Under Donald Trump’s theory of the case, Nikki Haley should already be on her way to jail.
For months, the coup-attempting former president has claimed that President Joe Biden has been orchestrating the multiple criminal investigations of Trump because Biden fears facing his “leading opponent” in next autumn’s election.
But if Trump’s claim was accurate, the Department of Justice and state prosecutors in Georgia and New York should be going after Haley, not Trump.
Recent polls of hypothetical 2024 matchups show that the former South Carolina governor and, more recently, Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations presents Biden a tougher challenge than Trump. In fact, of the GOP candidates tested against Biden, Trump polls the worst.
“It’s clear if the GOP nominates anyone other than Trump, the race will be a referendum on Biden, and the GOP nominee will win going away,” said Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committee member from Mississippi. “If we nominate Trump, the race will be a referendum on Trump and give Biden his best chance at remaining in power.”
Trump’s staff did not respond to HuffPost queries as to why Biden had failed to open criminal probes into Haley or, for that matter, against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis back when he was actually ahead of Trump in Republican primary polls.
Longtime Democratic consultant David Axelrod had a simple explanation as to why there is no investigation into Haley: “She apparently hasn’t broken the law!”
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley delivers a speech Sept. 22 on her economic policy at the New England Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. Ahead of the second Republican presidential debate, Haley rolled out her economic proposal, which included cutting middle-class taxes, tackling inflation and national debt, and reducing federal government control.
Trump, in contrast, attempted a coup that culminated with his inciting a mob of supporters to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. He also took secret documents from the White House to his South Florida country club at the end of his term and then refused to return them, even after they were subpoenaed. Trump faces separate federal indictments for each, as well as a Georgia state indictment for his attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in that state.
A fourth New York state indictment charges him with falsifying business records to hide a $130,000 hush money payment to a porn star in the final days before the 2016 election.
That obvious explanation ― that Trump has been charged with crimes because of his alleged criminal conduct ― has been ignored by countless Republicans, both grassroots-level activists as well as elected members of Congress, who have been repeating his baseless claim that prosecutors have indicted him only to keep him from running for president.
In a recent interview, new House Speaker Mike Johnson, of Louisiana, called the criminal cases against Trump politically motivated “lawfare.”
Republican conference chair Elise Stefanik, of New York, meanwhile sends repeated fundraising emails telling recipients that their donations to her will help Trump defeat the unfounded prosecutions. “It’s a must-win political battle against a judiciary system that is seemingly conspiring to prevent President Trump from running against Joe Biden in 2024,” read one she sent Wednesday.
“Trump is full of shit, and so are the people in the party that rely on that stupid talking point,” said one prominent Republican consultant who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“The MAGA faithful do not make the connection between Trump’s rhetoric and reality, and never have,” said Mac Stipanovich, for decades a top Republican consultant in Florida who abandoned the party after it fell under Trump’s sway. “The key is his repeated statement, ‘They are not after me. They are after you. I am just in their way.’ He is a martyr, a Christ figure, the incongruous champion of all those who believe they are disadvantaged, disrespected and downtrodden.”
Trump and his allies continue to focus their intra-party attacks on DeSantis, but Trump appears to have recognized the threat Haley poses. After largely ignoring her for most of the year, Trump recently chose for her and began employing one of his signature puerile insults: “birdbrain.”
Both Democratic and Republican consultants, meanwhile, predict that Trump’s self-centered approach to politics means that Haley, even if she manages to overcome Trump and win the nomination, would then have to deal with his sabotage as she runs against Biden.
“The idea that Trump would be a non-factor in the general if she pulled off a miracle is silly,” said a Democrat close to Biden who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Stuart Stevens, a veteran of multiple Republican presidential campaigns, said the near certainty of Trump encouraging his hard-core supporters to stay home rather than vote for Haley means the current head-to-head polling against Biden must be taken with a grain of salt.
“They are operating on the assumption that Trump would act like a normal politician and endorse Haley. He won’t, of course,” Stevens said. “Instead he will wake up every day trying to make sure she isn’t president. Unless she cuts a deal that she would pardon him. But if she did that, he couldn’t keep it quiet and it would kill her.”