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If Trump Forces Haley out of the Race, How Will Her Supporters Vote in November?

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As the 2024 presidential race heats up, a crucial question looms for Nikki Haley’s supporters: What will they do in November if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee? Haley, a former governor of South Carolina, attracts a base of moderate and college-educated voters. These voters are key in deciding recent presidential races, making their potential shift significant.

Katie Glueck and

Katie Glueck and Anjali Huynh interviewed nearly 40 Nikki Haley supporters in Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, Summerville and Charleston, S.C.

Follow for live updates on the South Carolina Republican primary.

Many Americans are dreading a Trump-Biden rematch, but no one feels the anguish quite like a Nikki Haley voter.

“She would make a great president, and the alternatives are not appealing,” said Patti Gramling, 72, standing outside a bustling early-voting site on Wednesday in an upscale suburb of Charleston, S.C. “Biden is too old. And I think Donald Trump is horrible.”

Ms. Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, is learning the limits of relying on moderate, college-educated and Trump-skeptical voters in today’s Republican Party. Former President Donald J. Trump is widely expected to defeat her, perhaps by a large margin, in her home-state primary on Saturday.

She has vowed to press on, but a crucial new equation is emerging in 2024’s electoral math: Where would her voters — and voters like them in key battlegrounds across the country — go in a general election contest between Mr. Trump and President Biden?

“The million-dollar question is, will they vote, will they sit it out — or will they vote for Joe Biden?” former Gov. Jim Hodges, a South Carolina Democrat, said of Ms. Haley’s centrist supporters in the state. “A moderate Republican voter in Charleston is not all that different than a moderate Republican voter in the Milwaukee suburbs.”

In recent interviews with nearly 40 Haley supporters across South Carolina’s Lowcountry, primarily conducted in historically more moderate enclaves of the state, many fell into what pollsters call the “double haters” camp — voters who don’t like either expected nominee.

“It just infuriates me that we have the choices that we do,” said Roberta Gilman, a former teacher and a resident of affluent Mount Pleasant, S.C., who is in her 70s.

Roughly half of those interviewed, including Ms. Gilman, said that in a Biden-Trump matchup, they would side with the Republican, while expressing varying degrees of discomfort. That number would almost certainly be higher in the actual results of the general election, after Americans have retreated further into partisan corners.

Others, like Ms. Gramling, made it clear that Mr. Trump — who has driven many moderate and suburban voters out of his party over the last eight years — faces even graver challenges with those Americans now.

“Everything about him bothers me — his arrogance, his lack of support of the military,” said Ms. Gramling, who was also a teacher. She supported Mr. Trump in 2016 before backing Mr. Biden in 2020 and would back the Democrat again over Mr. Trump. “Everything that he does is uncalled for.”

Here’s how some of these Haley voters are thinking through a choice they hope they won’t have to make:

America has very few persuadable voters left, and that may be especially true in a Biden-Trump rematch. Both men have been on the national stage for decades, and voters formed opinions of them long ago.

But a few Haley voters who said they had supported Mr. Trump in 2020 stressed that they would not do so again. They cited his behavior after his defeat, including his election denialism that led to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Any erosion in 2020 support for either Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden could prove consequential this year, especially with third-party candidates in the mix.

“If he was my choice, or Biden was my choice, I would have no choice,” said Julia Trout, 55, of Mount Pleasant, adding that she had always voted for the Republican ticket but would probably sit out a Biden-Trump matchup.

Asked what had changed her views on Mr. Trump since 2020, she replied, “the insurrection.”

“What would we do if we had another civil war?” she said. “If we can support something like that insurrection, there’s no telling what could happen.”

Mr. Trump, she said, is not a politician — “he’s a tyrant.”

Jeff Heikkinen, 41, a caddie who lives in Summerville, S.C., said he had supported Mr. Trump in past elections but was troubled by his personal attacks on Ms. Haley involving her husband, a National Guardsman, and her background as the daughter of Indian immigrants.

“He’s just trying so hard to separate people, making fun of her husband rather than be a grown-up,” he said. If his choices were Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump, he added, “I probably wouldn’t vote — I’m just that disenchanted with both of them.”

Joy Hunter, 64, of Summerville, declined to share how she had voted in the last election — though she said she had “never voted Democrat” — but ruled out supporting Mr. Trump this year, citing, in part, the Capitol riot.

“I know people say, ‘Just ignore his character and instead focus on what he’s done,’ but I don’t know that you can separate entirely a person’s character from their policies,” Ms. Hunter said. She added of Ms. Haley, “I’m going to beg her not to drop out.”

Andrew Osborne, 58, a retired business owner from Summerville, said he disliked Mr. Trump “with a passion,” declaring: “I could not take four more years of him. In fact, I’d probably consider leaving the country if that was our alternative.”

He would theoretically consider a Democrat, he said, because of his moderate positions on issues like abortion rights and gun rights.

But in a choice between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden, he said, he would still vote for the Republican, citing concerns about Mr. Biden’s age.

Mr. Osborne pointed to the release of a special counsel’s report that described Mr. Biden as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” and a verbal slip Mr. Biden made soon after, referring to the president of Egypt as the “president of Mexico.”

“He’s a similar age to my father-in-law, and I love him to death, but I wouldn’t trust him to make me a cup of coffee,” Mr. Osborne said. “This is the commander in chief of the last superpower.”

The interviews highlighted just how polarized the nation has become and underscored the limits of Mr. Biden’s bipartisan appeal, something he had in small but significant measures in 2020.

Joe Mayo, 72, a retired operator at a nuclear power plant who now lives in Mount Pleasant, called Mr. Trump “arrogant” and “stupid” and said that he did not “represent my thoughts about the way business should be done.”

But if he is the Republican nominee, Mr. Mayo said, he will still support him, because “the Democratic Party is worse than Donald Trump.”

He is hardly alone: A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll found that 82 percent of Haley voters overall said they would back Mr. Trump if he faced Mr. Biden.

Lynn Harrison Dyer, a businesswoman in her 60s from Mount Pleasant, noted proudly that she was the daughter of a World War II veteran and said she was supporting Ms. Haley in part because she “honors the military.”

Mr. Trump, she noted, has denigrated veterans.

“That goes against everything I truly believe in,” she said. “I honor and respect the military.”

But in a Trump-Biden contest, she said, she would support Mr. Trump, describing worries about Mr. Biden’s age.

Mr. Biden is 81 and Mr. Trump is 77, but polls show the age issue

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Chats and reflections on the present moment.

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Lydia Polgreen

Credit…Will Heath/NBC, via Getty Images

It is a rare thing in our rapidly secularizing country to be confronted with piety and devotion in popular culture. So it was a surprise, and a balm, to watch a man who prays daily and talks openly about his devout faith storm a bastion of earthly godlessness: “Saturday Night Live.”

I am referring, of course, to the comedian Ramy Youssef, who hosted the show on what he described in his opening monologue as “an incredibly spiritual weekend,” noting Ramadan, Easter and the arrival of a new Beyoncé album.

“I’m doing the Ramadan one,” he quipped, to peals of laughter, unspooling a very funny bit about how loving Muslims are. Youssef has mined his experience as a believer among the profane in gentle standup specials and a namesake sitcom. His entire monologue glowed with a welcoming warmth — Muslims, he seemed to say: We’re just like you.

In a country that is supposedly obsessed with diversity and inclusion, it is remarkable how rare it is to hear from a practicing Muslim in America.

Surveys by the Institute for Policy and Understanding, a nonpartisan research organization focused on Muslim Americans, have consistently found that Muslims are the most likely group to report religious discrimination in the United States. According to a Pew survey conducted in 2021, 78 percent of Americans said that there was either a lot or some discrimination against Muslims in our society. Muslims are no more likely to commit crimes than members of any other group, but crimes in which Muslims are suspects get outsized media coverage, research has shown.

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It is no surprise, then, that Islamophobia is perhaps the most tolerated form of religious prejudice. Right now, Senate Republicans appear to have persuaded several Senate Democrats to vote against a Muslim judicial nominee after smearing him, with no evidence at all, as an antisemite.

Many of the skits that toyed with religion on “S.N.L.” on Saturday were funny — Ozempic for Ramadan! Genius. But part of me winced through them as well, because I saw in Youssef something that other members of minority groups have had to do to “earn” their place in the safety of the mainstream: the performance of normalcy, of being nonthreatening and sweet, the requirement to prove that your community belongs in America just like everyone else’s.

I loved Youssef’s monologue, in which he bravely pleaded, “Please, free the people of Palestine. And please, free the hostages. All of the hostages.”

“I am out of ideas,” Youssef declared toward the end of his monologue. “All I have is prayers.”

To which this nonbeliever can only say: Same, Ramy. Same.

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