Nikki Haley's $100 Million Faceplant

Having been walloped in her own state after finishing second in an unopposed race, Nikki Haley should be a historic punchline. Instead, political shaming sank to new depths

After former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley’s primary loss this weekend, NBC News served up the numerical picture:

The NBC exit poll shows Trump and Haley fighting to a near-draw among Republican voters with college degrees: Trump with 51% to Haley’s 47%. But it was a blowout among the bigger group of primary voters without degrees: Trump 74%, Haley 26%.

Anyone who follows sports is familiar with homerism after a loss: “Playing without Anthony Davis and key offseason acquisition Gabe Vincent, the Lakers lost to the Charlotte Hornets 121-103 Sunday…” You expect to see excuses high up in copy written to ease the pain of Lakers fans, but national political outlets do the same now for affluent target audiences. The theme of Haley fighting to a “near-draw” in South Carolina with the right people — She Only Lost by 4 to College Voters! — became a real talking point by the end of the weekend: The Devil’s Ches... Talbot, David Best Price: $4.05 Buy New $8.05 (as of 07:00 UTC - Details)

CNN, describing a “significant educational divide,” noted “Voters who are college graduates were closely divided between Trump and Haley.” The New York Times meanwhile ran a story on this theme before results even came in, explaining Haley is “learning the limits of relying on moderatecollege-educated and Trump-skeptical voters” in today’s GOP. The deck to “If Trump Drives Haley From the Race, What Will Her Voters Do in November?” read:

Her supporters tend to be moderate and college educated — precisely the type of voters who have helped decide recent presidential races. We spoke with nearly 40 to see where they’re leaning…

USA Today went one better, concluding in one article that although Haley by all rights should still be in the race, by virtue of a “powerful” speech she gave last week, she won’t be, because “the ‘maybe Haley stands a chance’ hopes rest on the broken belief that there are enough normal Republicans left to elect her. And there aren’t.”

You can almost hear the refrain: If only elections were confined to normal people! What headlines we could write!

It’s a big turnaroud. Back when Bill Clinton strategist James Carville and the “New Democrats” were considered re-incarnations of JFK’s Best and Brightest, the pursuit of the “forgotten middle class” of white voters without college degrees was deemed the noblest of pursuits, the “whole ball of wax,” as Carville put it. This was the idea behind Clintonian gambits like the middle class tax cut, proposed minimum wage increases, and even an early-nineties tax hike pitched as “just punishment” for the wealthy who profited under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Proposed hikes would show Clinton was “not a captive of the wealthiest people,” as his pollster Stanley Greenberg put it then. This theme made “I feel your pain” political legend:

Two decades later we’re full circle, with campaign journalists openly adopting more vicious versions of Murray Kempton’s formulation that Richard Nixon is “the President of every place in this country which does not have a bookstore.” I don’t think we’re far from proposals that votes by the college-educated should count twice. Maryu2019s Mosaic: The... Peter Janney Best Price: $5.39 Buy New $11.09 (as of 06:15 UTC - Details)

The irony is even educated voters have been abandoning mainstream politics in general (and the Democratic Party in particular) for years. According to Gallup’s most recent annual survey results, people in the “college graduate only” category (i.e. no postgraduate degree) supported Democrats by a +13 margin in 2020. That number dropped to +12 in 2021, then it was +9, and settled at +5 at the end of 2023. The “some college” group, for people who attended but didn’t graduate, was at +3 for Democrats in 2018, but now sits at -9. Both stories recall the slide among once-sainted “forgotten middle class” voters that began in 1999, when those with high school educations or below started a long drop from +14 support for Democrats to their current level of -14.

There are similar major defections afoot now among non-Hispanic black voters (+79 for Democrats in Barack Obama’s election year, down to +47 now), Hispanic voters (from +36 in 2016 to +12 now), voters under 29 (+23 in 2019, +8 now) and even women (+20 in 2018 to +9 now). Voters with postgraduate educations are one of the few growth groups for Democrats, at a whopping +29. All of this speaks to one of the major unreported stories of our time: a dramatic political realignment by income and class, presented as a schism between smart and ignorant, “normal” and not.

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