibility links

Breaking News

Republican Voters Clash Over Whether Haley Should Remain in Nomination Race

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley makes comments at a campaign event in Forth Worth, Texas, March 4, 2024.
Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley makes comments at a campaign event in Forth Worth, Texas, March 4, 2024.

As the Republican Party primary contests continue into their third month, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is the only remaining challenger to former U.S. President Donald Trump.

The primaries will determine who is the GOP’s nominee for president and who will challenge President Joe Biden in November’s presidential election.

Trump has won all but one of the 11 primaries and caucuses so far, racking up 276 total delegates to Haley’s 43. (Haley earned her first victory in Washington D.C. this past weekend, a contest long predicted to go her way.) With 15 states casting their votes for a nominee on March 5, a day known as “Super Tuesday,” Republicans are divided on whether Haley should remain in the race or get out of the former president’s way.

“If you’re a Democrat, you probably want Haley to stay in the race because she’s distracting Trump from focusing on defeating Biden,” explained Bob Carreto, a Trump supporter from Chalmette, Louisiana. “But if you’re a real Republican, you want her to drop out of the primaries as fast as possible.”

Explainer: What Is Super Tuesday?
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:01:38 0:00

“She’s forcing Trump to spend money defeating her, and it’s not good for the Republican Party,” Carreto said. “But the reality is, she doesn’t stand a chance, so she should just quit.”

Even though Trump has won each of the contests so far, not all voters who could cast their ballot this November for a Republican think Haley should exit.

“I think she’s incredibly brave for staying in the race, especially given that Trump is a maniacal egoist who attacks anyone who challenges him,” Abby LaCombe, an independent voter from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, told VOA.

“She’s facing a lot of attacks for refusing to withdraw, and she’s giving people who vote Republican a choice — the ability to choose someone other than Trump, a politician who has shown he has no respect whatsoever for democracy,” LaCombe said.

The Haley campaign did not respond to VOA's request for comment when asked what Haley would say to those questioning why she is staying in the race.

Uphill battle

The Trump campaign has been insistent on undercutting Haley’s challenge by
highlighting her many stumbles at the ballot box. In her home state of South Carolina, for example, the former president collected 60% of the vote to her 40%.

Michigan is a more moderate state where independent voters — thought to be more receptive to Haley’s message — are allowed to vote in the Republican primary. Still, in the state’s recent primary, Trump’s margin of victory was even greater (68% to 27%).

“She can’t name one state she can win, let alone be competitive in,” Steven Cheung, a Trump spokesperson, said in a statement last week.

The Haley campaign did not respond to VOA's request for comment when asked where she believes she can win on Super Tuesday or beyond.

On Sunday’s “Meet the Press” talk show, Haley said, "I think we fight. You're going to have 16 states and territories that are voting on Tuesday. And so, a lot of people's voices are going to be heard. And that's what this has all been about.”

US Presidential Hopefuls Pull No Punches Ahead of Super Tuesday
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:02:10 0:00

Most political experts, like University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock, agree that it will be difficult for Haley to win against the former president.

“I think it’s probably too late for her,” he explained to VOA. “This is Trump’s party, and he controls its voters. It’s a party dominated by an electorate who will stick with him no matter what — probably until he dies or withdraws from public view.”

Bullock, however, sees one way the Republican faithful could abandon him.

“A conviction,” he said. “Polling shows that if he is convicted of one of the several crimes he is accused of, then a substantial number of voters would abandon him. I think it’s possible that Haley is waiting, hopeful she could gather his votes if a conviction takes place.”

Trump faces 91 charges in four trials, including allegations he illegally tried to upend his 2020 election loss, whether he illegally took highly classified documents with him when he left office, and whether he falsified documents related to hush-money paid to a porn actor.

He has denied all the allegations.

Motivation for remaining in the race

A Reuters/Ipsos poll from last month found that 51% of Republican voters said they would not vote for Trump if he was convicted of any of the 91 felony charges brought against him across four criminal trials. A further 25% said they weren’t sure how they would vote in that case.

Fifty-eight percent said they would not vote for Trump if he were serving time in prison in November.

While experts like Bullock believe a Trump conviction might be Haley’s reason for staying in the race, others say she could have other motivations.

Henry Olsen, a senior fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center, believes Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, hopes if she can win several states, it will allow her to gain concessions from Trump during the Republican National Convention.

“She’s been spending her time in more moderate states and states where independent voters are also allowed to take part in the Republican primary,” Olsen said, adding, “states like Minnesota, where Marco Rubio beat Trump in the 2016 primary, and Colorado, where moderate Republican Senator Joe O’Dea beat a Trump-supported opponent by a wide margin.”

Supporters await the arrival of Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley at a campaign event in Forth Worth, Texas, March 4, 2024.
Supporters await the arrival of Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley at a campaign event in Forth Worth, Texas, March 4, 2024.

“Utah, Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine are all in the same boat, and if she can win five states, Republican Party rules will give her more time and clout at the convention to voice her opposition to Trump,” Olsen continued. “Those wins are going to be a stretch for her, but if she gets them, Trump’s team will want to avoid any bad attention at the convention and may be willing to give concessions important to her, like a promise to support NATO.”

Other experts, like David Stack, a political scientist at Cleveland State University, thinks Haley might have one eye set on the 2028 presidential election.

“I just don’t see Haley having a path to the nomination this cycle,” Stack told VOA. “Her best bet for a win on Super Tuesday might be in Vermont, but even there she is down by about 30% in polling.”

“So, the question then is why is she staying in the race?” Stack said. “I think it could be to bolster her name recognition and collect donations for future elections. If she has a good amount of money in the bank after Super Tuesday, that could be a sign she is building a war chest for the future.”

Alternative to Trump

For her part, Haley insists her focus is on the present and that she believes she is the Republican Party’s best chance at unseating President Biden.

“This has never been about me or my political future,” Haley said last week after her defeat in the South Carolina primaries. “We need to beat Joe Biden in November. I don’t believe Donald Trump can beat Joe Biden. Nearly every day, Trump drives people away.”

She added, “I’m an accountant. I know 40% is not 50%, but I also know 40% is not some tiny group. There are huge numbers in our Republican primaries who are saying they want an alternative.”

Jason Winder, a Republican from Uintah County, Utah, says he is one of those voters and is looking forward to casting his ballot for Haley on Tuesday.

“I like the idea of having a choice, and I’m grateful to still be able to show my dissent for Trump by backing someone who wasn’t involved in the January 6 insurrection,” Winder told VOA. “I hope the GOP leadership wakes up. He lost the popular vote in 2016 and 2020, and I think the margins will be even bigger this year. At least Nikki Haley gives us a chance.”

This week, Haley told supporters at a rally in Minnesota that Trump can’t win the general election if he’s losing 40% of the vote, and polling has shown a sizable portion of the Republican Party believe Trump is too extreme to defeat Biden. Nearly nine in 10 Haley voters in South Carolina said they would not be satisfied with Trump as the Republican Party’s presidential nominee.

As a result, support in the form of fundraising dollars and endorsements from moderate segments of the Republican Party continue to find their way to the former governor.

On Friday, Haley received endorsements from two of the party’s most moderate senators, Susan Collins from Maine and Lisa Murkowski from Alaska.

Despite that support, many in the party, including Trump’s most ardent supporters, continue to push Haley to exit the race.

“I actually like Nikki Haley and I would vote for her if she was the nominee,” explained Harvey Wasserman, a resident of Daytona Beach, Florida. “But I’ve voted for Trump twice and I’m going to do it again in the primary. I don’t think she can win, so it’s time for her to give the stage to Trump so he can focus on Biden.”