Nikki Haley dominates Biden in polls. Why are Republican primary voters so stuck on Trump?

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Here’s something I can’t wrap my head around: Republicans have a sure thing in Nikki Haley. Yet they can’t move past Donald Trump.

So far, each primary state has chosen the former president over the former South Carolina governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. By a lot. South Carolina, Haley’s home state, proved no different Saturday.

Haley preempted calls for her to step aside last week by giving a speech in which she said she would stay in the race at least through Super Tuesday on March 5, when 15 states and the U.S. territory of American Samoa vote. My state of Michigan votes this Tuesday.

But Haley is likely to keep losing.


Haley keeps trouncing Biden in polls

A recent poll from Marquette Law School found that in a general election matchup against President Joe Biden, Haley would blow him out of the water by 16 points (58-42%).

Compare that with Trump’s 2-point lead over Biden (51-49%).

President Joe Biden prepares to deliver remarks on canceling student debt at Culver City Julian Dixon Library on February 21, 2024 in Culver City, California.
President Joe Biden prepares to deliver remarks on canceling student debt at Culver City Julian Dixon Library on February 21, 2024 in Culver City, California.

Multiple surveys have shown the same thing. Haley’s strong numbers also give more credence to a third-party run, should she decide to go that route.

As the Marquette poll states: “Haley holds Republican support against Biden as well as Trump does, while attracting a substantial (crossover) vote from Democrats. Independents support Haley by a substantial margin. Her strength with Republicans combined with an ability to attract more Democratic and independent voters than does Trump accounts for her stronger overall support against Biden than Trump’s.”

Third party alternative: Biden's toast. Trump's unhinged. How about a third-party ticket led by Nikki Haley?

Pulling in support from independents and even moderate Democrats will be key to winning the presidential election. Oddly, the MAGA arm of the GOP seems to think that this crossover appeal should be eschewed, and these voters treat Haley – a true conservative – like a Democratic plant.

Democrats are the ones who should be petrified at the thought of Biden facing Haley. While Trump maintains a tight hold on the Republican base, that’s not true of independent voters and moderate Republicans who will refuse to vote for Trump in November.

Biden is such a weak candidate. As much as Democrats want to pretend his age and mental capacity aren’t issues, it’s obvious they are. Biden can’t even go to fundraisers without detailed notes to get through these events, which should be easy for him after spending his life in politics.

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Haley raises money for the future. Trump pays past legal bills.

Plenty of voters would like to see Haley continue her campaign, which is why her fundraising numbers remain strong. In January, the Haley campaign brought in $16.5 million in contributions – the strongest month yet. Even after losses in Iowa and New Hampshire, she has been able to pull in more donations. She even raised more than Trump in January.

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Trump’s continued attacks on her also seem to help. Her campaign reported that after Trump this month mocked her husband’s “absence” (he’s serving overseas with the South Carolina National Guard), she raised $1 million in two days.

Meanwhile, Trump’s humongous legal bills keep piling up as he faces four criminal trials and separate sizable civil judgments. Lara Trump, Trump’s daughter-in-law, had the audacity last week to indicate the Republican Party should help him pay those mounting bills.

Trump is a liability to the party and to the country. As Haley likes to say, “chaos follows” him. Biden is a liability, too. Haley has said that she has concerns about both men serving as president again, but she’s even more worried about a second Biden term.

I share those fears.

As she told NPR last week, the country needs to start "bringing normalcy back to America and that's why I think we need to have a new generational leader that focuses on the solutions of the future instead of all the issues of the past.”

Why can’t more Republicans get on board?

Ingrid Jacques is a columnist at USA TODAY. Contact her at or on X, formerly Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Haley does better than Trump versus Biden. But GOP voters won't listen