If Trump removes Haley from the race, what will his voters do in November?

His supporters tend to be moderate and college-educated, precisely the kind of voters who helped decide recent presidential elections. We spoke to nearly 40 people to see where they’re leaning.

Katie Glueck AND

Katie Glueck and Anjali Huynh interviewed nearly 40 Nikki Haley supporters in Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, Summerville and Charleston, South Carolina

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Many Americans they are feared a Trump-Biden rematch, but no one feels the angst like a Nikki Haley voter.

“He would be a great president, and the alternatives are not attractive,” said Patti Gramling, 72, standing outside a bustling early voting site Wednesday in a exclusive suburb of Charleston, South Carolina “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, with university education and voters skeptical of Trump in today’s Republican Party. Former President Donald J. Trump is expected to defeat her, perhaps by a wide margin, in his home state primary on Saturday.

He has promised to move forward, but a crucial new equation is emerging in the 2024 election calculations: where would his voters — and voters like them in key battlegrounds across the country — go in a general election contest between Trump and President Biden ?

“The million-dollar question is, will they vote, will they publish it, 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 that different from a moderate Republican voter in suburban Milwaukee.”

In recent interviews with nearly 40 Haley supporters in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, conducted mostly in historically more moderate In the state’s enclaves, many have fallen into what pollsters call the camp of “double haters”: voters who don’t like either of the two expected candidates.

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

About half of those surveyed, including Ms. Gilman, said they would side with the Republican in a Biden-Trump matchup, while expressing varying degrees of unease. That number would almost certainly be higher in the current general election results, after Americans retreat further into partisan corners.

Others, like Gramling, have made clear that Trump — who has driven many moderate and suburban voters out of his party over the past eight years — now faces serious challenges with those Americans as well.

“Everything about him bothers me: his arrogance, his lack of support from the military,” said Ms. Gramling, who was also a teacher. She supported Trump in 2016 before supporting Biden in 2020 and would support the Democrat over Trump again. “Everything he does is out of line.”

Here’s how some of these Haley voters think about a choice they hope they don’t have to make:

There are very few persuasive voters left in America, and that could be especially true in a Biden-Trump rematch. Both men have been on the national stage for decades, and voters formed an opinion of them long ago.

But some Haley voters who said they supported Trump in 2020 stressed they wouldn’t do so again. They cited his behavior after the defeat, including his election denialism that led to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Any 2020 erosion of support for Trump or 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 nominee but would likely skip a Biden-Trump meeting.

Asked what had changed his views of Trump since 2020, he replied: “the insurrection.”

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

Mr. Trump, he said, is not a politician: “he is a tyrant.”

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

“She’s just trying so hard to separate people, making fun of her husband rather than being an adult,” she said. If her choices were Biden and Trump, she added, “I probably wouldn’t vote: I’m simply disenchanted with both.”

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

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

Andrew Osborne, 58, a retired business owner from Summerville, said he loathed Trump “with a passion,” declaring: “I couldn’t take four more years of him. In fact, I would probably consider leaving the country if that were our alternative.”

Theoretically she would consider him a Democrat, she said, because of his moderate positions on issues such as abortion rights and gun rights.

But if he had to choose between Trump and Biden, he said, he would still vote for the Republican, citing concerns about Biden’s age.

Osborne pointed to the release of a special prosecutor’s report that described Biden as an “older, well-intentioned man with a poor memory” and a verbal slip made by Biden soon after, referring to the president of Egypt as “the president of Mexico ”.

“He’s the same age as 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 how polarized the nation has become and underlined the limits of Biden’s bipartisan appeal, something he had in small but significant measures in 2020.

Joe Mayo, 72, a retired nuclear power plant operator who now lives in Mount Pleasant, called Trump “arrogant” and “stupid” and said he didn’t “represent my thoughts on the way business should be done ”.

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

It is certainly not only: A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll found that 82% of Haley voters overall said they would support Trump if he faced Biden.

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

Mr. Trump, he noted, has denigrated veterans.

“This goes against everything I truly believe,” he said. “I honor and respect the military.”

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

Biden is 81 and Trump is 77, but polls show that the age issue tends to hurt Mr. Biden the most.

“I watched him speak several times — it’s deeply troubling to me,” he said, adding politely: “I mean no disrespect to his age.”

South Carolina’s open primary system allows voters to enter either party’s contest. In interviews, some Democrats who voted early said they voted for Haley to try to slow Trump’s march to the nomination, not because they were convinced he would run.

But a number of voters who said they typically support Democrats added that, for now, they would prefer Haley to Biden in a hypothetical general election matchup, even if they would support him over Trump.

Their desire for change suggests both a weakness for Biden and a missed opportunity for Republicans.

“I like Nikki Haley,” said Brenda LaMont, 65, an options trader who lives in Charleston. “She understands the affairs of the world. I think she’s a strong leader. And I will definitely vote for a woman if I get the chance.

And she added: “I’m no longer as democratic as I used to be. “I think he’s become a little too liberal.”

Scott Soenen, 47, a financial advisor who lives in Mount Pleasant, is a political independent who thinks Ms. Haley would offer a “new change.”

He also said he was “just a little worried” about the migrant crisis, saying it’s “not as bad, for lack of a better term, as the Biden administration wants us to think.”

At an upscale gastropub in Beaufort, South Carolina, on Wednesday evening, Jeannie Benjamin, 63, was having dinner after attending a quiet sunset gathering for Ms. Haley.

Ms. Haley had impressed her, she said, and despite her Democratic leanings, she was concerned about Mr. Biden’s ability to handle the pressures of the presidency at his age. She would be 86 years old at the end of her second term.

Asked about the prospect of a Biden-Trump rematch, she lamented: “That’s the problem.”

“A person is getting older and I think he has some problems,” he said. “And then the other one is the worst person in the world to have in the White House.”