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Nikki Haley announces the suspension of her campaign

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And good morning. At the top of the news this hour, Nikki Haley is suspending her campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. This is live Special Coverage from MORNING EDITION and NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. We're looking at a video feed of a lectern in Daniel Island, S.C., which is near Charleston - Nikki Haley's home state. Behind it is a row of American flags. And in the next couple of minutes, we think, we expect to hear from the presidential candidate, who, we have been able to confirm, is expecting to suspend her campaign today. And as first reported by the Wall Street Journal, she's going to not do something that is significant here. She is not expected to endorse her Republican primary rival, former President Donald Trump, at this time, instead challenging Trump to earn the votes of Republicans who have been skeptical. And Michele, there have been quite a few Republicans who've been skeptical.

MARTIN: There have been, although the numbers don't necessarily indicate - her primary victories or lack thereof don't necessarily indicate what else might be happening on the ground. I just want to remind people Nikki Haley won only Vermont yesterday. And you add in last weekend's primary in Washington, D.C., that gave her a total of just two victories in the primary season. But despite that, there are signs of vulnerabilities for the presumptive nominee - or at least he will be the presumptive nominee soon. There are significant numbers of voters in a number of states who either chose Nikki Haley or who indicated dissatisfaction with Donald Trump. So the question then becomes, what do those voters do?

INSKEEP: Absolutely. And let's bring in NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben, who has covered both the Haley and Trump presidential campaigns at different times, to talk about that aspect. And we should warn you, Danielle, that we're maybe a minute away from hearing from Nikki Haley. But very briefly, did you hear from a lot of Republican voters on the ground who said, I just - I'm just not comfortable with Trump. I can't go there.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Yes, I did. And I would hear from them at - you know, at polling places and at Haley rallies. Of course, you don't hear from these voters at Trump rallies.

INSKEEP: Sure.

KURTZLEBEN: But at Haley rallies, there were - when I would ask them, OK, but what would you do if it were Biden versus Trump? That was really the key question. You know, it - should she drop out, what do you do next? And that was where I really heard a mix. I had some voters say, I might not even vote for president. And then I had some voters - I had one voter in particular who absolutely could not vote Trump when she checked her ballot in South Carolina. Then, I said, OK, what if it were Biden versus Trump? And she told me, I would walk over broken glass before voting for Joe Biden. Like, partisanship really...

INSKEEP: So the broken glass option on the ballot would be a good one for her, I suppose.

KURTZLEBEN: I mean - yeah, it's really...

INSKEEP: Let's just mention Nikki Haley is now beginning her campaign statement. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF NIKKI HALEY ANNOUNCEMENT)

INSKEEP: That's former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley standing before a bank of American flags this morning - Daniel Island, S.C., which is where she suspends her campaign. That's a technical term meaning that she holds onto her convention delegates for the moment, but she acknowledges the reality here that Donald Trump is in a dominant position. And unless something totally unforeseen happens, he will be the Republican nominee. About her campaign, she says, I have no regrets. And Danielle Kurtzleben, who was listening along with us - significant there that she did not say, I endorse Donald Trump. She says, it's up to him to earn my vote.

KURTZLEBEN: Right. Yeah. And she really started hitting him more in her stump speeches in the last couple of weeks, particularly on age. And besides that, there were a couple of other things she really highlighted there, especially Trump's isolationism. She really, with her foreign policy experience, talked a lot there about America's place in the world and not retreating from the world when there are conflicts - large conflicts, scary conflicts - going on everywhere. And - sorry, go ahead.

INSKEEP: No, I was just thinking about the way that she has phrased that. And it's the way that she's done it in an interview here and in speeches, when she says, if we retreat further, there will be more war, not less. It's essentially an isolationist's case for not being isolationist - trying to persuade isolationist voters that they should see a larger interest in engaging with the world.

KURTZLEBEN: Right. Yeah. And also, it's perhaps asking Trump, hey, are you really sure you want to keep staking out that position? Is that the right position? Because you can bet that Joe Biden will - and, I mean, he already is hitting Trump, especially on those comments he made about NATO a couple of weeks ago. Between that and abortion, those are going to be two huge things that Trump is really going to have to contend with.

MARTIN: Let's bring in Republican pollster Sarah Longwell. Sarah, thank you so much for joining us.

SARAH LONGWELL: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: And Sarah, I do need to mention that you are among Republicans who have some serious differences with former President Donald Trump. You are among the people who, along with another group of people who still consider themselves to be Republicans - who have tried to sort of highlight your concerns about his leadership and his potential future leadership. So what did you hear in Nikki Haley's speech? What stood out to you?

LONGWELL: Well, look, there was a lot that stood out to me. And the No. 1 thing - and I just want to emphasize this. Everyone assumed she was going to endorse Donald Trump as she got out. Nikki Haley - one of her big problems has been that she kind of goes back and forth on Donald Trump. You know, after January 6, she condemned him. But then she sort of found her way back to him. She said she wouldn't run for president without his permission to do so.

And so to see her standing there, defiant, saying that - talking about American leadership in the world, talking about the need for leadership to bring Americans together, the support for Ukraine, which Donald Trump, you know, has been talking - you know, wants to abandon Ukraine. And obviously, the party has moved in a way that is now sort of in the thrall of Russia. And that is not the Republican Party that Nikki Haley grew up in, and it's not the Republican Party that I think she had hoped to run for president of. And so to see her sort of make the case for the Republican Party that she wants to see exist - you know, I share a lot of that. And so it was good to see her stake that ground. I think it did refute...

MARTIN: But also, reminding us...

LONGWELL: Yeah, go ahead.

MARTIN: I think it's important to remember that Nikki Haley was appointed to the United Nations by Donald Trump. She served in the Trump administration. So I think her differences with him on foreign policy are ones that voters can sort of understand. Did you think she gave herself any running room? Did she - do you think she gave herself any path to play any substantive role going forward?

LONGWELL: The only thing that I heard was, I'm going to continue to use my voice to speak up for the things that matter. And I think that that really is about this America's-role-in-the-world question. And I hope - because there is still - look, the fact is, the Republican Party is moving in a direction away from supporting democracies around the world. She mentioned Taiwan. She mentioned Ukraine. She mentioned Israel. And the Republican Party - as it becomes more isolationist, it sounds like maybe she's going to fight that, which I think is good 'cause there still is a chunk of the Republican Party for whom American leadership in the world really matters. And I think that if those people can be peeled away from Donald Trump, that that would be all to the good. And so I...

MARTIN: Let me just ask you...

LONGWELL: Yeah, go ahead.

MARTIN: Let me ask you just one more question before I sort of throw it back to Steve and Danielle. Who do you think she was speaking to in that speech?

LONGWELL: Well, I think she was speaking to the Republicans who've supported her, who do not like the direction that Donald Trump is taking the Republican Party. I do think she's talking to Republican elites who have done nothing to stand up to Donald Trump. I mean, she talked there to some degree about being brave and, you know, not just giving in and following the crowd. And so I think telling Republicans to stop just allowing themselves to be swept along with Trump and the more - Tucker Carlson and the more isolationist wing of the party - I think that's who she was talking to.

INSKEEP: Sarah Longwell, let's talk about that bravery for a moment because, of course, when you're a politician, when you're a member of a political party, you face a professional choice. It can be career suicide if you walk out of the party or defy the party in a primary situation. And we should note that Nikki Haley technically has not done that today. She said, I'm suspending my campaign, and Donald Trump has to earn my endorsement, however improbable that may seem. She is not saying, I won't vote for this guy. I won't endorse this guy. I won't campaign against this guy. Where does that leave those Republicans who, for professional reasons, let's say, as opposed to conviction - reasons of conviction, have supported Donald Trump up to now - do you see any room for them to do anything other than what they have done, which is essentially to go along with the president they have qualms about?

LONGWELL: Well, you know, you make a great point that Nikki Haley hasn't made it clear yet that she won't support Donald Trump. And this is something that I think is going to be a huge issue in the upcoming election. Will people like Jim Mattis and General Kelly and Mark Milley - will the people who served with Donald Trump who have subsequently talked about what a threat he is to democracy - will they all speak out? Will Nikki Haley be a leader in giving them the permission structure to speak out? Will some of these Republicans who know what a threat Donald Trump is to the world order - will they start saying so? And to me, her withholding her endorsement is a very strong first step, but it is not enough. And my hope is that she will lead a coalition to try to push back on where Donald Trump and the Republican Party is going.

INSKEEP: I'm also thinking just in terms of democracy as an issue with voters. There's some debate about whether voters are really motivated by that or not. But you're a professional. You listen to voters. What do you think?

LONGWELL: I think they're not motivated by democracy, per se. However, I do think they are motivated against extremism. What we saw in 2020 and in 2022 with swing voters is that, ultimately, the election denialism plus the extreme positions on abortion ultimately made a lot of those candidates too extreme for these swing voters to vote for. And that was true of Donald Trump in 2020 as well. And so, you know, my hope in 2024 is that Americans continue to refuse to endorse that these swing voters don't go and vote for Donald Trump, understanding that this is a person who engaged - refused to engage in the peaceful transfer of power, that led an insurrection against the government, that refused to stop his supporters from attacking the Capitol. And I think that once Donald Trump is back in people's faces, I think a lot of the swing voters who are down on Biden right now are going to remember what it is they really dislike about Donald Trump.

MARTIN: I'd like to go back to Danielle Kurtzleben - Danielle, if you're still with us?

KURTZLEBEN: Mmm hmm.

MARTIN: What about that question of - Nikki Haley appealed to Donald Trump or at least challenged Donald Trump to unite the party - to reach out to people as opposed to doing the other things that he does.

KURTZLEBEN: Right.

MARTIN: In your travels, in your talking with voters, do they want that, too? Do they want Donald Trump to reach out to other people, or do they just enjoy him yelling at them or, you know, criticizing them or, you know, being the person that they know him to be?

KURTZLEBEN: Sure. Yeah. Well, the Trump voters that you meet at rallies, which is where I meet a lot of them, are a very specific crowd. Those are the people who really like him. They like whatever he says. And for example, lately I've been asking them, who would you like him to pick as his running mate? And they have, you know, listed off any number of names. But in the end, a lot of them say, I will like whoever he picks. And to me, that is - it's a small question, but it's a small question that reveals something bigger, which is that a lot of them just want to win. And Trump tells them that he is the one that can win. And so they just want him to do whatever he can to get that win. And so...

INSKEEP: Let's listen to somebody who's decided that they will support Donald Trump in the fall. Doug Burgum, former presidential candidate, current governor of North Dakota - he was on the program earlier today, and he said this is the case for another Trump term.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

DOUG BURGUM: People will say, am I better - was I better off under President Trump or better off under President Biden? America has never had this choice. Essentially, we've got two incumbents running at the same time. And unfortunately, for Mr. Biden, the - Americans are going to say I was better off under Trump. The world was not at war. America was more prosperous. Our cities were safer, and our border was more secure. And I think these are the issues that are going to really drive voter sentiment.

INSKEEP: Sarah Longwell, you may say that's a little bit of a hazy memory, but polling seems to suggest it's a memory people have. Some people do recall good times under Donald Trump, do they not?

LONGWELL: They do. And I hear it all the time in focus groups where, especially when it comes to the economy, voters feel like things were just better under Trump, which is why, for Joe Biden to win this upcoming election, the economy has to continue to improve, and voters have to feel that improvement. You know, voters are often a lagging indicator around things like the economy getting better. But, yeah - and - but this is also - I mean, now having done these focus groups year in, year out, for about six years, one of the things I know is that swing voters really have a visceral reaction to Trump - like, a visceral negative reaction. So once Trump is back in the forefront of their minds, I think that they will remember what they don't like about Trump in the same way, right now, they sort of understand what they don't like about Joe Biden because he's the president. I think that will start to shift, and the contours of this race will start to change.

MARTIN: OK. That is Republican pollster Sarah Longwell. We were also joined by our colleague, NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben. We've been talking about Nikki Haley's announcement, telling us that she is suspending - not ending, but suspending her campaign for the presidency. This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

INSKEEP: Indeed you are. And I'm Steve Inskeep. We'll continue to have coverage throughout this day on many NPR programs and, of course, at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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.