Questions swirl about Nikki Haley’s next move

Questions swirl about Nikki Haley’s next move

Speculation is swirling over the role Nikki Haley will play in the run-up to November as she racks up primary votes against former President Trump months after dropping out of the presidential race.

Haley, who exited the race in March, garnered 21.7 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s Indiana primary, the latest example of her winning a significant share of votes against Trump despite no longer being a candidate.

The former U.N. ambassador’s vote totals in recent contests have served as a warning sign for the former president and led to questions over whether she will endorse him or sit out the election entirely.

Haley ended her presidential bid in March, saying being a private citizen is “privilege enough in itself.” Last month, Haley joined the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank, as its next Walter P. Stern chair.

And despite losing to Trump this cycle, Republicans say she still has a bright future ahead.

“I think Nikki Haley is always looking to the horizon politically,” said Dave Wilson, a South Carolina-based Republican strategist. “She is looking for that opportunity that she can grab a hold of and run with it as long and as hard as she can.”

Haley is set to meet with roughly 100 donors next week in Charleston, S.C., on Monday and Tuesday. The Wall Street Journal first reported news of the meetings, which are intended to serve as a “thank you” to the donors who supported her presidential bid. Haley does not have plans to endorse Trump.

But even though Haley lost to Trump in the primary, her successes with Republican primary voters are not lost on her supporters. Haley notably racked up around 17 percent of the Republican primary vote in Pennsylvania and Arizona, respectively — two of the country’s most consequential swing states.

While she was still in the race, Haley pointed frequently to data suggesting 40 percent of Republican primary voters supported her over Trump, arguing it was a sign of Trump’s vulnerability with the GOP primary electorate and more moderate voters.

“What we’re seeing is that Haley voters are going to be a really crucial and critical voting block,” said Brittany Martinez, a Republican strategist. “I think there is a lot at stake, and from what I’m understanding, it really sounds like neither the Trump nor Biden campaigns have tapped into that yet.”

The continued support for Haley in recent GOP primaries has stoked speculation over her next move. Wilson said the Haley votes are a sign of her staying power, but cautioned there are still questions about the voters coming out for Haley despite not being in the race.

“The question that I really begin to ask is, is her staying because of who she is or is her staying power there right now because it’s somebody other than Trump that these people are voting for,” he said. “We don’t know — is it a pro-Haley vote or an anti-Trump vote?”

“That has got to factor into what Nikki Haley looks at for her long-term political career,” Wilson said.

Trump’s supporters point out Haley has received support from Democratic voters in primaries and that when confronted with the choice of Trump vs. President Biden, Republican and conservative-leaning voters will likely not choose the incumbent.

“I do not think wooing Haley voters is the best use of your time and resources,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist. “By the fall, the GOP base is going to come home to Trump because it’s not like inflation and interest rates are going to improve, and it’s not like the border is going to get anymore closed between now and then.”

Trump echoed this sentiment during an interview with WGAL in Lancaster, Pa., this week.

“Well, that’s a very small number because she was campaigning, she was spending millions of dollars, she was getting it from Democrats,” Trump said.

“All of those people are going to come to me because, first of all, what’s their choice? Biden, he’s the worst president in the history of our country,” he continued. “They’re all coming to me. We see it already.”

Still, Haley is seen as a figure that has sway with suburban voters, particularly suburban women, who have swung toward Democrats every election year going back to Trump’s first midterm election as president in 2018.

“That was her strength, and we saw that again in Indiana,” O’Connell said. “Yes, it was an open primary. At the same time though, this election is going to be decided by inches on the Electoral College map.”

Reports surfaced Saturday speculating the Trump campaign is actively considering Haley to be his running mate. The former U.N. ambassador has not given any indication yet that she would agree to be on the same ticket as Trump.

Trump denied the speculation, saying she is “not under consideration,” but that he wishes “her well.”

Trump responds to rumors of Haley on VP shortlist: ‘Not under consideration,’ but ‘I wish her well’

The last days of Haley’s campaign were marked by heightening animosity between her and Trump. Haley wished the former president well in her remarks announcing her exit from the race, but it’s unclear whether the two would team up on the campaign trail. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who was also the subject of Trump’s wrath in the primary, met with Trump late last month in Miami, and the two pledged to work together this cycle.

“If DeSantis has to rebuild his brand by staying close to Trump, what do you think it’s going to do for Nikki Haley? Do you think holding out for Nikki Haley is any way going to improve her political brand going forward as she wants to run for president? The answer is absolutely no,” said one GOP strategist.

Other Republicans say Haley is a natural figure to campaign for Republicans down the ballot this cycle, which could pay dividends in the future.

“If she’s not working on down-ballot races, there’s a problem,” Wilson said. “That’s where you engender the support of the people you’re going to need four years from now.”

There’s also the factor of how a hypothetical Trump win in November plays for Haley and other Republican stars’ futures.

“If Donald Trump wins in November, does this completely shoot her chances for anything in ‘28?” Wilson said. “Because you have to keep in mind, if Trump wins, whoever is his VP is the natural front-runner in ‘28. He’s term-limited; he can’t run again.”

Additionally, there is also a whole roster of younger Republicans with their sights set on 2028.

“You take a look at who’s coming up next — Tim Scott, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley. Those are three leading names right now,” Wilson said.

“This is the last generation of the 70- and 80-somethings taking the lead in presidential politics,” Wilson said.

Updated at 2:39 pm EDT.

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