Why Haley Voters Should Support Biden

Last Wednesday, a day before he delivered a rousing State of the Union address, Joe Biden issued an invitation to the roughly 30 percent of Republican primary voters who had voted for Nikki Haley in the G.O.P. presidential primaries before she dropped out. The message was simple: Donald Trump doesn’t want you, but we do. After all, Trump said on Truth Social that anyone who made a “contribution” to Haley would be “permanently barred from the MAGA camp.” Biden, by contrast, acknowledged differences of opinion with Haley voters but argued that agreement on democracy, decency, the rule of law and support for NATO should unite Haley voters against Trump.

Is Biden correct? Is there an argument that could persuade a meaningful number of Haley conservatives to vote for Biden? In ordinary times the answer would be no. It still may be no. Negative polarization is the dominant fact of American political life. Asking a person to change political teams is like asking him or her to disrupt friendships and family relationships, to move from the beloved “us” to the hated “them.” They’re going to do it only as a last resort, when they truly understand and feel the same way about the Republican Party that Ronald Reagan felt when he departed the Democratic Party: He didn’t leave the party. The party left him.

Now, however, it’s the G.O.P. that is sprinting away from Reagan — and from Haley Republicans — as fast as MAGA can carry it. The right is not just mad at Republican dissenters for defying Trump; it has such profound policydisagreements with Reagan and Haley Republicans that it’s hard to imagine the two factions coexisting for much longer. Given the power imbalance in a Trump G.O.P., that means that for the foreseeable future traditional conservatives will face a choice: conform or leave.

It’s likely that most people will conform. But they ought to leave. If a political party is a shared enterprise for advancing policies and ideas with the hope of achieving concrete outcomes, then there are key ways in which a second Biden term would be a better fit for Reagan Republicans than Round 2 of Trump.

Take national security. Even apart from his self-evident disregard for democracy, Trump’s weakness in the Ukraine conflict and his hostility to American alliances may represent the most dangerous aspects of a second term, with potential world-historic consequences similar to those of American isolationism before World War II.

Biden’s continuing support for NATO, by contrast, has made America stronger. The accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO has added their potent militaries to the Western alliance. The strategic Baltic Sea is now a “NATO lake.” Biden was smart to start his State of the Union address by contrasting Reagan’s demand to Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall with Trump’s invitation to Vladimir Putin’s Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to NATO countries who “don’t pay.”

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