In Defeat, Haley Voters Have Power to Build On

4 minute read
Carpenter is a writer and editor at United to Protect Democracy, a non-partisan anti-authoritarian group. She previously served as communications director for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).  
Tremitiere is a counsel at United to Protect Democracy, and he previously served as a legislative assistant to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).

Super Tuesday may have eliminated hope by millions of Nikki Haley voters that they could deny Donald Trump the Republican nomination, but if they stick together, they could keep him from returning to the White House in 2025. And if they embrace the “fusion” strategy suggested by Senators Mitt Romney and Joe Manchin, they could move us past the dangerous two-party politics that has pushed our democracy to the brink.

Haley voters, while not enough to change the outcome of the GOP primary, are pivotal for the general election. The nearly 300,000 votes cast for Haley in last week’s Michigan primary roughly doubled Biden’s margin of victory in 2020—and were almost 30 times greater than Trump’s 2016 margin. Haley’s 140,000 votes in the New Hampshire primary more than doubled Biden’s 2020 margin of victory—and were more than 50 times greater than the margin in 2016. In the Super Tuesday states that have any chance of being competitive in November—Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Virginia—Haley voters exceed recent general election margins of victory. Polling from swing states with primaries later in the year, like Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, suggests the same pattern.

That doesn’t mean these are automatic Biden votes. A large share of Haley’s supporters are at least open to supporting Trump in November. And many inevitably will. But their opposition in the primary reflects their willingness to express some degree of independence from MAGA orthodoxy. They may not feel at home in today’s Republican Party, but they are not Democrats, either, and deserve better than to throw away their votes with a protest option.

While write-in protest votes may privately comfort the conscience of disaffected voters, doing so is unproductive. So is voting for a No Labels ticket with no chance of winning 270 electors. (Due to poorly designed legal rules from the early 19th century, a third-party ticket that wins some but not a majority of electors would likely trigger a constitutional crisis.)

There is a better strategy, seriously explored by two prominent senators recognized for their efforts to bridge divides and defy partisan convention: Republican Sen. Mitt Romney and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin. They proposed creating a new party to represent moderates and conservatives committed to democracy at home and abroad who do not identify with either major party today. Crucially, this party “would not . . . support a separate candidate,” but instead “pledge support to the [Democratic or Republican] candidate who came closest to aligning with its agenda.” 

This approach eliminates the principal concern with most third-party efforts—that a third candidate would siphon votes from the more closely aligned, competitive candidate and, as a result, potentially elect someone that most voters oppose. Instead, voters who do not fit neatly in either major party can help elect the better of the two viable options, while also remaining true to their distinctive political identity. By delivering a decisive bloc of votes—enough to make the difference between victory and defeat in a close race—this party can rightfully demand that the candidate prioritize their key issues in office, at the risk of losing their support in the future.

This dynamic used to appear frequently in American elections, often by the term “fusion,” referring to multiple parties fusing together to support one candidate. Time and again, this has been a key strategy for groups out of sync with the major parties to win elections, build political power, and shape policymaking. The Liberty Party, Free Soil Party, and other antislavery minor parties used this approach to shatter the bipartisan, pro-slavery status quo in the 1840s-50s and then channeled their hard-won leverage into forming the antislavery Republican Party. Decades later, a multiracial alliance of Republicans and Populists fused together in North Carolina to dethrone Jim Crow Democrats, the only period after Reconstruction when segregationists lost control of a Southern state government.

Unfortunately, many states have laws that make this approach difficult today. Elected officials and concerned citizens are already hard at work in Michigan, New Jersey, and a number of other states to fix these statutes and allow voters to test Romney and Manchin’s idea. For the millions of Haley voters who tried to wrest the Republican nomination away from a candidate who has promised to be a “dictator for one day,” this could be the beginning of a long-lasting cross-partisan coalition that protects democracy for the future.

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