Advertisement

Nikki Haley’s strategy is clear: Run out the clock on Trump

Republican presidential candidate, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, speaks at a campaign event at Clemson University at Greenville on February 20, 2024 in Greenville, South Carolina. South Carolina holds its Republican primary on February 24. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images) (Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, speaks at a campaign event at Clemson University at Greenville on February 20, 2024 in Greenville, South Carolina. South Carolina holds its Republican primary on February 24. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

On Tuesday, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley delivered an anticipated speech where she said she would not drop out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination ahead of the primary in her home state.

In the speech, Haley attempted to lower expectations – given that she will almost certainly be blown out in the Palmetto state.

Polling currently shows Donald Trump beating her by double digits. And it’s no secret that losing a primary in their home state typically means death to a candidate’s campaign. Just ask Senator Marco Rubio, whom Trump drubbed in Florida back in 2016.

Winning Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, like Trump has, usually signals that a candidate is guaranteed to become the Republican nominee. But Haley tried spinning that statistic and saying that the majority of voters simply did not vote.

Despite her best efforts, the fact is that Haley has put up poor performances in the early states. In Iowa, she posted a disappointing third place with Ron DeSantis inching past her, before he ultimately dropped out. And in Nevada, more voters chose “none of these candidates” instead of her. That is not a ringing endorsement. While a majority of voters have not voted, the party’s biggest devotees have shown they do not want her to be president.

Nonetheless, she is beginning a swing throughout the rest of the primary states. On the day of the South Carolina primary, she will visit Michigan, followed by Minnesota, Colorado, Utah, Virginia, Washington, DC, North Carolina and Massachusetts. This comes after she’s already traveled to California and Texas. She’s already on the air in Michigan running an ad saying President Joe Biden is too old and calling for mental competency tests.

But the fact remains that not enough Republicans like what Haley is selling. As my colleague Kelly Rissman wrote, a Suffolk University/USA Today poll showed that 63 per cent of those “very likely to vote” in South Carolina prefer Trump to Haley. While 59 per cent of voters who identify as moderates or liberals support Haley, they don’t make up the majority of the Republican electorate.

Similarly, many of the states that have yet to vote are as conservative, if not more conservative, as South Carolina. While Michigan, California, Maine and Massachusetts might have some of the college-educated moderate white voters who could vote for Haley, other states like Arkansas, Alaska and North Carolina will easily break for Trump.

Furthermore, the Republican primary in places like California is closed, meaning independents cannot cross over and vote for her in the way they did when she put up a decent fight in New Hampshire. And even if she somehow does win over some independents who cross over, Trump and other conservatives will paint her as not the true pick of the Republican electorate.

It only gets bleaker after Super Tuesday. In the weeks after Super Tuesday, states including Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, Arizona, Lousiana, Ohio and Missouri will all hold their primaries in March, which will further chip away at their lead.

That will blunt her momentum and give big-pocketed donors less of an incentive to keep funding her campaign. Put simply, running through until the Republican National Conventions in July costs a ton of money between television advertisements, campaign events, town halls and setting up volunteer locations. If she does not produce a single victory in any state, donors will see no reason to bankroll her.

At this point, it’s fairly clear that Haley is simply waiting out Trump, hoping that his legal affairs get the better of him and that she could be seen as a viable alternative to him if or when he becomes engulfed by the lawsuits and criminal cases against him. She gave away her plan when she said: “It’s not normal to spend fifty million dollars in campaign donations on personal court cases.”

But doing so would be handing her fate to circumstances beyond her control. For one, the court schedules are unpredictable. Similarly, the past year has shown that the deeper Trump’s legal troubles get, the more his supporters coalesce around him.

Even in the off chance Republicans somehow replace Trump, Haley will likely not be considered a viable replacement given that she now exists in the consciousness of the GOP as Trump’s chief Republican antagonist. If anything, the party would need to pick a Trump loyalist to occupy the spot. While Haley has said she would pardon Trump were she to become president and served in his administration, that likely would not be what Republicans remember.

Ultimately, Haley might only harm herself. She mentioned she is not seeking to set up a future run for president beyond 2024, but this might affect her standing overall in the party.

As she will be remembered as too deferential to Trump for voters who dislike him but too defiant against the head of the party, she will have fewer options for her future.