Nikki Haley’s Campaign Faces Trump Win in South Carolina Showdown

By the time you read this, Nikki Haley will be toast in South Carolina. She will lose by double digits, though the psephologists differ about the number that Trump’s victory will begin with.  Most say 2 (as in 20 points), though some say 3 or even 4.  A few spoilsports, looking at some very recent prognostications that show Trump’s margin diminishing in the Palmetto state, predict that Trump’s victory will be a two digit number beginning with 1 (as in 17). “Trump’s average lead in today’s South Carolina primary remains substantial, although it’s down from 34 points (Feb. 5-11) to 23 points now.”  Why?  The poll adduces Haley’s massive spending in her home state, her attacks, and negative news stories about Trump.  Also important are independents, who favor Haley 53-46, and—you guessed it—Democrats intending to vote in the GOP primary, who favor Haley by a factor of 79-16.

Of course, they do. Trump is a looming extinction event for Democrats, anti-Trump Republicans, and the deep state.  I know no more than you, Dear Reader, but if I had a spare dart to toss at the target, I’d predict Trump’s victory in South Carolina will be somewhere close to 30 points—25, say, or 28.  If you get up very early, you may know before I do whether I am right.

But whatever the number, we can begin rehearsing the goodbye, so long, farewell chorus for Nikki Haley.  Not that anyone expects her to bow out gracefully, as did Vivek Ramaswamy after Iowa and Ron DeSantis just before New Hampshire.  They both had the good of the party as well as the good of the country in mind. (Doubtless, they also had their future political prospects in mind.) They understood that they themselves had no path to victory in 2024. They understood further that four more years of Biden, or indeed any likely Democratic candidate, would be disastrous for the country. And so, whatever misgivings or resentments they might harbor about Donald Trump, they threw their weight, which means their votes, behind the man who is all but certain to be the GOP nominee.

Haley, on the contrary, has vowed to stay in the race for the duration.  How long is that? Probably as long as she has money. Big faux conservatives like the Kochs have been supporting her, as have Democratic activists like the egregious Reid Hoffman, who also bankrolled E. Jean Carroll’s preposterous defamation suit against Donald Trump. Which means that Haley’s army of consultants will be earnestly advising her to “stay the course” since once she closes up shop, their paychecks will stop.

The commentator Frank Miele, writing about “The Curious Case of Nikki Haley” at RealClearPolitics, suggests a couple additional reasons that Haley may choose to stay in the race, even though she has essentially no chance of grabbing the nomination.  For one thing, in order to qualify for the GOP debates, she had to pledge to support whomever the party finally settles upon as its nominee. “I affirm,” she said with the other debaters, “that if I do not win the 2024 Republican nomination for President of the United States, I will honor the will of the primary voters and support the Republican presidential nominee in order to save our country and beat Joe Biden.”

Will she honor that pledge?  Who knows.  But the longer she stays in the race, the longer she can postpone that day of reckoning.  And the longer she stays in the race, the longer she can tell herself that she is politically relevant.

Miele’s column is quietly devastating.  He lists some of the many things Haley has lied about—charging that Trump plans a 10 percent across-the-board tax increase, for example—and he puts his finger on the larger political dynamics standing behind Haley, Inc.  She has become increasingly strident about her former boss—remember, she was once Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations—and the longer she persists with her campaign, the longer she can “say anything she wants about Trump, no matter how destructive, and justify it as the rough-and-tumble of politics.”

Haley’s name-calling and fabrications do not really harm Trump, though they provide fodder for the anti-Trump media.  And they give a pleasing frisson to donors, mostly Democrats, in fact or in effect, who are happy to keep writing checks not, as Miele notes, because they think it will help Haley—she is finished—but because they hope, mistakenly, that it will hurt Trump.

Indeed, Miele points out that, over the last couple of months, Haley has become increasingly hysterical and reckless.  We have, he says, been given a picture of Haley, who is “either a shameless narcissist or a purposeful saboteur who aims to destroy not just Trump but the very Republican Party that adores him.”  I would add that those alternatives are not mutually exclusive.  Miele raises the possibility that she is acting for some higher purpose than party loyalty.  But some people said that about disgraced former FBI director James “Higher Loyalty” Comey, too.  They were wrong about that shameless narcissist.

In any event, I think Miele is right.  The party ought to “spew [out Haley] before she does any further damage.” It’s almost, he says, “as though she’s become a stalking horse for Biden, trying out various lines of attack that might be useful for the current president against Trump in the fall campaign.”

Keep that in mind as the campaign unfolds. Who knows? Given Biden’s manifest infirmity and the lack of plausible alternative Democratic candidates, perhaps Haley will take the ultimate next step.  She has no chance of winning the GOP nomination. Miele notes that and remarks, “She might have a better chance of winning the Democratic nomination at this point.” He said that in jest. But given the surreal character of American politics at the moment, Haley’s defection would be a disgusting but not surprising contingency.

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