Monday, February 26, 2024

BTRTN Michigan Primary Preview: The Nikki Haley Moral Victory Tour Persists, Plus Biden Versus Uncommitted

This most peculiar primary season continues in what could be the “Ground Zero” election state in November, 2024.

By all rights, Nikki Haley should have packed up her bags after the New Hampshire primary, and if not then, then surely after South Carolina.  Three straight whippings, including Iowa, and a 20-point defeat in your home state would, in any other year, be enough to send an also-ran home.

But 2024 is no ordinary year.  Donald Trump may be locking up delegates as rapidly as an unopposed incumbent, but Haley is taking a glass-almost-half-full approach to her candidacy.  She clearly believes (even if she does not quite say it out loud) that Donald Trump is a threat to democracy.  She also believes she has a future in a re-defined, more Reaganesque GOP down the road.  And thus she – and her donors – have concluded that her best approach is to fight him for as long as she can.  (Although one major donor, Americans for Prosperity, just backed out.).  She can point to the 40%+ of the vote she received in both New Hampshire and South Carolina as evidence that her voice speaks for a powerful anti-Trump wing of the party, with a far different (and more traditional) vision of the GOP, particularly on foreign policy.  She will likely continue with her candidacy until Trump secures enough delegates to claim the nomination, which will almost certainly occur sometime after Super Tuesday.

But remember this stat from South Carolina:  roughly 20% of Republican voters in the GOP primary said they would NOT vote for Trump in November, according to AP StatCast.  That should be a very sobering statistic for TrumpWorld.  Haley is speaking to these people, reinforcing their misgivings, and also playing at the edges of those who could turn on Trump at any moment, especially the way he has been talking about Russia recently, and given the state of his trials.

So, the Nikki Haley Moral Victory Tour continues (or, as Mitch McConnell might have it, “persists”) on to Michigan for another primary tomorrow, Tuesday, February 27.  She will continue to focus on more moderate states – swing states and blue states -- in the coming week, making stops in Virginia, North Carolina, Minnesota, Colorado and Massachusetts (as well as Utah).  She may not win any of them, but she will find a reasonably sizable voting audience that will welcome her message and appreciate her willingness to take on Big Orange at some personal risk – political and otherwise.

It seems unlikely that she will reach that same 40% level in Michigan, which is neither a reasonably reliable blue state (like New Hampshire, which backed the Democrat in the last five presidential elections) nor her home state (like South Carolina).  A loss in Michigan -- especially a bigger one -- will continue to erode the rationale for her candidacy, but she will not let that deter her and will compete across the Super Tuesday primaries – in 16 states and territories – on March 5.

But for now, Michigan will not be pretty for Haley.  BTRTN predicts that Donald Trump will win the Michigan GOP primary by roughly a 70/30 margin.   The drumbeat for Haley to drop out to “unify the party” will then bang ever louder. 

Perhaps the more interesting primary is, for once, on the Democratic side.  Joe Biden did extremely well in the symbolic New Hampshire primary, scoring 64% of the vote as a write-in candidate (he skipped the primary since New Hampshire defied the new primary schedule that Biden backed, which put South Carolina first), and following up with a massive 96/2/2 win over Marion Williamson (who had already dropped out) and Dean Phillips in South Carolina.  Phillips’ ballyhooed run against Biden on the “age” issue has gained zero traction.

But the dynamics in Michigan are quite different, and Biden is locked in an unlikely battle on the ballot with the “uncommitted” line, which essentially represents a proxy vote on the part of Arab-Americans (and other Democrats) protesting Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas War.  Arab-Americans are a potentially pivotal constituency in the Wolverine State, numbering roughly 200,000 registered voters, who, by some estimates, backed Biden in 2020 with 70% of their vote.  Biden won Michigan by 154,000 votes in 2020, so you can see that the Arab-American numbers were significant in his victory.  But his support amongst them has evaporated, and polls (from November) show only 16% of Arab-American Democrats are backing Biden. 

This is, of course, because of Biden’s initial embrace of Bibi Netanyahu and Israel in the wake of the horrific terrorist attack of Hamas on Israel last October 7.  But as the civilian body count rose, tolerance for Biden’s full-throated endorsement evaporated among many, including the youth vote and, naturally, Arab-Americans.  Biden has been sprinting toward a more peace-seeking position ever since, pressing for hostage release, humanitarian aid, IDF battle plans that minimize civilian casualties, and a quick end to the fighting.  It is unclear whether these actions have made a difference to Arab-Americans, but clearly the protest is evidence of discontent.

A group of Michigan politicians, led by Michigan House majority leader Abraham Aiyash, with support from U.S. rep Rashida Tlaib (a ”Squad” member) is calling for Michigan Democrats to vote for the “Uncommitted” line in protest of Biden’s policies.  While Biden will win this primary, the key question is how many votes the “Uncommitted” line will garner.  The protesters say they are seeking 11,000 uncommitted votes, symbolically representing the margin of Trump’s win in Michigan in 2016.  But in 2020, in a routine primary that Biden won en route to the White House, the uncommitted line won 19,000 votes out of nearly 1.6 million cast.  So, a better indicator of the depth of the anger might be how much more than 19,000 the protest generates.

Michigan could very well be “Ground Zero” on Election Night for the Democrats.  If Biden can win Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where he is doing relatively well in the polls (generally even with Trump, while he trails him by a small margin in other swing states, including Michigan), he only needs Michigan’s 15 electoral votes to get to the 270 he needs to win the election.  Biden will surely remind voters that Trump would have embraced Netanyahu even more tightly than he did and likely would have ignored hostile world opinion on Netanyahu's prosecution of the war, and thereby secured no aid or hostage relief.  But Biden must also deal with the threat of protest votes for third party candidates, convincing voters this fall that a vote for Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. or Jill Stein is really a vote for Trump.

And Michigan could also be the decisive race in the Senate, one of several very close races that the Democrats must win to have a change to keep control of the Senate.

Stay tuned!


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