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Nikki Haley’s Republican Party of One

In Rock Hill, S.C., last weekend, the biggest boom of a reaction came when Nikki Haley told the crowd, “Everybody’s telling me: Why don’t you just get out?” People basically responded with one long “no,” with one woman’s “Don’t give up!” sounding out above it. Ms. Haley responded instantly, “I will never give up,” and a big cheer went up.

Ms. Haley’s events last weekend in South Carolina ahead of Saturday’s Republican primary were populated with people in Gamecocks hats and Clemson sweatshirts; older blond women in quilted vests and jackets; dads in preppy eyeglasses with teen daughters; old men in Army vet baseball caps, which took me a minute to clock that they were most likely wearing because Donald Trump had mocked Ms. Haley’s husband.

These crowds tend to have — as a percentage, not in real numbers — more women and more couples, especially in their 60s and 70s, than the crowds at Trump events. And the most reliable response from any crowd Ms. Haley speaks to involves just the prospect of her quitting the race.

“The truth is like, people feel it. This is a real emotion,” she said in a brief interview on Friday. “It’s a real fear. It’s a real concern that they have with Donald Trump and Joe Biden.”

The Trump era has scrambled voting patterns across any number of groups, but there are a few voter demographics that have, arguably, mattered the most in the battleground states: Black voters of all ages; under-30 voters; white voters in rural areas; and suburban voters who often have college degrees and who are Romney-to-Biden voters, or have opted out of voting for president.

That last group — a persuasion group — has mattered in the suburbs of Atlanta and Phoenix and in Michigan and Pennsylvania. The Republican Party has had huge problems retaining or winning back those voters throughout the endless Trump era. And those are the voters who seem to like to hear a candidate say, as Ms. Haley did this week, that “we refuse to use the awesome power of big government to punish those we dislike, and we recognize that America has done more good for more people than any country in the world.”

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