Nikki Haley’s supporters not all in favour of backing Republican nominee Donald Trump

Nikki Haley's base of voters and donors was never big enough to seriously challenge Donald Trump

Published - March 26, 2024 10:50 am IST

File picture of former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley greeting her supporters before she suspended her Republican presidential candidate campaign

File picture of former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley greeting her supporters before she suspended her Republican presidential candidate campaign | Photo Credit: AP

Now that Nikki Haley has ended her U.S. presidential campaign, one person who voted for her refuses to back former President Donald Trump and plans to reluctantly vote for President Joe Biden. Another Haley primary supporter acknowledges that he was probably always a “closet Trump fan” and will vote for the former president again in November.

The former U.N. ambassador's base was never big enough to seriously challenge Mr. Trump before he clinched a third straight Republican nomination. But in what's shaping up to be a tight rematch between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden, the apparent splintering of Ms. Haley's voters and donors could hurt Mr. Trump's general election chances, particularly in battleground states full of suburban voters who remain dubious of a Mr. Trump return to the White House.

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For now, interviews with Ms. Haley's supporters suggest they could go in a variety of directions — some backing Mr. Trump, some going to Mr. Biden and others seeking third-party options or avoiding making a decision about the presidential race yet.

Ms. Haley has not spoken publicly since leaving the race and urging Mr. Trump to reach out to all Republicans. She has not endorsed Mr. Trump and suggested she may not at all.

“She said it’s up to him to earn the support of those who supported her, and he’s got to earn it,” said Eric Tanenblatt, a longtime GOP donor who was Ms. Haley's Georgia campaign’s co-chairman. “Right now, I’m definitely not there. It tells me there are things that are still up in the air among other key Haley donors waiting for a sign.”

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Glenn Swanson caucused for Mr. Haley after seeing her campaign in his hometown of Cedar Falls, Iowa. At the time, the retired architect said he was open to a Trump alternative. Now, he’s coming back to the candidate he supported in both 2016 and 2020, despite his concerns about the four felony indictments and other civil cases facing Mr. Trump.

“For sure I’m going to vote for Mr. Trump,” Mr. Swanson said in an interview. “In a sense I was kind of a closet Mr. Trump fan all along, but I really wanted to see if somebody else would emerge to get away from some of the drama.”

John Wynstra, a database administrator who attended that same event, had been deciding between Mr. Haley and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis before choosing to caucus for her. Mr. Wynstra said he’s strategically supporting Mr. Trump and the party’s platform — as a stance primarily against Biden — although he seemingly left the door open to possibly supporting a third-party candidate like Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

“I will vote against Joe Biden and the Democrats,” Mr. Wynstra said this week. “If Kennedy were viable and if his positions were palatable, I would consider him.”

In Ms. Haley’s home state of South Carolina, high school teacher Michael Burgess said that save an unlikely independent run by Haley or a moderate like former Rep. Liz Cheney, he would be supporting Biden and criticised Mr. Trump's “Make America Great Again” movement.

“I will reluctantly vote Biden,” Mr. Burgess said. “We can survive bad policy, but we cannot survive the destruction of the Constitution at the hands of a morally bankrupt dictator lover in Trump who, supported by his congressional MAGA minions, would do just that.”

Like many who were drawn to Ms. Haley, Mr. Tanenblatt, who was her Georgia campaign’s co-chairman, became disenchanted with Mr. Trump for what he called “inflammatory rhetoric,” chiefly in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack by his supporters on the Capitol.

But he also says Mr. Trump’s opposition to military aid to Ukraine is a fundamental policy difference. Mr. Tanenblatt has talked individually with former Haley supporters weighing a role with No Labels, the third-party group that is moving forward with attempting a unity ticket of opposing party presidential and vice-presidential nominees.

By and large, Ms. Haley’s donors have paused, with key bundlers noting they have not heard from Mr. Trump’s team as well as their reluctance to make any decisions.

“I really think there’s a period of recalibrating for a number of us who were very involved in Nikki’s campaign. This was a calling, something bigger than any one of us,” said Simone Levinson, a Florida-based Haley fundraiser who hosted events for her in New York and Florida.

Those donors could be helpful to Mr. Trump were they to come to the former president's side.

For now, Mr. Trump and national Republicans are lagging far behind Mr. Biden and national Democrats in fundraising, with Trump's campaign and allied groups holding $37 million cash on hand at the end of February compared to the $155 million in Democratic coffers.

In one sign of her influence going forward, Ms. Haley ended last month with $11.5 million, just days before she suspended her campaign. That's slightly more than the Republican National Committee at $11.3 million.

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