If VA exit poll is accurate, Trump needn’t worry about ‘earning’ votes from Haley supporters

Former President Donald Trump’s near complete sweep of the Super Tuesday contests leaves him just 184 delegates away from securing the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential nomination, a milestone he is certain to reach by March 19. 

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Trump’s sole remaining opponent, did not deliver a concession speech Tuesday night. Instead, her campaign issued a statement which touted her wins in Vermont and in Washington, D.C. before taking a swipe at Trump: “Today, in state after state, there remains a large block of Republican primary voters who are expressing deep concerns about Donald Trump. That is not the unity our party needs for success. Addressing those voters’ concerns will make the Republican Party and America better.”

But on Wednesday morning, Haley announced she was suspending her campaign. One of the Republican National Committee’s requirements for participation in the GOP primary debates was a pledge from each candidate to endorse the party’s eventual nominee. Although Haley had made that pledge, she did not endorse Trump during her speech.

Instead, she said, “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. This is now his time for choosing.”

Following Haley’s remarks, pundits on both sides of the aisle launched into a debate over whether her supporters “would come home” to Trump in November. But the results of an exit poll conducted in Virginia on Tuesday, if accurate, show  Trump needn’t worry about “earning” votes from Haley’s supporters — because most of them were planning to vote for President Joe Biden in November all along.

The poll shows that “92% of Haley’s voters approve of Joe Biden’s performance as president, and 87% of Haley’s voters say they’re satisfied with how things are going in America right now.”

Sean Davis, co-founder of the Federalist, said the poll proves “Haley’s voters aren’t just Democrats. They’re the most rabid, left-wing, delusional, anti-Trump members of the Democrat party’s already left-wing and delusional base.”

Considering that Biden’s approval rating stands at 39.1% in the latest RealClearPolitics average of polls, and that more than 67% of Americans believe the country is on the “wrong track,” Davis may be on to something.

To be fair, these findings are likely exaggerated due to the large concentration of government workers living in Virginia, but the results still make a relevant point. A sizable number of Haley supporters were either anti-Trumpers inside the GOP or Democrats who voted for her to create the illusion of strength.

At a South Carolina rally, Haley openly encouraged Democrats who did not vote in the party’s Feb. 3 primary to cast a ballot for her in the Republican primary.

And let’s look at Haley’s donors. We know that Haley’s campaign was kept afloat in part by donations from Democrats. Last month, Politico reported that “[m]ore than 5,200 donors to Biden’s 2020 campaign have backed Haley financially, including roughly 1,600 who gave more than $500,000 in January alone.”

So, no, those voters are not going to “come home” to Trump in November. They were never planning to vote for Haley in the general election in the first place. 

Take out the Democrats and the anti-Trumpers, and you’re left with the moderates. Are these voters really going to cast their ballots for Biden? 

Yes, there is a case to be made that these voters may simply stay home. But first, the fact that they voted in a primary means they are more engaged than non-primary voters and less apt to throw away their vote. And second, Trump and Haley’s positions on the issues voters care most about are at least similar and both are light years away from Biden’s radical agenda. 

Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who famously held Trump “morally responsible” for the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot, endorsed him on Wednesday. If McConnell could “come home,” others will too.

Primaries are about winnowing the candidate fields and ultimately reaching a consensus on one nominee. As candidates drop out, their supporters generally fall in line behind one that’s still standing. For example, I supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the 2016 Republican primary. After Rubio suspended his campaign, I backed Trump. 

Statistics website FiveThirtyEight tracked Haley’s favorability/unfavorability rating over the course of her candidacy. The numbers show that as voters got to know her better, her unfavorability rating rose by 53.5%. On Jan. 1, 2023, Haley’s unfavorability stood at 27.8%. By Super Tuesday, it had climbed to 42.7%. Over the same period, her favorability rating rose from 28.2% to 33.2%, a 17.7% increase. 

It’s worth noting that much of the rise in her unfavorability numbers came after she sharpened her attacks against Trump.

Haley is right that Trump must earn the votes of her supporters. But that shouldn’t require him to bend a knee to her. Haley needs to understand that she lost. More accurately, she got trounced. And now the time has come for her to honor the pledge she made to the RNC: she must put personal differences aside and endorse Donald Trump. 


A previous version of this article appeared in the Washington Examiner.

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