Politics reporters last weekend hailed Saturday’s South Carolina Republican primary results as a “big win” for Donald Trump.
Not so fast. The results show that Trump is a weak candidate even in one of the most conservative states in the country. And the coverage shows that our biggest and best news organizations, on their third try, can’t figure out how to cover Trump’s campaigns.
With nearly all ballots counted, Nikki Haley won almost 40 percent. Trump got almost 60 percent. That’s well below the 30-point or even 35-point margin polls predicted for Trump, so his win was not so big.
The South Carolina results are significant because they show, yet again, how the focus by political reporters on the horse race rather than the issues distorts and damages American politics. At DCReport, we don’t cover horse races because we focus on what politicians do far more than what they say. We also never shy away from critiquing the performance of our fellow journalists.
Tuesday, Michigan Republicans will vote in their primary, which should further indicate what to expect in November. Michigan is one of only 13 states, most in the heart of the country and the edge of the Old South, in play in the Electoral College.
For a week or so, I’ve watched numerous politics reporters, political strategists, and former party and elected officials on various cable shows offer long, detailed, and often obtuse explanations for why Haley hasn’t withdrawn from the Republican presidential primaries, given Trump’s unbroken winning streak.
The answer is so obvious you can say it in a few words. You can conceptualize it if you think about one of those billion-dollar lotteries: If you buy a lottery ticket, your chance of winning is tiny, but if you don’t, you have no chance.
Haley is simply positioning herself to be the only viable Republican choice should Trump falter due to criminal conviction, ill health, or telling voters to stay home if he realizes he may lose badly on November 5.
The South Carolina primary vote results convey a valuable message for all Americans about the values of our citizenry: not all Republicans have gone MAGA.
A large minority of GOP voters reject the racist make America white again foundation of Trump’s campaign, along with his kowtowing to dictators, promises to deploy the military for mass roundups of undocumented people, vows to lock up those who displease him, as well as his crude misogyny.
Traditional GOP Values
In short, many Republicans still believe in democracy, the rule of law, standing up to dictators, treating others with respect, holding politicians accountable, and women’s reproductive and other rights.
That these traditional American values were supported by only a minority, albeit a significant minority, of Palmetto state Republicans, shows the truth in Haley’s argument that Trump is a weak general election candidate. As Haley said just after the polls closed Saturday evening, “nearly every day, Trump drives people away.”
In South Carolina, people can vote in the other party’s primary, so some of Haley’s votes may have come from Democrats, but it is unlikely that was a significant factor.
We will have another test of Trump’s support on Tuesday when Michigan holds its primary election. How many people turn out, the share of votes Haley gets, and how politics reporters cover this primary all matter for the fate of our democracy.
In the mid-1970s, when I was the investigative reporter in the Detroit Free Press state capital bureau, Michigan was a bastion of socially conservative and economically progressive Democrats allied with powerful unions, especially the United Auto Workers. Union political arms looked out for Joe Lunchbox’s family.
Parts of Michigan, notably around Grand Rapids and west to Lake Michigan, were solidly Republican. Still, the elected officials I knew didn’t spout hatred, admiration for dictators, and revenge as their core message the way we hear from Trump and his MAGA mob.
Jobs and Voting
Michigan’s red shift followed decades of the big three automakers paying too little attention to quality. That created an opening for Japanese and other overseas car makers who steadily improved their offerings and adapted to changing consumer preferences. Many newer vehicle plants are in Ontario because Canadian healthcare isn’t on the books of employers, unlike Michigan and the rest of America.
The anti-union politics of the 1980s also drove down American pay. As pay and job availability deteriorated for factory and related workers, many Michigan Democrats aligned with the Republicans, believing that GOP policies would make working people better off. We now have more than 50 years of indisputable economic evidence showing the reverse.
But support for Republicans, while enough to capture the governor’s office for 20 of the last 33 years, was always weak in Michigan. Trump beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 by fewer than 12,000 votes, while the Democratic Party candidate has won every other presidential election since 2000 by at least 154,000 votes.
Trump and his allies insist “deep state” operatives and partisans stole the 2020 election. Three months ago, Trump even claimed he won all 50 states. But when judges in Michigan and elsewhere asked for offers of proof in five dozen lawsuits, Trump and his fellow election deniers produced not even a scintilla of evidence. Nonetheless, ever since, leaders of the Michigan Republican Party have perpetuated Trump’s lie. This has made for a literal state party fistfight, a dramatic fall in donations, and general disarray.
Voters should pay close attention to the Michigan Republican primary turnout and the margin of Trump’s almost certain victory. The turnout will help gauge voter enthusiasm within the GOP. And, as with South Carolina, Trump’s margin will indicate the breadth of his support within the Republican Party.
Reprinted with permission from DC Report.