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Nikki Haley Drops Out of Presidential Race, Paving Way for Biden-Trump Rematch

Nikki Haley ended her presidential bid after losing to Trump in the Republican primaries of 15 Super Tuesday states.

Nikki Haley announces the suspension of her presidential campaign at her campaign headquarters on March 6, 2024, in Daniel Island, South Carolina.

Hours after Nikki Haley lost every Super Tuesday vote bar Vermont’s, the former South Carolina governor and erstwhile United Nation ambassador formally announced that she was ending her presidential bid. In bowing out, however, she notably didn’t endorse Donald Trump’s reelection bid, somewhat nebulously saying that the presumptive nominee had to “earn” the votes of those who opposed him in the primaries.

Haley’s withdrawal on Wednesday morning from the 2024 presidential race confirms that despite the general public being at best lukewarm about the prospect of a rematch between Trump and President Joe Biden, those two candidates are headed toward another general election showdown.

Haley’s decision to end her bid was about as inevitable as taxes and death, given her inability to puncture the Trump cult’s hold on the GOP over the past two months of primary and caucus contests. For Republican primary voters, the dominating issues in the election are immigration and the economy, and on both fronts, polls have shown Republican voters siding with Trump over Haley. Having waited too long to tackle Trump head-on, the South Carolinian struggled to convince her party’s base that she can fight on the turf they most want to contest with the Democratic administration.

As for Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, his quixotic campaign to unseat President Biden in the Democratic primaries achieved even less of a liftoff than did Haley’s in the GOP contests. In most Super Tuesday states, Phillips was outvoted not only by Biden supporters but also by those who, to protest the administration’s stance over Israel’s war on Gaza, voted “uncommitted” or “no preference.” On Wednesday, Phillips suspended his campaign for the Democratic nomination and gave his endorsement to President Biden.

If either of the two presidential front-runners is to somehow lose their party’s nomination, it won’t be because of Super Tuesday primary votes. Gaining a majority of their party’s delegates is now a formality for both Biden and Trump. And so, after Tuesday, we are now in the marathon race leading to November. Thursday’s State of the Union address has essentially just become Biden’s opening statement in the general election campaign.

Yet, outside the bubble of the primary and caucus process, both candidates remain remarkably weak: Biden, in the face of dismal polling, growing concerns about his age and a cascading “uncommitted” movement within his party’s grassroots, could yet be pressured by party leaders into stepping down before the election, throwing the nominating process to an open convention in which delegates rather than caucus and primary voters choose the nominee. That’s a longshot, but it’s not entirely outside the bounds of possibility if Biden can’t find a way over the coming couple months to revive his support.

On the other side, while it may be impossible to imagine a scenario in which Trump voluntarily steps away from the GOP nomination, his legal troubles could render him unelectable if a critical number of independents sour on him once the general election campaign heats up, or once Trump is forced to spend his days in courtrooms rather than on the campaign trail.

The MAGA leader won by huge margins in most of the primaries; yet buried in the exit poll numbers was a more nuanced picture: About two-thirds of the GOP electorate in Virginia and North Carolina told pollsters they don’t think a criminal conviction ought to stand in the way of Trump being elected. That’s pretty close to what the polls found in South Carolina as well last month.

One way to interpret these polls is that Trump is so entirely dominant over the GOP that he really could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his core supporters would stick with him, as he once notoriously boasted. It’s certainly beyond infuriating, and immensely depressing, that a solid majority of GOP voters have made their peace with embracing someone of Trump’s moral turpitude.

Still, another way to look at it is that one in three GOP voters — and presumably at least as many independents — do not think Trump would be fit to hold the presidency if he’s convicted. That’s in line with polling from earlier this year which indicated that a criminal conviction would be entirely catastrophic to Trump’s reelection hopes, and it comes less than three weeks before Trump’s first criminal trial is due to get underway in New York.

But, while Biden doesn’t have the same legal exposure as Trump, the president is hardly radiating strength. Last week, 13.2 percent of voters in Michigan’s primary voted “uncommitted” in an act of organized opposition to Biden’s policy on Gaza. The president’s team hoped it was an anomaly. Yet on Tuesday, one in five Minnesota Democratic primary voters and more than a quarter of those in Minneapolis and its suburbs cast “uncommitted” ballots. Another nearly 8 percent voted for Representative Phillips. That number was orders of magnitude higher than the 5,000 uncommitted votes organizers were aiming for, and it ought to raise alarm bells in Biden headquarters. After all, Minnesota was a blue state which Trump made a last-minute play for in 2020, and in which the MAGA movement will surely again this year make a full court effort to woo blue-collar workers.

In Colorado, another large blue state that Republicans daydream of recapturing, more than 8 percent voted for “noncommitted.” In Massachusetts, 1 in 10 Democrats voted “no preference.” In North Carolina, 12 percent of Democrats registered “no preference.”

In an election that could all too easily be decided by a relative handful of voters in a few critical swing states, the idea of a well-organized abstention movement picking up steam ought to send chills down Democrats’ collective spine. So, too, should some of the turnout numbers in key states. In North Carolina, for example, which has been something of a swing state since the Obama years, more than 1.06 million people voted in the GOP primary. By contrast, only about 700,000 voted in the Democratic contest. That enthusiasm gap could, of course, be ephemeral, but it could equally speak to an ongoing problem that Biden is having in holding together — and motivating to vote — the coalition that propelled him to the presidency in 2020.

The GOP is lurching ever further rightward, with Trump and his henchmen now controlling the party from top to bottom and making evermore brazen rhetorical assaults on the constitutional order. Yet, faced with what should be a five-alarm fire, to date Democrats’ response has been tepid, and the party’s ability to muster its voters limited. That’s not exactly a position of strength from which to launch such a high-stakes general election campaign.

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