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Courting the Nikki Haley ‘Zombie’ Voters
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Courting the Nikki Haley ‘Zombie’ Voters

‘If Trump wants to win, he should do everything he can to win over Nikki’s support and her voters.’

Happy Wednesday! Your Morning Dispatchers are big coffee drinkers—as one might imagine—and we’re not necessarily picky. But we do draw the line at a $30 bag of “Fighting for Justice” beans, brought to you by Rudy Giuliani. 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Russian Ministry of Defense announced on Tuesday that the country’s military had begun exercises near the border with Ukraine simulating the launch of tactical nuclear weapons. The drills—linked to what Moscow called “militant statements” by Western officials—are meant to prepare the units and equipment for “the combat use of non-strategic nuclear weapons to respond and unconditionally ensure the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Russian state,” the defense ministry said
  • Defense Department spokesman Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters Tuesday that he did not believe charitable and non-profit organizations had received any of the 569 metric tons of aid transported to the Gaza Strip through the new U.S.-built pier, but rather that crowds of desperate Palestinians had intercepted the humanitarian aid meant for distribution to the broader population. He added that aid deliveries to the region will be temporarily halted as U.S. officials determine the best strategy for transporting aid to distribution centers.
  • Israel seized Associated Press cameras live streaming parts of Gaza on Tuesday—alleging the news agency had provided content to the recently banned Qatari broadcaster, Al Jazeera—before reversing course hours later. Israeli authorities quickly returned camera equipment to the outlet and the Israeli communications ministry indicated the matter was to be “re-examined.” U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said that, upon learning of the Israeli decision to seize the equipment, “the White House and the State Department immediately engaged with the Government of Israel at high levels to express our serious concern and ask them to reverse this action, which they have publicly committed to do.”
  • French President Emmanuel Macron traveled to the French territory of New Caledonia on Tuesday in an effort to ease tensions after more than a week of violent riots on the small Pacific island that have left several people dead and seen Paris declare a state of emergency—including suspending access to TikTok. Legislation from the National Assembly in Paris that would expand voting access to more island residents sparked outrage among the Kanak population—the largest indigenous group on the island, many members of which seek independence from France—who have argued the voting changes would unfairly reduce their share of the vote. On Tuesday, the governments of Australia and New Zealand sent planes to evacuate some 3,000 tourists stranded on the island after the airport closed to commercial flights. 
  • Former President Donald Trump’s legal defense team in his New York criminal trial rested its case on Tuesday after the former president declined to testify himself. With the end of the testimony stage of the trial—which saw Manhattan prosecutors bring 20 witnesses and Trump’s defense only two—Judge Juan Merchan, who is overseeing the case, scheduled closing statements for the trial for next Tuesday, May 28. 
  • Scott McAfee, the Fulton County Superior Court judge presiding over the Georgia racketeering case against Trump, handily won reelection on Tuesday, netting more than 80 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, the lead prosecutor in the trial, also won her Democratic primary by a hefty margin, trouncing her primary opponent by some 74 points. In November, Willis is set to face off against the pro-Trump Republican nominee, Courtney Kramer, whose chances are slim in the heavily Democratic district.
  • U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, overseeing special counsel Jack Smith’s classified documents case against former President Donald Trump, on Tuesday released a batch of documents related to the investigation that led to the charges against the former president. Among them was a March 2023 decision by a federal district judge which revealed that lawyers for former President Donald Trump found four classified documents in his personal bedroom at his Mar-a-Lago mansion, four months after the FBI raided the estate. The ruling allowed Smith to question Evan Corcoran—a former Trump attorney who might otherwise have been protected from questioning by attorney-client privilege—due to considerable evidence that Trump intentionally shielded classified documents from federal authorities. “Notably, no excuse is provided as to how the former president could miss the classified-marked documents found in his own bedroom at Mar-a-Lago,” wrote U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell.*
  • Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani—faced with nine felony charges in Arizona for election fraud in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election—pleaded not guilty in the case on Tuesday. Ten others charged in the case, including attorneys for Trump and Arizona GOP officials, also pleaded not guilty Tuesday. The trial for Giuliani and his co-defendants is officially scheduled for October 17.
  • A 73-year-old British man died—potentially of a heart condition—during “extreme turbulence” on a Singapore Airlines flight on Tuesday that also injured 71 other passengers, six of whom sustained serious injuries. The Boeing 777-300ER plane was roughly 10 hours into its 13-hour flight from London to Singapore when it experienced around 90 seconds of severe turbulence—perhaps owing to developing thunderstorms in the area—before making an emergency landing in Thailand. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board announced it will be sending an accredited representative and four technical advisors to assist Singapore government officials in their investigation into the incident.

Whither Thou Goest, Haley Voters

Then-Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley takes pictures with attendees of a campaign rally at the Sawyer Park Icehouse bar in Spring, Texas, on March 4, 2024. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
Then-Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley takes pictures with attendees of a campaign rally at the Sawyer Park Icehouse bar in Spring, Texas, on March 4, 2024. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

When former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley dropped out of the presidential race in March leaving Donald Trump as the only remaining candidate, she wasn’t ready to serve her voters up on a silver platter. “It is now up to Donald Trump to earn the votes of those in our party, and beyond it, who did not support him,” she said. “And I hope he does that.”

“Our conservative cause badly needs more people,” she added. “This is now his time for choosing.” 

More than two-and-a-half months later, the Trump campaign hasn’t made any real attempt to mend fences with Haley supporters who Trump himself had said would be “permanently barred” from his movement, and the former Trump appointee has yet to endorse her old boss. Haley, in turn, has continued ability to snag a sizable chunk of votes in primary contests taking place since she dropped out. Despite the protest votes, it’s unclear whether that dissatisfaction will redound to President Joe Biden’s favor in November, as his campaign pursues only a muted outreach strategy for Haley voters.

When candidates drop out of a presidential primary, die-hard fans will still sometimes show up to their state’s primaries and cast a vote for their favorite anyway. A week after Haley dropped out, she received 5.3 percent of the vote in Mississippi’s primary, compared to Trump’s 92.7 percent. On the same day, however, Haley also garnered 13.2 percent support in the Georgia primary and 19.5 percent in Washington state—77,893 and 149,085 votes, respectively. A week later, in early April, she secured 13.9 percent—more than 155,000 votes—of the GOP primary vote in Florida, 14.4 percent of the votes in both Illinois and Ohio, 16.1 percent in Kansas, and 17.8 percent in Arizona. Last month, 16.6 percent of Pennsylvania primary voters, 158,178 people checked the box for the former ambassador and South Carolina governor in the battleground state where Trump and Biden are in a dead heat and Biden won in 2020 by fewer than 100,000 votes.

So far in May, Haley has received 21.7 percent of the vote in Indiana (a primary open to voters regardless of party affiliation), 21.1 percent in Maryland, 18 percent in Nebraska, and 9.4 percent in West Virginia. “We are well past the primary,” Olivia Perez-Cubas, a Haley spokesperson, said earlier this month, referring to the Indiana primary results. “If you’re not paying attention yet, you should.” Haley added somewhat to the tally on Tuesday in the Kentucky primary, securing 6.4 percent of the vote—with another 3.6 percent opting for “uncommitted” over the former president, and 3.1 percent going with former Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“[Support for Haley is] more durable than anyone even anticipated when she dropped out,” said Robert Schwartz, a senior adviser with Haley Voters for Biden, a super PAC working to convince Haley supporters to back the incumbent Democrat. “I don’t think anyone would have predicted that she was going to be getting 20 percent still at this stage.”

In a contest likely to be decided by razor-thin margins, and with a sizable bloc of voters united by a relatively coherent set of policy preferences—among them a strong, internationalist foreign policy, fiscal discipline, and border security—seemingly up for grabs, you might reasonably assume Trump and Biden would be doing everything under the sun to woo Haley voters. 

But you’d be wrong.

When Haley dropped out, Trump seemed potentially willing to welcome Haley voters into the fold on Truth Social—inviting “all of the Haley supporters to join the greatest movement in the history of our Nation”—but only after emphasizing how he “TROUNCED” the South Carolinian on Super Tuesday. 

Offering Haley voters a seat on the Trump Train isn’t quite the same as convincing them he deserves their support. Instead, Trump seems content to focus primarily on his base of existing voters rather than cater to Haley’s supporters—continued protest votes be damned. His campaign is likely hoping that, regardless of the so-called “zombie votes” for Haley in the primary, her supporters will come home by November, as has often been the case in past presidential primaries with a large share of votes against the presumptive nominee after challengers dropped out. 

But that could be a risky strategy. “These are Republican primary voters who are fed up with the drama and the chaos of the past and are actively turning out to vote against the presumptive Republican nominee,” a former Haley campaign staffer told TMD. “If Trump wants to win, he should do everything he can to win over Nikki’s support and her voters.” 

To be fair, if you’re a Haley voter, Trump’s policy positions are likely a tough sell even if the campaign were doing more targeted outreach. As Dispatch Politics reported earlier this month:

These voters, who broadly identify as “Ronald Reagan Republicans” are unhappy with the former president for myriad reasons. But Trump’s opposition to U.S. military aid to Ukraine, coddling of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin and indifference bordering on opposition to international alliances such as NATO are particularly grating. They align more with Biden on these issues, creating a crucial opening for the incumbent Democrat.

Trump could offer an olive branch to some Haley voters by picking a running mate more palatable to them—possibly even Haley herself. The former president stated earlier this month that Haley isn’t under consideration for the position, but prior statements haven’t prevented Trump from reversing himself before. Even so, he could also choose a running mate generally more aligned with Haley’s foreign policy views, like Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida or Tim Scott of South Carolina. Picking someone like Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio or biotech entrepreneur and former primary rival Vivek Ramaswamy—who once called Haley “Dick Cheney in 3-inch heels” (and meant it as an insult)—would likely further alienate Haley supporters. 

The Biden campaign has made comparatively more overtures to Haley voters. “Donald Trump made it clear he doesn’t want Nikki Haley’s supporters,” the president said in a statement in March. “I want to be clear: There is a place for them in my campaign.” Later that month, the campaign released an ad that compiled Trump’s statements insulting Haley and rejecting her voters. But for some Haley voters, the pitch seems to be falling flat—particularly as it relates to the Biden administration’s Israel policy. 

“It’s a mistake for the Biden campaign to think that somehow when Trump criticizes Haley that that’s the issue to them,” Rob Stutzman, a Republican strategist and adviser to the PAC set up to support a now-defunct No Labels ticket, told TMD. “They need to be talking to those voters about the issues that Haley consolidated that base of voters around.” For starters, Stutzman suggested Biden could get more aggressive on border enforcement, pledge to appoint a Republican to his cabinet in his second term, and more vocally attack the isolationist Republican lawmakers on foreign policy. 

Schwartz, the Haley Voters for Biden PAC adviser, agrees that there has to actually be some substance to the Biden appeal. “While a lot of these people may think that Joe Biden is more of a decent human being, they’re not convinced that they can support Joe Biden because they view him potentially as catering too much to the left wing of the Democratic Party,” he told TMD. “In order for Haley voters—these Haley conservatives—to consider voting for Joe Biden, that policy gap needs to be somewhat narrowed. They need to feel like Joe Biden is focused on winning over the center, not just the left.”

Navigating the tension between progressive voters who oppose Biden’s stance on Israel and Haley voters who are turned off by the president’s attempts to appease the left is a challenge for the Biden campaign. But strategists TMD spoke to think there could be more for Biden to gain by more explicitly engaging Haley voters. “We understand that there’s cross-pressures,” Schwartz said. “What we’re trying to say is, ‘Look, there’s 4.4 million Nikki Haley voters so far, and there’s 590,000 [Democratic] uncommitted voters so far.’” 

It’s unclear whether Biden is prepared to make any real policy concessions to attract Haley voters. According to reporting from the Dispatch Politics crew, the president’s campaign is focusing on a micro-targeted messaging strategy to reach Haley voters at the precinct level rather than a top-down pivot to the center led by Biden. Ted Kaufman, a Biden adviser and former Democratic senator from Delaware, suggested this week that Biden could appoint a Republican to his cabinet in a second term, but the White House has not signaled any such show of bipartisanship. 

A potential X factor could be Haley herself. Since dropping out, she’s joined the Hudson Institute—a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C.—and largely kept quiet on the race, although she has made some statements criticizing Biden’s fiscal policies and his pause on weapons shipments to Israel. Haley seems unlikely to endorse Biden, but the question remains: Will she withhold her endorsement of the GOP nominee, à la Mike Pence, or throw her weight behind Trump? Her decision could influence some of her voters.

“A lot of her strongest supporters do really admire her and will look to what she does as a reference point,” Schwartz said. “It will make a big difference if she comes out with an enthusiastic endorsement of Trump versus a tepid endorsement.” In other words, the Bill Barr tack versus the Tim Scott approach.

But Stutzman argued that Haley voters wouldn’t follow her back to Trump. “They’re not looking to take a command from her,” he told TMD. “Haley is not some type of spectacular superstar to these voters. She earned her way to being the candidate that took that lane and was able to consolidate that 35 percent of the party to her.”

For now, that lane remains open. 

Worth Your Time

  • Why don’t more major newspapers feature earnest, well-reasoned pro-Trump columnists? It’s hard to do, Christian Schneider argues, in part because there aren’t that many pro-Trump columnists around. “Therein lies the rub,” he wrote in his Substack Anti-Knowledge. “There aren’t many pro-Trump columnists at major papers because there aren’t many pro-Trump columnists anywhere. In past years, it hardly seems possible that a major publication wouldn’t have a supporter of Ronald Reagan [or] George W. Bush on its staff. That is why in 2024, newspapers would love nothing more than to have an in-house columnist on Team Red Hat/Tie. But Trumpism is a visual medium—it cannot withstand the scrutiny of a written column. Trump supporters can go on Fox News or Newsmax or OAN and say whatever they want in the moment without being fact-checked beforehand. … That is because being a Trumper is based almost solely on emotion and doesn’t rely on facts. Trumpism is a clenched fist, not an argument. And newspapers print arguments.”
  • The Biden administration has delivered long-range weapons to Ukraine with an important condition: No American-made weapons are to be used within Russian territory. In a wide-ranging interview with the New York Times, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that these restrictions limit Ukraine’s defensive capabilities. “What we have always asked of President Biden—and not only President Biden, but the leaders of many countries—is that we want to use the weapons for defense. When there are attacks from Russian territory targeting civilians exclusively, and artillery is firing exclusively at civilians, when artillery strikes a city, the city center—that’s how it happens—you can’t respond to them because of the range of your artillery,” he said. “How can we protect ourselves? We can either strike the missile that is entering Ukrainian territory or strike the aircraft before launch. To strike the missile, we need air defense. To strike the aircraft, we need appropriate weapons—weapons and permission.” What about the potential escalation risk? “There are no risks of escalation,” Zelensky answered. “Escalation has already occurred: Russia’s escalation against Ukraine. … So, tell me, what could be a greater escalation than mass killings of people in Ukraine?”

Presented Without Comment

The Hill: Tucker Carlson: Program Airing on Russian State TV ‘Without Legal Permission’

Also Presented Without Comment 

Associated Press: Trump Says He Is Open to Restrictions on Contraception Before Backing Away From the Statement

Also Also Presented Without Comment

CNBC: RFK Jr. Says He Invested $24,000 in Gamestop After Brief Meme Stock Revival

In the Zeitgeist 

As the weather warms up, every new song released becomes a contender for the “song of the summer.” We think “Birds of a Feather”—off Billie Eilish’s new album, HIT ME HARD AND SOFT—is a compelling entry in the category.

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: Nick argued (🔒) that the election will come down to a question of which candidate causes voters the least anxiety. 
  • On the podcasts: Jonah is joined on The Remnant by Alison Gopnik, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley, to discuss the best way to raise a child.
  • On the site: Kevin argues that “Who won the 2020 election?” will be the most important question of the upcoming debate, Molly Yanity writes about the “Caitlin Clark” effect on the WNBA, and Jonah previews the upcoming presidential debates. 

Let Us Know

What do you make of the Haley voters continuing to show up to the polls to vote for their candidate? Will they play a decisive role in November?

Correction, May 22, 2024: This newsletter originally misspelled the last name of Judge Beryl Howell.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.

Peter Gattuso is a reporter for The Morning Dispatch, based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2024, he interned at The Dispatch, National Review, the Cato Institute, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. When Peter is not helping write TMD, he is probably watching baseball, listening to music on vinyl records, or discussing the Jones Act.