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How did conservative and independent female voters factor into Trump's victory?

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NIKKI HALEY: This race is far from over. There are dozens of states left to go.

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DONALD TRUMP: Wow. She's doing, like, a speech like she won. She didn't win. She lost.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

On this day after the New Hampshire primaries, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And I'm Michel Martin. There you just heard the voices of the last two remaining GOP presidential candidates, former Ambassador Nikki Haley and the president she once served, Donald Trump. Trump took more than 54% of the vote yesterday to Haley's 43.2%. And that victory puts him a big step closer to securing the Republican nomination. For more on what the results might tell us about where this election is headed, we are joined now by Republican pollster and strategist Sarah Longwell, who led Republican voters against Trump in 2020. She's also publisher of the center-right news and opinion website The Bulwark. Sarah Longwell, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

SARAH LONGWELL: Good morning.

MARTIN: So is there a - I mean, look, I hate to start there, but I am going to start there. Is this race to secure the GOP nomination essentially over?

LONGWELL: It is. And, look, Nikki Haley, she overperformed expectations last night, but it was not nearly enough to do something that was going to fundamentally change the structure of this race. She was down in many of the late-breaking polls by 20% or more to Donald Trump. And it looks like she's going to come in maybe around 11%.

But the thing about New Hampshire is that undeclared and even - so some of them can be Democrats. As long as they are, you know, registered as undeclared, they can poll a Republican ballot. And last night, almost half of the people who voted were in that undeclared category. Other states just don't look like that. And so if you separate out just Republicans, you know, how they feel about the election being stolen - obviously many, many more of them believe that it was - you know, the Republicans broke 74% for Trump. And they're - it's just not going to look like that in other states.

And I know that - she was talking last night in her victory speech about going into her sweet South Carolina. But I don't think South Carolina is going to be very sweet for Nikki Haley. You know, she hasn't received many endorsements there from her old home state. And Donald Trump is leading by, I think, at least 30% in the polls. And so she's got a really tough decision to make, which is either keep this going - and no doubt there's going to be a lot of people who want her to; there's going to be money there to keep going - or she's got to go into her home state and probably get her clock cleaned by Donald Trump.

And I think that just like Ron DeSantis sort of took a beat, went home, thought about it and then dropped out, I wouldn't be surprised if that's what happened with her. And I say this as somebody who desperately wants an alternative to Donald Trump and who thought Nikki Haley would be the best of all available options to be that alternative.

MARTIN: Why did you think that?

LONGWELL: I mean, she - the reason that I like her is the reason that Republican primary voters don't like her, which is that she looks like a Republican from the pre-Trump days, somebody who still cared about, you know, limited government, free markets, American leadership in the world. She looks like a responsible politician. She talks about supporting Ukraine. She's not - as much as she has played a cynical game in kowtowing to Donald Trump, she is not fundamentally a MAGA sort of politician or movement person. But I also know, because I do focus groups with voters all the time, that that's not what Republican voters want anymore. In fact, they're incredibly distrustful of politicians who seem like establishment politicians or old-school Republicans. That's not who they want.

MARTIN: Let's - can we - so you talked a little bit about the fact that New Hampshire is unique in the sense that independents can kind of, you know, pick their ballot. And independents were probably more attracted to Haley than sort of mainstream or committed Republicans. I did want to ask about gender. I mean, the exit polls showed that, you know, men liked Trump more than women. But a lot of women did like Trump in New Hampshire. And I'm just interested in how you think the - what does that - does that tell us anything going forward?

LONGWELL: You know, this has been true all along. I think there's a pretty big narrative that women are what are going to take Trump down, or they're the ones who are opposed to Trump. And that is true broadly when you include sort of Democrat and independent women. But when you look more at Republican women, they are on board with Trump. In fact, I've - like I said, I do these focus groups. And one of the things that I heard when I would ask about Nikki Haley is how many women who were Republicans said that they didn't think a woman should be president. I was actually quite surprised by this. I'm not surprised that much anymore by what I hear from voters, but I was surprised at how many people said that they didn't think a woman should be president among these two-time Trump voters.

MARTIN: Oh, that's fascinating. And also, you know, look, South Carolina has among the lowest percentage of women in elected office in the country, you know, interestingly enough. So, I mean, it's interesting that she's kind of a unicorn there. Sarah, I'm going to ask you to to stand by, and I'm going to bring in NPR political correspondent Danielle Kurtzleben, who has been reporting in New Hampshire. She's back here in a slightly a warmer clime here in the studio with us. Danielle, what's struck you about what you saw in New Hampshire and what you've heard today?

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: I mean, just listening to Sarah here, she's absolutely right about women. I was also looking at the difference between the exit polls in New Hampshire and the entrance polls in Iowa, and what - one thing you really noticed is that in New Hampshire, yes, Haley did better among women than she did among men. She did much better among women than she did among men. But in Iowa, the gender gap just isn't there nearly to that degree, which leads me to make the educated guess that it's probably not necessarily Republican women in New Hampshire that were breaking for Haley. It was probably, I would bet, independent women. The meaningful breakdowns, you see are they tend to be about married versus unmarried, college educated versus not college educated, especially about income. So honestly, there are a lot more meaningful ways you can break things down by gender.

MARTIN: OK. Look, very briefly, I want to ask both of you this. It seems that the Biden administration and its surrogates are going to lean very heavily on abortion rights going forward. And I'm interested in how you think that that will cut, because we have seen Republican women cross over to support - you know, to oppose more restrictive abortion rights - more restrictive measures against abortion in some places. So, Danielle, briefly, your take on how that's going to play. And then Sarah, I want to hear from you on that.

KURTZLEBEN: I think it could sway independent and suburban women. As far as Republican women, I am not - I am honestly not really sure that that would sway them. People tend to be so party loyal right now.

MARTIN: OK. Sarah Longwell, what do you think about that?

LONGWELL: Yeah. So mainly when you see these overwhelming majorities voting for abortion rights, they tend to be disaggregated from general elections, right? They're on a ballot by themselves. And then there you get lots of Republican women voting for them. But if you give them Trump - one of the things people forget about Trump is lots of these voters believe he's a social moderate. They do not think that he will outlaw abortion.

MARTIN: Oh. That is Sarah Longwell, Republican pollster and strategist, and our NPR political correspondent, Danielle Kurtzleben. Thank you both.

LONGWELL: Thank you.

KURTZLEBEN: Yeah. 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.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.