Trump's struggle for Republican nomination: Nikki Haley's persistence may alter election outcome
Nearly all of Trump's key rivals have bowed out ahead of time, their campaigns barely getting underway before their bids were abandoned and long considered a serious contender. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis left the race after the Iowa convention that kicked off the primary season—the New York Times documented his exit after reportedly spending about 160 million dollars on his failed campaign.
Yet, one contender remains steadfast: Nikki Haley. Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and prior U.S. ambassador to the UN experienced a loss during the first primary in New Hampshire. However, Trump's advantage fell short of a landslide, with only an 11-percentage point lead - considerably less dominating than expected. At the end of February, the politicians will face off in South Carolina's primaries, Haley's home turf. While Trump enjoys a larger lead here than in New Hampshire, Haley doesn't plan to concede the race until at least "Super Tuesday" in early March. This day marks when several states will hold their primaries, collectively choosing over a third of the Republican convention delegates.
Democrats are eager for Haley to stay in the race for as long as possible. Her sustained competition with Trump would hinder his ability to funnel all his resources into his battle with Biden.
A resistance born out of pragmatism, not principles
So, who is Nikki Haley, and what compels her to resist Trump? The daughter of Indian immigrants, she embarked on a political journey after working in her family's clothing business. She rose to prominence in South Carolina's state politics, scaling the Republican ladder to the state legislature. The outgoing Republican governor of the state convinced her to run for his office in 2010, leading to her triumphant election and eventual re-election four years later.
Her political strategy elicited controversy and media attention, making Haley one of the most recognized state politicians in the nation earlier in the last decade. During the 2016 primaries, she supported Florida Senator Marco Rubio, later shifting her support to Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Despite her criticism of Trump and his divisive rhetoric, she did back him once he secured the Republican candidacy. In turn, he appointed her as the ambassador to the UN.
After a brief hiatus from politics, Haley returned to run for the presidency. Her persistence now maintains the balance of the Republican primaries, remaining the sole figure to oppose Trump. This resistance, however, is grounded more in pragmatism than in principle. Haley does not stand against Trump as a defender of American democracy and foundational Republican values.
The former South Carolina governor actively pitches her potential to defeat Biden in elections against Trump's. She often highlights Trump's advancing age (he will be 78 in June) and discusses his supposed cognitive and health concerns.
The clash of old and new populism
Haley doesn’t fit the typical mold, as her current political stand doesn’t cater to mainstream Republican ideologies, especially the Trumpist ethos. Not because she is a centrist or moderately conservative, but as Adam Wren recently postulated in Politico, her difference lies in her association with the pre-Trump era radicalization of the Republican Party.
It was a time when Haley became governor, and the radical Tea Party movement profoundly influenced Republican policies. Critical issues for the right wing included immigration and an excessive budget deficit. They rallied against the federal government’s overreach into the economy and labor unions.
Haley characteristically resonated with this climate. South Carolina, under Haley's leadership, implemented stringent legislation on illegal immigration, which was subsequently declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. She portrayed her state to investors as a haven free from the interference of "union barons."
Despite her views remaining consistent, Republican populism has since evolved. The fixation on budget deficit and the like has been discarded by the Trumpist faction, which now focuses on issues like immigration, opposition to the rights of transgender people, or sex education in public schools. They also notably withstood the wave of fiscal conservatives, a Trump hallmark. His populist economic policy hinged on his portrayal as the sole politician unbound by big business while working for ordinary workers.
As for foreign policy, Haley mirrors the 'Reagan' tradition, endorsing an active, "hawkish" Wall Street policy without hesitation to use force. Although she sees China as America's main rival like Trump, she is unwavering in her stance not to let Russia win the war in Ukraine. She sees Ukraine's continued aid as being in America's national interest.
Conversely, Trump and many Republicans are convinced that they cannot afford to spread their resources and get embroiled in a conflict in Eastern Europe amidst challenges from China. They foresee the need to negotiate with Putin while not attaching grave importance to Ukraine's fate, be it an independent or Western-allied state, in the context of American interests.
What does Haley's campaign mean for Trump?
However, as of now, it doesn’t seem likely that Haley will clinch the Republican nomination. From a regional standpoint, the key question is how much her seemingly doomed campaign can undermine Trump. Is it enough to tip the scales in Biden’s favor during the November election?
Predictions at this stage remain speculative. What is visible, however, is that Trump, unable to declare victory in the Republican race, is visibly frustrated. His harsh attacks on Haley inadvertently ring true to her charges about his emotional control. Their relevance couldn’t be more apparent when negotiating with other global leaders on behalf of the U.S..
A recent performance by Trump suggested confusion between Haley and the former Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. This lapse aligns with Haley's criticism regarding Trump's age and his associated cognitive challenges.
According to American commentators, many voters have forgotten the truth about Trump’s term and the failures that accompanied his presidency. Trump, for the Republican base, appears to be more of an abstract symbol infused with their resentments than a concrete figure. Haley's strategy sharpens the image of the former president, leading him to commit errors and potentially causing some voters to reconsider their support for Trump. Although these numbers aren’t likely to be substantial, they could influence the final election outcome.
An opportunity in disguise?
The question arises: what value does a seemingly losing campaign hold for Haley? One possible motive could be extracting concessions from Trump before making a calculated exit. Nonetheless, an alternate scenario could unfold.
In both the primaries and the subsequent presidential elections, Trump's victories sent shockwaves through the Republican Party, transforming it in his image. However, since Trump moved to the White House, the Republican Party has either lost or won below expectations in all national elections.
If Trump were to lose again this year, the Republican establishment would be compelled to accept their past failure to stand up against him and reconsider their approach. An inevitable discussion about accountability within the party and a call for a fresh start free from Trump’s influence could ensue. Amidst this chaos, Haley could seize the moment to spring the "didn't I tell you" card. A position that could potentially favor her in future high-stake political games.