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Nikki Haley’s popularity drops among GOP voters

First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
Nikki Haley in South Carolina
Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley in Aiken, S.C., on Feb. 5, 2024.Allison Joyce / AFP - Getty Images

Happening this Tuesday: It’s Primary Day in Nevada, where President Biden and Nikki Haley will be on the ballot but Donald Trump won’t… Remember, Nevada’s primary doesn’t award delegates in GOP race… NBC News poll finds 76% of voters saying they have concerns about Biden’s age and fitness… And Senate Republicans threaten to block immigration deal they negotiated.

But FIRST… Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has plenty of challenges in her Republican race against former President Donald Trump. 

She’s down in the polls (both nationally and in South Carolina). She’s also behind in delegates. 

Oh, and Haley competing in today’s Nevada primary — and not Thursday’s caucuses — won’t help her delegate deficit, since it’s the caucuses that award the GOP delegates (so Trump is poised to win most, if not all, of the state’s delegates). 

Haley, however, has a problem that goes beyond her poll standing and delegate math: She now has a net-negative fav/unfav rating among Republican primary voters, according to the latest national NBC News poll

In the new poll, 34% of GOP primary voters have a positive view of Haley, versus 36% who have a negative view (-2 net rating). That’s a decline from November’s poll, when her score was 43% positive, 17% negative (+26).

What changed for Haley since November? For starters, she became the last Republican presidential candidate standing against Trump. 

But more than that, she started going directly at Trump and his temperament — see today’s newest Haley TV ad, per NBC’s Greg Hyatt. 

And we’ve seen her stay on her path to attract independent and moderate-leaning Republicans (hence the “SNL” appearance over the weekend), particularly as her campaign charts a path forward through open- or semi-open primary states.

Add them all up, and those approaches help Haley stay in the GOP presidential race vs. Trump. 

They just don’t make her more popular with GOP voters, with 61% of them in the latest NBC News poll saying they want Trump to continue as the Republican Party’s leader.

Headline of the day

The number of the day is … 76%

That’s the share of voters in the latest national NBC News poll who say they are concerned about Biden having the “necessary mental and physical health” for a second term, including 62% who say they have major concerns about the 81 year-old president.

Those who voiced major or moderate concerns about Biden’s fitness include a majority of Democrats, 81% of independents and 95% of Republicans. 

Meanwhile, less than half of voters — 48% — voiced the same concerns about Trump, who is just four years younger than Biden. 

But 61% of voters say they are concerned that Trump is “facing four different criminal and civil trials for alleged wrongdoing, including multiple felony charges related to attempts to overturn the 2020 election,” including 51% who have major concerns about those trials and charges.  

Read more about the latest poll release on

Eyes on November: Trump giveth and Trump taketh?

Donald Trump insinuated Monday that he believes Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel should step down from her post, his latest comments as he’s spent days ratcheting the pressure up on his former political ally. 

Asked during a Newsmax interview whether McDaniel should resign, Trump replied: “Well, I think she knows that. I think she understands that.” 

Shortly after the interview aired, Trump posted on social media calling McDaniel a “friend,” and adding: “Ronna is now Head of the RNC, and I’ll be making a decision the day after the South Carolina Primary as to my recommendations for RNC Growth.”

Only the second woman to chair the party, McDaniel is the longest-serving RNC chair in more than a century, tapped by Trump to lead the GOP after his 2016 victory, which included a surprise win in Michigan. McDaniel led the state party there during that election. 

But conservatives have begun turning on her in recent years amid the GOP’s struggles in the 2018, 2020 and 2022 elections (struggles others have blamed more on Trump than McDaniel), and she had to overcome a challenge from one of her RNC members to win re-election last year.

And in recent weeks, McDaniel has urged the party to rally around Trump, telling Fox News that his victory in New Hampshire was a message from GOP voters that Trump will win the nomination. McDaniel was also spotted at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort on Monday evening, per NBC’s Garrett Haake.

In other campaign news … 

$400 million man: If Trump ultimately loses the civil fraud case against his business and doesn’t win his appeal in the E. Jean Carroll defamation cases, the former president could face more than $400 million in legal penalties, NBC’s Dareh Gregorian reports. 

Summer break? Meanwhile, Politico reports that the judge overseeing Trump’s criminal proceedings in Washington D.C. related to his conduct after the 2020 election told attorneys in another case she planned to be traveling in early August unless Trump’s trial is underway by then. 

A little help from his friends: Speaking of those legal battles, a pro-Biden super PAC is readying a $40 million campaign aimed at amplifying Trump’s legal issues, NBC’s Matt Dixon scoops. 

Friends like these: Haley’s new TV ad, shared first with NBC News’ Greg Hyatt, blasts Trump directly over his age and the “chaos [that] follows him.” 

Secret service: Haley’s campaign also recently requested Secret Service protection as she’s discussed receiving threats during her candidacy. 

Biden skips Super Bowl interview: NBC’s Monica Alba and Jonathan Allen report on why Biden is skipping his second Super Bowl interview in a row

The revenge tour: The Washington Post reports on how Trump’s threats of retribution against Republicans who cross him are rippling through the party, and the Wall Street Journal looks at how Virginia Rep. Bob Good’s decision to back Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over Trump could cost him his seat

Small dollar dash: The New York Times examines how Trump is leading Biden in small-dollar donors, including across a handful of key battleground states. 

Lee’s search for gold: The New Yorker delves into California Democratic Rep. Barabara Lee’s Senate campaign, where she is emphasizing her anti-war stances and her biography. 

Getting heated in Arizona: The Washington Post unpacks the aftermath of the release of a recording between Republican Kari Lake and former state GOP Chairman Jeff DeWit, noting that the episode has already diminished trust in her among some of [Lake’s] biggest supporters.”

Eyes on NY-3: Both former Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi and Republican Mazi Pilip are targeting Asian American voters in next week’s special election in New York’s 3rd District.

Just kidding: Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., said last year that she did not intend to run for re-election, but on Monday she announced that she’s changed her mind and instead will run for a third term. 

No more NRA? The National Rifle Association was a key supporter for Trump back in 2016, but the group has “never faced a more perilous moment” as internal drama and scandals threaten the group’s influence ahead of the 2024 elections, per the Washington Post reports.

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world 

The Biden administration said Monday that the GOP effort to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is “unprecedented and unconstitutional.

King Charles III has been diagnosed with cancer, Buckingham Palace announced on Monday.