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Super Tuesday: presidential nominating contests in 16 states, 1 territory

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Nikki Haley won a presidential primary over the weekend in Washington, D.C. She's the first Republican woman to win a presidential primary ever. She faces long odds against Republican front-runner Donald Trump tomorrow, Super Tuesday, when Republicans, as well as Democrats, vote in many states and American Samoa. So what do Trump's Republican opponents do next? Let's talk with Rina Shah, who is a political strategist, former Republican congressional adviser and a Never Trumper. Good morning.

RINA SHAH: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Do you see anywhere that Nikki Haley would put in a strong performance tomorrow?

SHAH: I certainly think it's very possible. You know, the big thing that her campaign continues to say is that Trump is consistently not getting 30- to 40% of primary voters. And that's a real problem for him. So despite what he keeps saying, the party is not unified. And for Super Tuesday, their goal is clearly just to be competitive. Obviously, the talk is, where? But caucuses are where Trump is going to benefit the most, given their nature. And that's why he's tried to shift more states towards caucuses, like Idaho, Missouri, Nevada. And so as the Haley campaign is working on expanding the electorate, open or semiopen primaries will be what we need to watch tomorrow.

INSKEEP: Do you wish she would continue after Super Tuesday, which she has not quite committed to do?

SHAH: Well, I actually hope so because I think there's something to be said for this year. You know, in politics, we always talk about expecting the unexpected. This year, looking at it broadly, it is not a typical election year in any way. But tomorrow will be pretty definitive, and we can expect some results because we've already seen where the polling takes us.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

SHAH: Now, of course, I don't trust all the polling, given 2016, but in the - in regards to that question, the money has been the motive so far for Haley. She's had plenty of prime establishment donors, and the elite power brokers from coast to coast have had her back. But tomorrow is when the rubber really meets the road because it becomes about the math. And tomorrow, yes, there will come a moment where it says it is mathematically impossible for her to catch up to Trump. But still, there is an opening for her if Trump gets a conviction any point this year.

INSKEEP: Oh, so you're saying if something unexpected of that sort happens, she would be the last person standing. That is your hope or your thought, anyway.

SHAH: Well, that is my thought and the thought of many. When we look at sort of how these - this whole primary has shaken out, I don't think many people could have predicted that Haley would be the last person standing. But when you - when we talk about her dropping out after tomorrow, it's not unremarkable that she raised something like 12 million last month. That's a significant...

INSKEEP: Sure.

SHAH: ...Amount of...

INSKEEP: Let me just...

SHAH: ...Campaign money.

INSKEEP: ...Stop you for a second. It's possible for marginal candidates to raise a lot of money these days, and she certainly has raised them. But let me ask about another possible way forward. No Labels, one of the third-party groups out there, holds a meeting at the end of the week. At some point, they may put forward a ticket. Would you like Haley or some other Republican to be on it?

SHAH: Well, just a couple days ago, Haley ruled out a No Labels bid. She says it's not for her. But I, in particular, do not believe this is a - the right path. No Labels can't win, and I've seen the evidence. You know, I understand dissatisfaction with the major party candidates is consistent, but it's been what it's been for decades.

There's a bit of a fantasy that No Labels has about their path to victory. Their own polling has shown that they will elect Donald Trump and spoil Biden's 2024 election bid. And essentially, when you look at these third-party candidates, you see far less support for them than unnamed moderate independents, and Haley's campaign understands that.

INSKEEP: If Haley is out, then Trump is the nominee. Biden is the nominee. And there you are, a Never Trump Republican. Are you voting for Joe Biden?

SHAH: Goodness gracious. Well, it depends on really what day of the week you ask me, but for six out of seven days, I will say, I will have to go vote for Biden, somebody whose policies don't fully align with mine. But in many ways, I see him to be a far less threat to the future of this country. I'm a pro-democracy voter, and that's what puts Biden at the forefront for me. I couldn't vote for Trump.

INSKEEP: Republican political strategist Rina Shah, founder of Rilax Strategies. Thanks so much.

SHAH: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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