Trump and Biden both have a Nikki Haley problem now

Biden wants Nikki Haley Republicans to vote for him — but his latest moves on Israel might scupper that. Meanwhile, a significant proportion of GOP voters are handing in protest votes for Haley

Eric Garcia
Washington DC
Friday 10 May 2024 18:49 BST
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Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden need to woo over Nikki Haley’s former voters, given that polling shows the two candidates running neck-and-neck. The existence of a significant amount of “double haters” who dislike the fact that they’re being asked to show up, once again, for the same two men from 2020 only makes this issue more severe.

But this week showed that both men will face an uphill struggle.

On Wednesday, Haley joined a chorus of Republicans — including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Mitt Romney — when she assailed Biden on Twitter/X for his decision to withhold arms from Israel.

“An American president siding with Iran over one of our strongest allies is unforgivable,” she tweeted. “Israel didn’t start this war, Hamas did. Withholding ammunition helps our enemies win and puts American lives at risk, including the hostages still held in Gaza.”

Despite serving as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, Haley always had a more traditional George W Bush-style approach to foreign policy, which includes supporting allies like Israel. In 2017, she notably stood alone and vetoed the United Nations’ resolution that requested the Trump administration rescind its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

During the Republican primary debates, she fiercely criticized businessman and political gadfly Vivek Ramaswamy for not wanting to provide aid to Israel.

Biden has made deliberate attempts to reach out to Republican voters who don’t want to cast a ballot for Trump. After Haley suspended her campaign, Biden said, “I want to be clear: There is a place for [her voters] in my campaign.” Last month, Biden’s campaign launched an ad that said Haley voters should “save America. Join us.”

Having Haley call out Biden on his Israel policy might make it more difficult for the president to make the case that they are natural allies, despite whatever objections they have to Trump.

Haley’s criticisms came as Democratic senators who have wanted Biden to do more to hold Israel accountable praised his decision to withhold military aid and progressive members of the Squad defended it. The president doesn’t usually rely on the left flank of his party for defense, and this reversal of fortunes shows just how perilous the politics of Israel and Gaza are — especially as those same Democrats become more critical of Biden’s previously unconditional support for Israel.

Former vice president Mike Pence, who said he would not endorse Trump, has also assailed Biden.

Pence’s home state of Indiana held its Republican primary on Tuesday. Trump overwhelmingly won the primary, which was unsurprising to most people. Nevertheless, an interesting development did come out of it: Despite the fact that Haley ended her campaign two months ago, she still garnered almost 22 per cent of the vote.

She did best in Marion County, the home of the capital city of Indianapolis, where she earned 35 per cent of the vote. She also earned 34 per cent of the vote in neighboring Hamilton County.

This comes after Pennsylvania held its primary a few weeks ago. Haley received only 16.6 per cent of the vote, but she performed well in the so-called collar counties that include the suburbs of Philadelphia. She earned 19 per cent in Bucks County; 25 per cent in Montgomery County; 25 per cent in Chester County; and 23 per cent in Delaware County.

The fact Trump has failed to wrangle the Republican coalition — and so voters are casting ballots for someone who is no longer seriously pursuing the presidency — shows just how unpopular of a nominee he is.

At the same time, some important caveats exist. Indiana had an open primary, meaning independents and Democrats could also participate. Trump could very well be doing much better with actual Republicans. And many of those voters who picked Haley will probably already fall into the “Biden-sympathetic” camp, meaning that Biden’s moves on Israel likely will not move them that much.

The fact Haley has refused to endorse Trump more than two months after dropping out shows she also has not specifically signaled for her voters to “come home” to the Republican party.

At the same time, the fact that she is still putting out statements excoriating Biden shows she still sees herself as a future Republican player and does not want people to perceive her as a conservative dissident.

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