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Haley won Vermont's GOP primary but Trump dominated Super Tuesday's results

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Presidential candidate Nikki Haley has been saying something that candidates rarely say after a big election day - nothing. After winning Vermont and losing all other states to Donald Trump on Super Tuesday, Haley made no statement and sent no surrogates to speak for her this morning. Now, on this program last month, Haley committed only to staying in the race until Super Tuesday. So what now? We've called Sarah Longwell, who is a Republican strategist and pollster and founder of the Republican Accountability Project. Good morning. Welcome back.

SARAH LONGWELL: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: OK. So we're following these news reports that Nikki Haley has dropped out. I have not been able to confirm that myself. I've been reaching out to people just in the last few minutes. But this was the expectation, that this would be the end for Haley. So what now?

LONGWELL: Well, now it really comes down to whether or not she plans to endorse Donald Trump. That's what's important to me - because Nikki Haley, in the last six weeks or so of her campaign, she really started to go hard at Donald Trump, finally, explaining to Republican voters why he was unfit to be president. And it started to look more and more like she might actually not endorse him.

And the reason that's important is that the people who are supporting Nikki Haley are going to be the swing voters in the general election. And right now we're seeing about 30%, roughly, across the board, who say that they won't necessarily automatically vote for the Republican nominee, meaning they're not excited to vote for Donald Trump. And that tracks with - when you look at the Republican Party and you see that 70% think that the election was stolen, 30% don't. You see this number of people who - of Republicans who say they won't vote for Trump if he's convicted of a felony. That tends to be 30%.

And so it is really important that Nikki Haley not create a permission structure for those voters who supported her to go ahead and support Trump in a general election. And I think withholding her endorsement. And right now, the reports that are saying she's suspending her campaign...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

LONGWELL: ...Are also saying she's not...

INSKEEP: Yes.

LONGWELL: ...Immediately going to endorse him. So that's good.

INSKEEP: And I'll just note, people have been talking in my ear. We have confirmed that she's dropping out today. We're expecting a press statement a little bit later on this morning from Nikki Haley, and we'll find out definitively what she's going to say, if anything, about her presidential campaign rival.

I want to ask you about Haley's voters. Elsewhere on the program today, we have Hugh Hewitt, the conservative radio talk show host who offers the theory that most Haley voters ultimately will come home to their party's nominee, will vote for Donald Trump. Although he feels that some groups, like suburban women, for example, may not. Do you think a significant percentage, a significant enough percentage of Republicans would turn away from their nominee if they get the right signals?

LONGWELL: I do think so. Look, I do focus groups all the time with Republican voters, and the persuadable margin this election - because we basically have this situation where there are two incumbents - are what we would call sort of double doubters, double haters - a pox on both their houses. They don't like either of these candidates.

But Joe Biden, historically, has been winning those types of people. Now, right now, those people are really down on Biden because he's the president. He's front of mind for them. But as Donald Trump becomes the nominee and people remember why they disliked Donald Trump so much and why they - why he's so extreme, why he's so chaotic and crazy, I do think potentially many of those people either stay home or break for Biden, and those tend to be these college-educated - it's not just suburban women that is too reductive. It is college-educated suburban voters. Overall, Nikki Haley is winning by massive margins there, and I think those people are not going to vote for Trump.

INSKEEP: Sarah Longwell, Republican strategist. Thanks so much.

LONGWELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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