Trump Poised to Dominate Super Tuesday as Haley Makes Last Stand

Scott Muthersbaugh for The Washington Post
Former president Donald Trump at a rally on Saturday in Greensboro, N.C.

Donald Trump is poised to continue his march to the GOP presidential nomination on Tuesday, with 15 states voting to award more than a third of the party’s delegates and testing how quickly Republicans are coalescing behind the former president.

Trump has decisively won all but one contest so far and is expected to make a clean sweep of Super Tuesday, a normally high-stakes moment in the primary calendar that the former president’s dominance has stripped of its suspense.

But despite Trump’s near-incumbent status in the race, a significant, if losing, percentage of voters has opted for another candidate in several contests – underscoring some voters’ reservations and the potential general-election challenges ahead. Trump’s last standing GOP challenger, Nikki Haley, has pointed to this trend as she has made a case for continuing her campaign.

In many ways, a rematch between President Biden and Trump is effectively underway, and observers and strategists expressed mixed views of what the margins in the GOP contests portend for Trump in November. The incumbent and his allies are ramping up criticism of Trump as a threat to democracy, abortion rights and other freedoms, while the ex-president has hammered Biden over immigration and the economy. Trump’s 91 criminal charges, which he has used as a rallying cry in the primary contest, are also expected to factor into the fall campaign.

Trump’s team expects to lock down the nomination by March 19, advisers said. Haley, a former U.N. ambassador, has only committed to staying in the race through Tuesday, setting the stage for a potentially quick exit.

Recent polling shows that more than 90 percent of registered Republicans back Trump over Biden, who is struggling with low enthusiasm on the Democratic side and cracks in the coalition that delivered him a narrow victory in 2020.

At the same time, the primaries have demonstrated Haley’s appeal to independents and college-educated voters as she lays out a forceful argument against Trump. Super Tuesday will provide more snapshots of who is in Trump’s camp and who may need persuading in the months ahead.

“The next chapter of this race will be about how Trump treats Nikki Haley and her supporters,” said veteran Republican strategist Scott Reed. “He’s on track to be able to unite the party,” Reed added, “but he has to treat the Haley voters with respect.”

The biggest prize up for grabs on Tuesday is California, where Trump has a good shot to take home all 169 delegates by winning more than 50 percent of the vote. The delegates formalize the pick by voting for their candidate at the Republican National Convention in July.

California Republicans used to award delegates to the victor of each congressional district, but Trump allies successfully pushed last year to adopt new rules they believed would help Trump quickly amass the 1,215 delegates he needs nationally to secure the nomination. Many Super Tuesday states have winner-take-all provisions, but the details vary.

The states voting Tuesday account for some 865 Republican delegates and are testing Trump and Haley’s strengths across very different electorates – including red stronghold Texas, battleground North Carolina and solid-blue Massachusetts, where the Republican population is more moderate. Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont and Virginia are also voting.

The Trump team says he could win the nomination as early as March 12 and will get there by March 19 even under its most generous modeling for Haley, which is based on her showing in New Hampshire. On Saturday, Trump swept GOP caucuses in Michigan, Missouri and Idaho. Haley was the winner in the D.C. primary on Sunday.

Holding a rally on Saturday in Raleigh, N.C., before blitzing Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine, Haley continued her sharp criticism of Trump before an enthusiastic crowd. She said his comments about NATO and Russia showed that he was “willing to side with a thug,” and she lamented that it’s “not normal” to call opponents “vermin,” as Trump has.

Trump directed most of his fire on Biden at his own North Carolina rally over the weekend and focused on the southern border, which attendees repeatedly named as their top concern. He was not done with Haley, however, declaring her “bad news” and “very average.”

One attendee, 67-year-old John Wayne Lambeth from Winston-Salem, said Haley should drop out and tell her followers, “I am behind Trump 100 percent.” Another, 64-year-old Ben Hamilton from Lexington, suggested that Haley was trying to “be a spoiler.”

But Hamilton also said he wanted to hear how Trump would “join the Republicans together.”

Haley has stayed in the race as a vessel for dissatisfaction with a Trump-Biden matchup, arguing that more voters deserve an opportunity to support a GOP alternative. She won 43 percent of the vote in New Hampshire and 40 percent in her home state, South Carolina, and pointed to those performances as evidence of broad hesitations about Trump, even as he leads with almost every demographic in the GOP.

In South Carolina, where Haley served as governor, she had the strongest support in more urban, educated and affluent areas, though Trump still led in the suburbs. In statewide exit polls, she led by nearly 10 percentage points with college graduates and 25 points with independents. Her team has argued that Super Tuesday states with similarly open primaries – where non-Republicans can vote – offer more favorable terrain.

Haley’s coalition, which draws heavily on independents, does not indicate that a large swath of Republicans will oppose Trump in November, said Charles Franklin, who runs Marquette Law School’s polls of the 2024 race. The latest national Marquette survey, released in February, found that 7 percent of registered Republicans would vote for Biden over Trump if they had to pick between those options – slightly less than the 9 percent of registered Democrats who would choose Trump.

“He’s dominant in the party, but there are minority views in the party as well that have kept Haley in the mix,” Franklin said.

Trump posted a wider lead over Haley last week in Michigan, where he won 68 percent to Haley’s 27 percent. That suggests that his advantage in the primaries may grow as the race nationalizes and moves to places where Haley has not campaigned intensely, some political observers said.

Independent pollster Richard Czuba took note, however, that Haley garnered a third of the vote in places like Oakland County and Kent County. “That’s where Donald Trump lost the election in 2020 in Michigan,” he said, “because those suburban voters came out in droves in a way they didn’t in 2016.”

How Haley voters there might vote in November is hard to say, he said. For some, “we don’t know where they’re going to go because they don’t know where they’re going to go.”

Still, many Republicans dismissed the Haley team’s argument that primary results are a “flashing warning sign for Trump in November.”

Constantin Querard, a GOP consultant in battleground Arizona, once traveled the state gathering signatures urging Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to run for president, believing he would be strongest at the top of the ticket and lift his down-ballot clients. But he said he doesn’t see votes for Haley as a red flag and pointed to recent general-election polls of swing states.

“Trump’s winning,” he said simply. Other surveys have had Biden leading but consistently show a close race.

In the GOP race, Haley faces rising pressure to step aside. Trump warned after his New Hampshire victory that anyone who donated further to his rival would be “permanently barred from the MAGA camp.”

Trump has a long history of abruptly ending his feuds with opponents who change their tune to praise him; he declared his mocking nickname for DeSantis “retired” the day that DeSantis dropped out of the 2024 race and endorsed him. When DeSantis criticized the former president in a February call with supporters, however, the Trump team quickly punched back.

It’s not clear how Haley will approach Trump in the long term. Asked Friday if she would keep criticizing the GOP’s direction under Trump even if she drops out, Haley said, “I don’t know.” On “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Haley said she no longer felt bound by a pledge to support the eventual nominee, which the Republican National Committee required of all debate participants last year.

George Andrews, a GOP consultant in California, argued that Haley can wield influence even in defeat. “Bernie Sanders lost in 2020, but his influence on Joe Biden’s policy – holy cow,” said Andrews, who worked for a pro-DeSantis super PAC and has now volunteered as a delegate for Haley in California.

Saul Anuzis, a former chair of the Michigan GOP, said Trump would be smart to be magnanimous toward his critics but added, “Trump is going to be Trump.”