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The Right Resistance: Smart buyers go short on Nikki Haley’s chances for a 2028 comeback

I know, now that the 2024 Republican race for president has been over for the better part of a week (or, in reality, a lot longer), talking about Nikki Haley is so… yesterday.

But I thought it would be best to allow a few days to pass before presenting what hopefully will turn out to be a more objective look at Haley and what her strengths were this year, realistically assess her legacy and, try and narrow down the plethora of areas where she went wrong. The nastiness of every campaign in the Trump era tends to blur the big picture on the merits or shortcomings of presidential candidates, and the fact that Haley is a woman made things even fuzzier to get a firm grip on what happened.


Regular readers of this column know I am/was not a fan of Nikki’s, likening her to a corporatist establishment Republican who fell in love with power once she learned that her signature could control lots of lives. But Haley does deserve a modicum of credit for being willing to talk about some touchy subjects – government spending in particular – that others were only brushing up against or ignoring entirely.


Haley seemed to do best when she avoided direct confrontations and criticisms of the “men” around her and instead stuck to her spiel regarding her concern for the state of the country. She languished in electoral obscurity for months last year until she finally hit on a subject – abortion, of all things – that enabled her to gain an ounce of separation from the others. Most Republicans call themselves Pro-life, but political realities get in the way of achieving the end goal, to save as many babies’ lives as possible in this intolerant life-squelching contemporary culture of ours.


Unfortunately, Haley appeared to spiral to the bottom as the actual primary voting neared, getting into several notorious verbal scraps with both brainy young upstart Vivek Ramaswamy and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, both of whom were more than happy to point to Nikki’s hypocrisy’s in saying one thing about money in politics and then doing another by groveling to her corporate friends for big contributions.


And who would ever forget Nikki saying, “You’re just scum!” to Ramaswamy… with facial expression to match.


Ramaswamy’s handwritten “NIKKI = CORRUPT” sign at the December Republican (non-Trump) debate pretty much summed up the basis for her candidacy, a stigma that followed her everywhere, unshakable to everyone but the most ardent of MAGA Trump bashers. The Trump-haters in the early states didn’t care what Haley was about – they just wanted someone other than Trump to vote for in the Republican nomination race.


That’s the prize that Haley takes from her over one year campaign for president: she was the final not-Trump candidate standing and will heretofore forever be known as the last Republican to ever officially oppose Trump on the ballot. Whether she can repair the considerable damage to her reputation and simultaneously impress upon conservatives and MAGA voters that she’s for real and come back in 2028 remains to be seen.


Last week, when she finally threw in the towel, Haley had plenty to say. In an article titled “Nikki Haley Ends 2024 Presidential Bid But Does Not Endorse Trump”, Jackson Richman and Samantha Flom reported at The Epoch Times:


“Ms. Haley made the announcement to supporters in Charleston, South Carolina, which is her home state. ‘I am filled with the gratitude for the outpouring of support we’ve received from all across our great country. But the time has now come to suspend my campaign,’ she said. ‘I said I wanted Americans to have their voices heard. I have done that. I have no regrets. And although I will no longer be a candidate, I will not stop using my voice for the things I believe in.’...


“Acknowledging that the former president would likely become the Republican nominee, Ms. Haley congratulated him on the achievement and wished him well, while stopping short of an endorsement. ‘I have always been a conservative Republican and supported the Republican nominee,’ she said. ‘But on this question, as she did on so many others, Margaret Thatcher provided some good advice when she said, ‘Never just follow the crowd. Always make up your own mind.’


“’It is now up to Donald Trump to earn the votes of those in our party and beyond it who did not support him. And I hope he does.’”


Does she really, though? Perhaps, a week later, Haley’s answer could be different, seeing as she’s probably had time to pick the shrapnel from the political shelling she had endured the night before out of her hair and probably has even enjoyed a few more hours of sleep than she was used to up to that point.


But for Haley to refuse to utter the “e” (endorse) word regarding Trump sheds allusions to Ted Cruz’s similar “make up your own mind” words at the 2016 Republican National Convention, though Cruz said to “vote your conscience” instead. As you may recall, Cruz was particularly angry at Trump for the personal nature of that campaign, a real feeling since Ted was still at least within shouting distance of the frontrunner in terms of delegates won.


Haley won more delegates than any other Trump-challenger this year, but she didn’t win nearly enough to give her some semblance of say over how things go at this summer’s convention. Here’s guessing the Trump people will give their okay to giving Nikki a primetime speaking slot – just like they did to Cruz – but couldn’t care less whether Haley uses the chance to promote “unity” or merely stays stubborn and makes a donkey out of herself months down the road.


The cold reality is that Haley doesn’t command much more political power now than she did a year ago. She did well in 2024 – but not that well. And there will be a lot of people who see Nikki as hanging on way longer than she should’ve done, sticking around and saying unkind things about the party’s undisputed frontrunner when everyone else had gracefully exited before they beclowned themselves. Ron DeSantis’s closing remarks should serve as the model for a candidate who wants to bow out gracefully – and leave the door open to future possibilities.


There were a number of commentators, including The Epoch Times’ Roger L. Simon, who’d been urging the not-Trump candidates to leave the campaign and endorse Trump, so as to get a jump start on the post-primary race healing process before things turned really ugly. Trump himself had been arguing the same thing, surmising that voters weren’t about to leave his side when conditions in the country had become so dire under president senile Joe Biden.


Think of the gobs of money that could’ve been saved if only Haley hadn’t listened to the swamp snakes and Trump-hating reptiles who poured poison in her ears and made her believe that she had a legitimate shot to win when in reality she had no solid core of support nor “running lane” to occupy. The fact is, Haley couldn’t commandeer enough Never Trumpers, dying-out Bush establishment Republicans and crossover Democrats to have a shot at winning the nomination.


In the end, Haley only won in Washington DC (the swamp) and Bernie-Sanders-land, Vermont. If I were her, I wouldn’t go around telling people where she beat Trump, just that she had “a couple victories” – and leave it at that. Nikki’s eclectic group of voters didn’t exactly constitute a “base”, because even if she had won, many/most of them probably would’ve gone for Biden in the general election, anyway.


All of this is proverbial water under the bridge for Haley. There certainly must be more than enough people providing her advice on where she goes from here, but one thing is for sure – the Nikki Haley of 2024 has no future in Republican presidential politics without a major, and convincing, overhaul.


Haley ran a campaign more suited for 2008 or 2012 than she did for 2024, and as the always astute Byron York wrote at the Washington Examiner last week, “you can’t go back”.


Why? When you’re out fishing, the old adage is to “go where the fish are.” Well, in politics, it’s kind of fruitless to seek election victories by appealing to small groups of voters who won’t add up to a total that’s sufficient to win something. Haley in particular began her campaign with a broad-based appeal to attract Republicans who may have been worried about Trump’s age, penchant for combat and disdained his perceived fondness for world isolation.


As a result, she sought to compete for some of Trump’s MAGA supporters but also dipped her foot into the establishment lane, one that was being fought over by candidates like Mike Pence and Senator Tim Scott already.


Haley ended up with small blocs of fairly loyal (to someone) voters, but didn’t accumulate the enthusiasm or passion of big groups that could’ve made her viable, something that was visibly frustrating to her. For as much as she said “Politics isn’t personal to me”, it was evident to everyone who watched her that it was. It definitely was.


Nikki’s final arguments in favor of her flailing candidacy were that Trump is unfit to serve and would lose to senile Joe Biden if Republicans didn’t wise-up, quickly, and select her to take his place. But Trump had already been president for four years, did a pretty decent job, and, by appearances, was physically and mentally capable and ready to tack on another four years to his political career.


It wasn’t Haley’s time, and the issues that voters cared about the most weren’t in her corner. What she does from here on out will say a lot as to if she could come back in 2028. Here’s betting, unless she jumps wholeheartedly onto the Trump train now, she doesn’t have a shot. Without it, Nikki’s political career is history.


Time will reveal what happens; but smart buyers wouldn’t do well to go long on Nikki Haley.

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