Key takeaways from Super Tuesday: Why Trump won — and what it means for November

Nikki Haley suspended her campaign Wednesday morning as Trump is on the verge of once again becoming the GOP’s presumptive nominee.

Former President Donald Trump
Donald Trump at an election night watch party at Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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Former President Donald Trump swept nearly all of this year’s Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses, routing his last major rival for the Republican presidential nomination, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

Haley announced Wednesday morning that she is suspending her campaign, clearing the way for Trump's rematch with President Biden, the Democrat who beat him in 2020.

Biden also won lopsided victories on Tuesday across 15 states.

Trump, who gained several hundred delegates with major wins in states such as California and Texas, is now on the verge of becoming the GOP’s presumptive nominee for the third straight election cycle.

His only loss was in Vermont, where Haley scored a narrow upset.

“Nov. 5 is right around the corner,” Trump said from his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., referring to Election Day. “Nov. 5 is going to go down as the single most important day in the history of our country.”

In a statement, Biden said that "tonight’s results leave the American people with a clear choice: Are we going to keep moving forward or will we allow Donald Trump to drag us backwards into the chaos, division, and darkness that defined his term in office?"

A full 854 GOP delegates were up for grabs Tuesday — more than a third of this year's total. A candidate needs 1,215 delegates to clinch the 2024 Republican nomination. Trump’s delegate advantage is continuing to grow as results come in from around the country.

In a presidential nominating election, whoever is first to collect a majority of the total available delegates — or whoever remains after everyone else has dropped out — becomes the party’s presumptive nominee. After the last states weigh in, delegates attend their party’s national convention and vote to make the nomination official.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, Trump is on track to reach the 1,215-delegate mark by March 19 at the latest — and to formally claim his party’s nomination when all GOP delegates cast their ballots at the Republican National Convention in July.

How Trump won Super Tuesday

Nikki Haley
Nikki Haley campaigning in South Burlington, Vt., on Sunday. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

Haley went into Super Tuesday with a bit of wind at her back. She won the Washington, D.C., primary on Sunday — her first primary victory and the only primary victory ever for a woman Republican presidential candidate. A few days earlier, Haley was endorsed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, two centrist Republicans from Super Tuesday states.

But in the end it wasn’t enough. Alaska and Maine went for Trump, along with other moderate-leaning states where Haley’s campaign had hoped to make inroads, such as Massachusetts, Utah and Virginia. Vermont was Haley's only Super Tuesday prize.

Until recently, Haley had been able to focus on one state at a time. She spent heavily in New Hampshire and South Carolina, placing second in both with about 40% of the vote — due in large part to her outsize support among independent voters, who were allowed to participate in those states’ open primaries.

But in Michigan's Feb. 27 primary, where Haley invested far less time and money, she hit only 27%.

Super Tuesday was like Michigan on steroids. In contrast to earlier, proportional contests, most of the day’s primaries and caucuses awarded all of their delegates to the candidate who cleared 50% of the vote. And in some, only Republicans could participate.

Both rules helped Trump expand his lead to the point where it’s now mathematically prohibitive for Haley to catch up.

Trump’s grip on GOP tightened after indictments

Donald Trump
Donald Trump at the trial of himself, his adult sons, the Trump Organization and others in a civil fraud case brought by New York state Attorney General Letitia James, Oct. 2, 2023. (Brendan McDermid/Pool via AFP via Getty Images)

For a fleeting moment last year, the former president looked wounded. In the weeks after announcing his own comeback bid — which followed the GOP’s historically poor performance in the 2022 midterm elections — national polls showed Trump’s stock falling. Hosting avowed antisemites at Mar-a-Lago and calling for the “termination” of parts of the Constitution didn’t help.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis even led Trump in multiple Yahoo News/YouGov polls from late 2022 and early 2023.

But by the time the actual voting got underway, one year later, Trump had surged to a commanding lead. Formerly reluctant Republicans rallied around him in the wake of his four criminal indictments. DeSantis and others exited the race after meager early results. Only Haley remained.

Once careful not to offend Trump’s MAGA supporters, Haley became increasingly hostile toward her rival as the race continued, criticizing his attitude toward Russia, his chaotic temperament and his expensive legal woes, among other things.

But ultimately, Trump’s grip on the GOP was never really in doubt. Haley lost by 32 percentage points in Iowa; by 11 points in New Hampshire, where she invested heavily; by 20 points in her home state; by more than 40 points in Michigan; and by even wider margins in many of the Super Tuesday states. In the Nevada primary — a contest that Trump skipped — Haley finished 33 points behind “none of these candidates.

Trump v. Biden II

President Donald Trump, right, and Joe Biden
President Donald Trump, right, and Joe Biden, 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, debate in Nashville, Oct. 22, 2020. (Jim Bourg/Reuters/Pool via Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Once Haley formally ends her candidacy, another general-election battle between Trump and Biden will get underway.

It’s a rerun that many Americans don't welcome, even as the campaigns themselves seem eager to engage.

Biden’s team believes that many swing voters barely even realize that Trump will be on the ballot and that the president’s State of the Union speech this Thursday will help clarify the choice. Furthering that contrast, Trump’s first criminal trial — in New York, for making secret hush-money payments to a porn actress during the 2016 campaign — will start on March 25.

At the same time, Trump’s team has been buoyed by recent decisions from the Supreme Court to prevent Colorado from barring the former president from its 2024 primary ballot for his role in the Jan. 6 attack and to delay Trump’s 2020 election interference trial, possibly until after the November election, by considering his claim of absolute presidential immunity later this year.

But while the candidates themselves might be ready to run against each other, more Americans said in a 2023 Yahoo News/YouGov poll that they felt “exhaustion” (38%) over the prospect of a Biden-Trump sequel than any other emotion. No other sentiment — not fear (29%), sadness (23%), hope (23%), anger (23%), excitement (16%), pride (8%) or gratitude (7%) — cracked the 30% mark.

Fatigue is an understandable response to what could be the first general election for president since 1892 to feature the incumbent and his defeated predecessor competing as the major-party nominees — and the only White House race in U.S. history in which one candidate is facing criminal prosecution for conspiring to overturn his prior loss.

What the polls say about November

Voters walk past lines of students to cast their ballots
Voters cast their ballots for the presidential primary in Edina, Minn., on Tuesday (Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune via Getty Images)

Both Biden and Trump are strikingly unpopular. On average, 55% of Americans disapprove of Biden’s performance in office; just 38% approve. Those numbers have barely budged for years, despite the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, the passage of ambitious legislation and the steadily improving U.S. economy.

Analysts have speculated that widespread concerns about Biden’s age are weighing him down with the electorate. (Already the oldest president in U.S. history, he would be 86 at the end of a second term.)

Trump, meanwhile, left office in 2021 with roughly the same poor approval numbers that Biden has now — and recent polls indicate that a clear majority of Americans still disapprove of him today.

As a result, head-to-head surveys have long shown Biden and Trump roughly tied, with support in the mid-40s; average all the polls together, and Trump might start with a 2-point edge, at best.

In line with those numbers, the latest Yahoo News/YouGov survey finds Trump with the narrowest of leads (45% to 44%). But when voters are asked how they would vote if Trump is convicted of a serious crime, Biden pulls ahead, 46% to 40%.