Nikki Haley, the Establishment’s Last Hope

Chris Christie’s seismic exit from the Republican primary has reshuffled the race into a one-versus-one contest. Donald Trump’s dominance remains intact, state after state, with the notable exception of New Hampshire. Christie’s decision to drop out was obviously calculated to give a boost to Nikki Haley, the late establishment favorite, who has experienced a recent surge in that state. Anti-Trump Republicans are savoring a last opportunity to be rid of Trump, but they would be wise to temper their expectations. I defer to the last eight years of history and the ongoing and desperate efforts of Trump’s antagonists, who have done everything, short of putting a bullet in his head, to take him out of contention.

The once great hope of the Republican old guard, Ron DeSantis, is facing a humiliating defeat in Iowa; his debate with Haley on Wednesday night was a formal exercise that will not change the trajectory of his disastrous campaign.

Wednesday night’s debate was preceded by a bit of drama after Christie was caught sharing his earnest assessment of Haley’s abilities. “Birdbrain,” as Trump calls her, removed all doubt of that apposite title by reminding viewers to log on to her “fact-checking” website once every five minutes. DeSantis had an easy job: all he had to do was show the audience that Haley is a corporate sellout with liberal views on all the things conservatives care about. This was not a tall order, given Haley’s record, but Haley had a sharp comeback: isn’t it true, Ron, that all of those big donors were backing you before they realized how boring and off-putting you are?

DeSantis’ overscripted, tryhard zingers—he knocked Haley for “ballistic podiatry,” the meaning of which had to be elucidated—served as a fitting encore to a year of quirky moments, memorialized forever on social media. An attempt to pin Haley as too woke on George Floyd—another example of DeSantis’ extremely online attempts to be the most reactionary person in the room—fell flat when she reminded DeSantis that he, too, joined the general rush to judgment in the summer of 2020. His calculated comments on the lawfare campaign against Trump, which DeSantis dismissed as a personal problem for Trump rather than an existential threat to the country, summarized the fatal contradiction at the heart of his campaign.

The long journey of “DeSanctimonious” comes to an end next week. The question then becomes whether he will kiss the ring, and save what remains of his political career, or seek revenge for a long and terrible year.

Haley, on the other hand, has had it easy. She has gotten bad press for all the wrong reasons: the ambivalent liberal media, which hate to criticize her, puffed up the bogus controversy over her comments on the Civil War, which left a totally misleading representation of her actual, rather progressive, sensibility. “Not only did I move to bring the Confederate flag down,” she bragged Wednesday, recapping her response to the 2015 Charleston shooting: “We came together as a state of prayer, and we had no division, no riots, no anything.”

DeSantis might be an oddball, but Haley is living proof that confidence and intelligence are seldom twinned. She has been compared to Hillary Clinton, but a closer approximation might be Kamala Harris, who has Clinton’s ambition but half as much wit. Haley speaks with the familiar messianic assurance of the diversity queen; she calls herself a “new generational leader,” which, if she means a representative of America in its death stages, can hardly be disputed.

Wednesday’s showdown between Fake Trump and “Dick Cheney in heels,” to quote Haley’s coethnic nemesis, encapsulated what has been an unusually uneventful primary. From the beginning, Trump has overshadowed this sideshow as the one original personality, the one alternative to the charmless wannabes, copycats, and sellouts. The spectacle is now moving toward its seemingly inevitable conclusion. In the coming days, there will be lots of breathless speculation that Trump has finally met his match. Count me a skeptic.

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About Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a Mt. Vernon fellow of the Center for American Greatness and a staff writer and weekly columnist at the Conservative Institute. His writing has also appeared in the Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter @matt_boose. ‏

Photo: TOPSHOT - Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (L) and former US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley attend the fifth Republican presidential primary debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, on January 10, 2024. (Photo by Christian MONTERROSA / AFP) (Photo by CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA/AFP via Getty Images)