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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Alice Herman

Trump defeats Haley in Michigan primary but warning signs appear

a man in a
Donald Trump campaigns in Waterford Township, Michigan, on 17 February. Photograph: Rebecca Cook/Reuters

Donald Trump has won Michigan’s Republican primary election, the latest in a string of convincing primary victories as he closes in on the GOP presidential nomination. But there are some warning signs for Trump in his easy victory in Michigan.

The Associated Press called the race for Trump over the former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley at 9pm ET.

The former president has repeatedly trounced Haley in the primaries, but she has hung on with a campaign that continues to highlight areas of weakness for Trump and offers Republicans uneasy about Trump a protest vote of their own. Haley has pledged to stay in the primaries at least through next Tuesday, 5 March, when 15 states will vote and Trump could all but sew up the Republican nomination.

With almost 99% of the vote counted, Trump had received 68.2% to Haley’s 26.5%.

Trump did not travel to the state on Tuesday night. He instead called into a Michigan GOP election night watch party in Grand Rapids, where he stressed the importance of the state in the general election and said Tuesday’s results were “far greater than anticipated”.

“We have a very simple task: we have to win on November 5 and we’re going to win big,” Trump said, according to a campaign transcript. “We win Michigan, we win the whole thing.”

But early reporting out of Kent county, which flipped to Biden in the 2020 presidential election, showed Trump with a slimmer margin of victory. That part of the state is significant to the conservative movement and home to the conservative mega-donors the DeVoses.

Haley’s strongest performance on Tuesday night came in areas with college towns like Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan, and suburbs around Detroit and Grand Rapids.

Speaking at a press conference in Grand Rapids ahead of the primary, Haley argued that the bloc of Republicans who have continued to turn out for her despite Trump’s dominance in the primaries signaled trouble for Trump in November.

“You can’t win a general election if you don’t acknowledge the 40% of Republicans who are saying we don’t want Donald Trump,” said Haley, referring to the share of Republican voters in South Carolina who voted for her.

Her comments reflected the fact that even rightwing Republicans like Haley, who came up in the Tea Party movement, could find themselves alienated from today’s Republican party for refraining from supporting Trump.

On Tuesday night, as the primary results trickled in, Haley told CNN she was continuing to campaign in preparation for the 15 primaries a week from today, and she criticised Trump. “He cannot win a general election,” said Haley.

It is unclear where Haley’s campaign goes from here. Until now, she has powered through the losses, fuelled in part by Americans for Prosperity Action, a powerful funding arm affiliated with the Koch network. But AFP Action abandoned the Haley campaign after she lost in South Carolina, her home state. In a letter obtained by Politico, the Americans for Prosperity CEO, Emily Seidel, commended Haley as a “special leader with conviction, resolve, and steel in her spine”, but wrote that the group would instead focus on Senate and House races in the 2024 election cycle.

The Michigan GOP, meanwhile has embraced Trump. This primary only decided about 30% of Republican delegates from Michigan – because of a scheduling change, to stay in compliance with Republican National Committee rules, most delegates will be assigned during the state’s Republican convention and caucus on Saturday, where Trump is strongly favoured.

Even a factional crisis that has rocked the state Republican party has not dented Trump’s support among its leadership. “We’ve got our nominee,” the Michigan Republican party chairman, Pete Hoekstra, former US ambassador to the Netherlands under the Trump administration, told the Detroit News on Tuesday night as the results came in.

Trump’s dominance of the early states is unparalleled since 1976, when Iowa and New Hampshire began their tradition of holding the first nominating contests. He has won resounding support from most pockets of the Republican voting base, including evangelical voters, conservatives and those who live in rural areas. But Trump has struggled with college-educated voters, losing that bloc in South Carolina to Haley last weekend.

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