Trump beats Haley in Michigan primary but underperforms expectations

Former president won yet another state – but relatively poor numbers in the suburbs left a path of attack open to his challenger

Eric Garcia
Wednesday 28 February 2024 04:12 GMT
Biden and Trump win Michigan primaries

Former president Donald Trump defeated Nikki Haley in the Michigan Republican presidential primary on Tuesday evening, continuing his streak of victories as he marches toward his party’s nomination.

But Mr Trump severely underperformed despite only nominal competition from Ms Haley, as he continued to show weak performances in the suburbs of Detroit and elsewhere in the state.

The contest came after he resoundingly defeated Ms Haley in her home state of South Carolina, where she won two terms as governor before Mr Trump nominated her to be US ambassador to the United Nations in his administration.

Mr Trump for his part bragged about his performance in his victory speech.

“We win Michigan; we win the whole thing,” he said, noting the support he had from auto workers despite the fact that he had criticised the leadership of the United Auto Workers amid their strike and spoke at a non-union function. “And we're going to bring it all back into Michigan and other places in our country. But I just want to thank everybody, you've been so incredible. The numbers are far greater than we even anticipated.”

The vote comes as President Joe Biden hoped to push back against a campaign for Democrats to vote “uncommitted” in protest against his support for Israel in the country’s war against Hamas as it continues to assault Gaza.

Ms Haley’s campaign released a statement insisting she would not leave the primary race.

“Joe Biden is losing about 20 percent of the Democratic vote today, and many say it’s a sign of his weakness in November. Donald Trump is losing about 35 percent of the vote,” spokeswoman Olivia Perez-Cubas said in a statement. The statement also noted the internal civil war between the Republican Party in the Wolverine state.

“That’s a flashing warning sign for Trump in November. Since Trump became president in 2016, he lost Michigan Republicans the state House, state Senate, and Governor’s mansion,” the campaign’s statement said. “What was once a beacon for the conservative cause, the Michigan Republican Party is now fractured and divided.”

The Haley campaign’s remarks referenced how the state Republican Party is in a state of of disarray. Two people – former candidate for secretary of state Kristina Karamo and former Republican congressman Pete Hoekstra – both said they were the legitimate chairperson of the Michigan Republican Party. Ms Karamo, who came into power last year, insisted she was still the rightful chairwoman, while Mr Hoekstra was elected in a closed vote last month to replace her.

On Tuesday evening, as the Michigan primaries took their course, a judge decided the issue, saying Mr Hoekstra was indeed the rightful chairman.

During his speech, Mr Trump thanked Mr Hoekstra, who served as US ambassador to the Netherlands in his administration, a sign of whom he had supported in the civil war. The strife within the GOP worries some Republicans that they will be incapable of taking back the crucial swing state come November.

Mr Trump shocked the world in 2016 when he became the first Republican presidential nominee to win Michigan since George H W Bush in 1988. Since then, Michigan elected Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, whom some believe will seek the presidency some day. But he lost the state in 2020 to Mr Biden.

In 2022, Democrats flipped both chambers of Michigan’s state legislature on the back of anger about the Dobbs v Jackson decision by the Supreme Court that overturned Roe v Wade, for which Mr Trump has taken credit given his nomination of three Supreme Court justices.

Michigan has an “open primary,” which allows for independents to vote in one party’s primary, giving independents the chance to express their dissatisfaction with the twice-impeached-four-times-indicted former president.

While Mr Trump won almost all counties, he underperformed in Oakland County, one of the counties of Detroit with many of the college-educated suburban voters repelled by Mr Trump, where Ms Haley won a third of the vote with 88 per cent of the vote reporting. Similarly, with 88 per cent of the vote reporting, Ms Haley only lost Washtenaw County, where Ann Arbor is located, by 9 per cent.

But Ms Haley faces a bigger challenge ahead of Super Tuesday, where numerous states hold “closed primaries” wherein only registered Republicans can vote.

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