Nikki Haley’s Strategies?

Nikki Haley just lost the New Hampshire primary by 11 percent.

She had earlier come in third in the recent Iowa caucuses behind Ron DeSantis.

But DeSantis, not she, dropped out of the race. He then endorsed front-runner Donald Trump.

By contrast, Haley confidently announced that at last there was a two-person, head-to-head race. So she confidently headed to New Hampshire.

Her subtext was that if she did not win the upcoming two-person primaries, she would come in “second” rather than “last.”

Her supporters outspent all the candidates in Iowa and would do so again in New Hampshire. Haley consolidated the Never-Trump voters, won Independents and cross-over Democrats, and garnered millions from the donor class exasperated at the thought of a third Trump candidacy.

Moreover, nearly half of those who voted in the Republican primary were not themselves Republicans. New Hampshire was the most Haley-friendly primary in the entire campaign season.

Yet after coming in last in the three-person Iowa race with 19 percent of the vote, she still lost by 11 points in a New England state more reflective of a traditional Romney or Bush voter than of a Trump supporter.

Trump has now won the first two primaries by large majorities. As he reminds us, no Republican in recent history has lost the nomination after winning Iowa and New Hampshire.

So what is Haley’s strategy ahead?

In the short term, she will cede to Trump the Nevada caucuses and focus on her home state of South Carolina.

But then what?

Ron DeSantis wisely got out of the race and endorsed Trump because he did not wish to lose in New Hampshire. And he correctly surmised that he will be a frontline candidate in 2028, with a now-supportive Trump.

By contrast, Haley, after losing Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, may lose her native state even more dramatically, despite her longed-for head-to-head race with Trump.

Will Haley thereby tarnish her long-term political viability?

Who knows? But party pressure will only increase for her to drop out, seek unity in the party, and consolidate finite Republican donor funds behind Trump.

In sum, Haley now has four choices.

First, she can exit, endorse Trump, promise to campaign for him with Independents and cross-over voters, and expect an offer of a cabinet position or ambassadorship as she prepares to run again in 2028.

Or second, Haley can campaign even harder. She can raise lots more Never-Trump money and mimic George H.W. Bush’s second-place, year-long candidacy of 1980.

Even when losing, Bush tempered his attacks on front-runner Ronald Reagan. Meanwhile, he proved himself an adroit campaigner, consolidating a coalition of anti-Reagan establishment Republicans and independents in the primaries.

The advantages of Bush’s hard campaigning and appeal to centrists finally impressed Reagan realists.

Bush himself won over a hesitant Reagan to the once unthinkable idea of putting the aristocratic blue blood on the ticket as a balance to the supposedly hard-right Reagan.

The ensuing Reagan-Bush ticket smashed the incumbent Jimmy Carter.

Eight years later, Bush himself was rewarded by being nominated without much opposition in the primaries, endorsed by President Reagan, and winning the presidency in 1988.

Haley might do the same, moderating her attacks on front-runner Trump as she plays the noble opponent for a few more primaries.

That way, she might angle for the Vice President nomination, promising to deliver millions of centrist voters.

Such service would also boost her profile in a final four-year Trump administration and position her well for 2028.

Or third, Haley can limp about for a few more primaries, haphazardly campaign, and slowly fizzle out. That rope-a-dope strategy would be to remain a “backup” candidate.

An inert Haley would serve as the only remaining Republican alternative to Trump—on the chance he might be convicted and jailed and thus either be unable to actively campaign or wounded as the first felon to run as a major party candidate.

Or fourth, Haley can go the full-bore, dead-ender route.

She would ratchet up her harsh attacks on Trump’s age and emulate the 2016 Never Trump nihilism.

Haley could not win. But she could hurt Trump in the manner that the Never Trump vote wounded Trump in 2016 and might even have helped defeat him in 2020.

Haley would win accolades from the media, be canonized (for a while) by Democrats and Never Trumpers as a brave maverick speaking truth to power—and essentially blow up her political career.

Choice one, the Ron DeSantis route, is the most logical. But Haley might well choose the riskier options two and three of staying in the race.

Option four would end her career, delight an ailing Biden campaign, and could give the country more of the 2021-24 madness rather than a return to what worked in 2017-20.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004, and is the 2023 Giles O'Malley Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson is also a farmer (growing almonds on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author of the just released New York Times best seller, The End of Everything: How Wars Descend into Annihilation, published by Basic Books on May 7, 2024, as well as the recent  The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump, and The Dying Citizen.

Photo: CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE - JANUARY 23: Republican presidential candidate, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley delivers remarks at her primary-night rally at the Grappone Conference Center on January 23, 2024 in Concord, New Hampshire. New Hampshire voters cast their ballots in their state's primary election today. With Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis dropping out of the race Sunday, Haley and former President Donald Trump are battling it out in this first-in-the-nation primary. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Notable Replies

  1. I’m guessing she goes for it. She seems delusional enough now and with all the money and hatred backing her up, why throw in the towel.

    Sadly, it just diminishes the Republican brand and divides the party even more.

  2. TDS among the donor class is strong and evidently, not abating much. What is odd though, is that generally speaking, business tycoons are normally pragmatists. And a logical, pragmatic approach to Trump’s inevitable nomination as the Republican nominee is to make amends and support him.

    For instance, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan-Chase, recently had some nice things to say about Trump and made a somewhat tepid endorsement of his candidacy. And Dimon is NO Trump or America-First supporter–just the opposite. Yet he still sees the proverbial hand-writing on the wall. There have been some similar signs that those opposed to a Trump presidency are willing to bury the hatchet rather than continue hostilities, which might not be very good for business should Trump win in November.

    However, Haley represents establishment TDS types; dead-enders with deep pockets and a palpable antipathy for average Americans. So, its hard to say which option Haley–or her donors–will choose. But given the virulence of their TDS, and their lust to destroy this country–and especially the middle class–logical or pragmatic choices don’t seem to be on the menu.

    For the megalomaniacal Ruling Class crowd, its scorched earth or bust.

  3. After New Hampshire, It has become obvious Haley is taking the dead-ender route to destroy Trump’s candidacy at all costs.

    In light of the recently disclosed bribery attempts of Kari Lake (likely by the NRSC), does anyone doubt that Nikki has taken them up on a similar lucrative “agreement”?

  4. Avatar for bhami bhami says:

    A key point to notice is that over 70% of Nikki’s New Hampshire votes were not from registered Republicans.

  5. Avatar for Huey65 Huey65 says:

    Not only is she delusional, but like most politicians, she’s also a narcissist.

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