Nikki Haley had barely taken her place on the makeshift riser Wednesday at the Wild Goose Tavern in Costa Mesa when the interruptions began.
“You already lost, Nikki!” a Donald Trump supporter shouted, prompting security to remove the man. As the door to the living room opened, an explosion of chants and boos from the Trump protesters outside filled the room.
“Don’t ever get mad at people like that,” Haley said through the noise, sidestepping the incident with the practiced comfort of a politician who has been through similar situations before. “My husband is currently deployed. And they sacrifice their lives every day so that we can allow them to do that – to have freedom of speech. So we should never be upset about it.
The crowd of about 100 people applauded and Haley graciously continued her speech. But as Haley was touring California this week, collecting votes and funds from donors, the incident highlighted her campaign’s biggest challenge: overtaking former President Trump. And in California, which is expected to deliver all the Republican delegates to Trump in his March 5 primary, the question arises: Why would Californians support Haley?
“It seems like a waste of time because she’s not going to be the nominee,” said Jared Sichel, who watched the incident unfold from the back of the bar. As co-founder of Republican marketing firm Winning Tuesday, Sichel closely monitors electoral politics and said the Republican Party is “the party of Trump now, for better or worse.”
In Tuesday’s Nevada primary, Haley received fewer votes than the ballot labeled “none of these candidates.” On Thursday, Trump was poised to win the Nevada caucuses, which award the state’s delegates.
Still, Austin, 34, who declined to give his last name, insisted Haley could bring “a return to normalcy” to the country. The Los Angeles resident brushed off his position in the polls, saying he had a “very hard time believing the polls after 2016,” when big predictions that Hillary Clinton would win turned out to be wrong.
“I think she is the right candidate to put our country on a path of optimism — for our future here domestically and our strength on the world stage,” Austin said.
Even though the former UN ambassador has endured the longest in the race against Trump, she has so far been unable to mount a strong challenge. As expected, she came in third in the Iowa caucuses in January, behind Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who dropped out less than a week later.
Haley then traveled to New Hampshire for her first head-to-head race against Trump. She saw her largest increase in support, but still lost with 43% of the vote to Trump’s 54%. She nevertheless pledged to keep fighting, telling her supporters after the primaries that evening: “This race is far from over. »
“In my mind, the big question is whether or not she stays,” said Jon Fleischman, a Republican strategist and former executive director of the Republican Party of California. “She says she’ll stay in the race until Super Tuesday, but it seems to me that it would be a terribly difficult pill to swallow to actually be beaten by Donald Trump in the state that elected you governor.”
Unless she manages to pull off a major upset on February 24 in her home state of South Carolina, which is currently favoring Trump in the latest poll, she is expected to continue losing to Trump until the end of primary season. FiveThirtyEight.com, the survey aggregatorhas Trump at 75.8% support across the board in the Republican primary, with Haley at 17.6%.
“Why are they supporting her? » Jon Gould, dean of the School of Social Ecology at UC Irvine, said of California voters. “Number one: protest. Demonstration against Trump. Two: I hope maybe there’s a chance she can pull it off. And third: the backup plan, because I think there are still a lot of people wondering if he will be a candidate by September, given… if some criminal cases result in a conviction for him.”
Tustin resident Jane Horrocks, 46, said she doesn’t usually attend political events, but came to the Wild Goose Wednesday morning to support Haley for one reason: “We just want an alternative to Donald Trump.”
“And I also think she has the best chance of facing Joe Biden,” added her 18-year-old son, Jack, who already registered to vote as a Republican during his first election.
The candidate herself often makes herself a champion vote it shows her outperforming Biden in a general election — without taking into account the challenge she faces in winning the primary. For Republicans who are tired of losing by large margins in recent national elections, Haley’s electability is appealing.
John Cox, a former candidate for governor of California, has pledged to be a Haley delegate — although he was endorsed by Trump during his gubernatorial bid in 2018. Trump is the only Republican that Biden could beat, Cox wagered, adding: “I don’t think any of the Democrats can beat Nikki.” »
“I want to win in November. I’m not a Trump hater or a never-Trumper, far from it. But I want to win,” Cox said. “I want to win seats in Congress, I want to win the Senate. I just feel like the president has turned off so many people.
Haley is increasingly targeting this population of disaffected Republican voters. She stepped up her attacks on Trump and Biden, calling them too old and chaotic for another term.
“For a long time, she played nice with Trump to the point where a lot of people were wondering: Well, is she really running for vice president?” » said Fleischmann. ” These last weeks, [she] has been very negative about Trump and I think she has seen a response from anti-Trump donors because of that.”
In many ways, Gould said, Orange County Republicans are Haley’s target audience.
In his recent survey In the county’s political context, Gould discovered an emerging group of the OC electorate that he called “modestly partisan Republicans” — a demographic comprised primarily of nonwhite, wealthy people who are committed to the Republican Party , despite feeling left out of the national conversation. They don’t care about culture war issues, according to the poll, and may support taxpayer-funded measures on progressive issues.
“It seems to me that his target audience is probably people who previously would have supported George HW Bush, and maybe Reagan,” Gould said. “The expression they sometimes say to me is: they wonder what happened to their party? Where did their party go?
Mario Guerra, a California Republican Party board member and former mayor of Downey, voted for Trump in both elections, but he registered as Haley’s delegate this year.
“I think we need change. I think we need young people, we need leadership,” Guerra said. “I think she has shown her leadership skills and I think she can lead our country. I think she can do a lot of good things for our country.
Haley’s tour this week took her to fundraisers in Northern California before heading south for a whirlwind Wednesday. After the stop in Costa Mesa, Haley headed to the Pacific Club in Newport Beach for an exclusive lunch with donors, before ending her day in Los Angeles with another donor reception and supporter gathering.
“Clearly she’s coming here because there’s a lot of money that can be raised,” Gould said of Haley.
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Wearing a blue blazer, Corona del Mar resident Steve Gabriel, 75, headed to the Pacific Club fundraiser. He had already met Haley and is convinced that she is undoubtedly the best presidential candidate. Her foreign policy experience prepares her better for the job than Trump or Biden, he said.
“There is no one in this country, in my opinion, who is stronger than her because of her history,” Gabriel said. “There is no one in this country right now who is better than her to deal with China. And China poses a threat.”
However, does Haley have a chance at the presidency?
“Unfortunately, no,” he said. “But you never know. …Fingers crossed.”
Times staff writer Hannah Fry contributed to this report.
Note: The content and images used in this article is rewritten and sourced from www.latimes.com