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Nikki Haley at the Last-Chance Saloon

Pick your metaphor for the imminent collapse of the Haley campaign.

With just days to go until former Gov. Nikki Haley faces the voters in her home state of South Carolina, tempting them to send her to the big show in Washington, DC, the numbers do not bode well. Hot off one-sided losses in the first three intra-party contests of the 2024 presidential race – Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada – even Haley seems not to believe her fortunes will change in the Palmetto State’s GOP primary this Saturday, Feb. 24.

An optimistic outlook can take a candidate only so far, and although Super Tuesday is – for now – just around the corner, she is a very long way from home.

The Final Nail?

Haley appears to be under the impression that if she can push through to the bevy of primaries and caucuses taking place on March 5, when 15 states and American Samoa are holding their Republican contests, then she might just pick up enough delegates to clinch the party’s nomination should Donald Trump be convicted with a felony. Sadly, for her, being the only contender left in the race is in no way a guarantee that the GOP convention in Milwaukee will fall at her feet when summer arrives. And it may just be her own actions that doom her.

Looking back to 1976, the incumbent President Gerald Ford attended the convention short of a majority; through delegate wrangling, he secured the nomination on the convention floor – the last candidate to do so – denying Ronald Reagan his first bite of the White House apple. Haley may be hoping for a repeat of such wrangling (without the ensuing presidential defeat), but she ignores a key factor: Delegates tend to support the candidate they think can win.

Being last man (or woman) standing is not enough. She placed third in Iowa, came in a respectable second in New Hampshire, and embarrassingly lost to “none of the above” in Nevada. If she can’t even come close to Trump in her home state of South Carolina, what chance does she have of convincing the Republican delegates that she is the person to rally the troops and lead the charge to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

Haley and Her Hail Mary Playbook

When it comes to big campaign rallies, nobody does the fanfare quite like The Donald. Haley has decided not to try to outperform the pomp and circumstance and is instead running her campaign predominantly on talk and news shows. It’s an interesting strategy that generates column inches for sure – but not necessarily among those who would ever consider voting for her. As even Axios has noted, however, her broadsides against Trump are fodder for the Biden campaign.

It seems Haley is going scorched earth on the GOP – either they have her, or they have no one. Her continued attacks on Trump are the blueprint for an otherwise struggling Biden campaign, short on ideas. She is drawing a line between herself and those who support the former president, which will make it difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile should Trump clinch the eventual nomination.

In August 2023, as the Republican primary season was just heating up, candidates were asked to sign a loyalty pledge that they would support the eventual nominee; this was the price of entry to the debate stage. Haley, along with the other contenders (not Trump), agreed and got her spot. And yet, when asked on ABC’s This Week whether she would back the former president should he be the nominee, she was notably evasive, saying, “I’m running against him because I don’t think he should be president. The last thing on my mind is who I’m going to support. The only thing on my mind is how we’re going to win this.”

To paraphrase the late great author and satirist Richard Condon, it appears that Haley is blowing enough “smoke to allow a Lipan Apache manipulating a blanket over it to transmit the complete works of Tennyson.”

A Shot in the Dark

According to the betting odds, Haley is a 14 to 1 longshot. Nationally, polling gives Trump a lead of almost 60 points; in South Carolina, Haley trails by around 30 points. That she will lose the upcoming contest is a given. So why would she stay in the race?

There is no doubt that she is positioning herself for higher office – but not necessarily for this election cycle. In 2028, the Republican slate is wide open, and she has demonstrated that she can do battle with another likely contender, Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis, and even outlast him. Her future bona fides are settled. And, of course, there is always a slim chance that she can pull off a Gerald Ford maneuver in Milwaukee. The question she should be asking herself is what kind of party will be left for her to lead?

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