It has become crystal clear at this juncture in the Republican presidential primary that Nikki Haley is hanging on for reasons other than the presently slim likelihood she will become the GOP nominee. As Nevada Republicans prepare to award Donald Trump their 26 delegates to July’s GOP convention in statewide caucuses today, it is dead certain to become his third consecutive overwhelming win, this time because Haley, his lone remaining recognizable competitor, is not even on the ballot.
Trump’s former UN Ambassador and the ex-governor of South Carolina was, like all primary candidates in Nevada, given the choice between Tuesday’s non-binding primary and today’s delegate-rich caucuses. She chose the primary – aka beauty contest – and lost by more than 30% to a disembodied opponent – aka “none of these candidates” – on a ballot that also included three unknowns. It was downright humiliating and could certainly be deemed a political miscalculation, but then, losing by a whopping margin to Trump instead of nobody would not have looked a whole lot better.
It was always a certainty that Haley would need to outmaneuver Trump in a big way in order to win a primary in which the former president has consistently demonstrated overwhelming and durable strength. That has not happened. Now, it’s one thing to lose to Trump – many a successful politician has fallen in his wake. It’s yet another to lose in a landslide to literally nobody, a hypothetical stick figure, and quite another to realize that 60% of Republican voters in Nevada showed up just to vote against you. In fairness though, quietly rounding up over 40,000 “none of the above” votes is another demonstration of the effectiveness of the Trump campaign team, widely regarded as far superior to that of 2020.
Haley’s Comet or Coma?
Though she has impressively outlasted a gaggle of male candidates, the time is fast approaching for Haley to decide whether to stay or go, because next up on the calendar is the February 24 GOP primary in her home state of South Carolina. And even though she was a popular two-term governor and continues to enjoy high approval in the Palmetto State, she is getting thumped there by Trump to the tune of a 37-point deficit in the latest poll by Morning Consult.
Does Ms. Haley get the unmistakable message from the GOP rank and file that the nomination is not in the cards for her in 2024? What is her calculation in terms of staying or leaving the race as it pertains to her likely candidacy in 2028? Will stark reality lead her to exit stage left before she loses big again, or does she still believe she can hang on for dear life and finally pick up a few wins in the 15-state political orgy on March 5 known as Super Tuesday?
Or, most plausibly, she may truly continue to believe that Trump’s legal peril is so great and his chances of conviction on at least one criminal count sufficient enough that he might not make it all the way to the finish line, leaving her as the last woman standing. Ipso facto, she can continue to argue that Trump’s numbers are bound to drop as he stares down 91 criminal counts, on top of the fact that she already polls better against Biden than Trump, though both are well ahead of the beleaguered incumbent.
Perhaps the lyrics from the late, great Kenny Rogers’ signature song “The Gambler” can best provide a roadmap for the decision matrix facing Ms. Haley. The ballad speaks of a “train bound for nowhere” like the Haley campaign. It encapsulates the essence of her problem with the observation from a stranger on the train that “… if you don’t mind my sayin’, I can see you’re out of aces.” And then it passes along that age-old advice particularly pertinent to Ms. Haley right now: “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away and know when to run.”
Hold ‘em or fold ‘em? It’s up to Nikki Haley now.