Will Nikki turn?
To win, Nikki Haley will have to bite the hand that fed her and attack Trump
The Koch network, Americans for Prosperity, in a memo from its AFP Action PAC threw its support behind Nikki Haley, calling her “a candidate who can turn the page and win.” Haley has surged in New Hampshire polling, putting actual daylight between her and the GOP peloton consisting of Chris Christie, Ron DeSantis, and the despicable Vivek Ramaswamy. But she is a galaxy away from leading former President Donald Trump, who is consistently at the mid-40 percent mark where Haley has barely approached 20 percent.
David French posted on Threads:
This is good news--both because Nikki Haley is the best remaining viable GOP candidate and because it signals that the Koch network isn't engaging in purity tests, but rather pragmatic efforts to save our democracy. I like Haley's Reaganite foreign policy. Most libertarians don't love it. So for a more libertarian network to endorse Haley demonstrates they understand the urgency of the moment.
From the 50,000-foot GOP strategy level, French is right. Purity tests only serve to divide the field and keep everyone from rising to challenge Trump, who is immune to such tests and has stayed out of the debates. Not everyone is going to like Haley’s positions on abortion, foreign policy, the border and migrants, and fiscal policy. But on those issues, she’s more-or-less within the guardrails of mainstream Republican thought. Where Haley has a problem is addressing the big orange guy she has to beat, lest she end up as a DeSantis ally acidly observed: “You won the Never Trump primary. Your prize is nothing.”
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Two challenges that Haley must deal with, are her equivocation regarding the seriousness of the events of January 6th, 2021; and her cheerful endorsement of his time in the White House. These together lead many Republican voters to believe Haley is running not for the GOP nomination, but to be Trump’s running mate in the general election. Asking the candidate if she’d take second place on a ticket with Trump would certainly and deservedly bring a dismissal of the question. But Haley refused to answer the simpler one: does she think Trump is a threat to democracy?
New Hampshire teenage political wonk Quinn Mitchell posted on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, that he was “saving his hard questions” and “threw [Haley] an extreme softball line ‘D you think Donald Trump is a danger to democracy?’” at a candidate forum on November 22. He was brusquely whisked away by her staff; Haley never answered the question.
Back in June, Haley told Trump-supporters Buck Sexton and Clay Travis that Trump was “reckless,” but she’d be “inclined” to pardon him of any federal charges if she were president. To add context, the only federal charges Trump faced at the time were for mishandling classified documents. “…I think it would be terrible for the country to have a former president in prison for years because of a documents case,” Haley said.
Trump’s greatest legal threats come at him from state charges, such as Fulton County DA Fani Willis, who this week said she would not offer Trump a plea bargain, as she has with many of the racketeering cases she has brought in Atlanta. But Willis is tied up with another racketeering case involving rapper “Young Thug” that has wormed its way through her office for two years; it’s unlikely Trump will see the defendant’s chair in an Atlanta courtroom before November 2024. Even were Haley to win the presidency, she would have no power to pardon Trump in state cases.
Haley needs to deal with January 6th head-on, which she’s never done. Back in 2022, she was saying that “Republicans ought to stop shooting at Republicans” in response to the RNC’s censure of then-Reps Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. But in 2021, Haley told Politico that she was “disgusted” by the events of January 6th, and “we shouldn’t have followed him.” In May of this year, Haley told an Iowa town hall “It was not a beautiful day, it was a terrible day, and we don’t ever want that to happen again.”
This week, Haley said Trump was “the right president for the right time,” but then added, “I agree with a lot of his policies, but the truth is, rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him,” speaking at a friendly town hall at the campus of the University of South Carolina, her home state which she led as governor before serving as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations.
Those statements lead reasonable people to conclude that Haley is a Trump supporter, and she’s never regretted her access to him or what he did during his term as president. Haley has never really placed the blame for January 6th squarely on Trump’s shoulders—not without qualifying herself. This strategy will not win Haley the GOP nomination. It will perpetually place her behind Trump, and as many think, put her in the running to be on his ticket, which in turn makes it more likely that Trump could indeed win another term.
Does Haley think she could do better than Mike Pence at restraining Trump’s worst instincts? She’s delusional if she thinks a second-term Trump, bent on revenge and control, could be stopped by his Vice President. She’d end up in political Siberia so quickly she’d pass the current Vice President Kamala Harris making her way out.
At some point, soon, before the N.H. primary, Haley needs to make a turn. She needs to, unequivocally, give a full-throated denouncement of Trump, January 6th, and everything that goes with those events. Haley is well-positioned to do this, as she announced her departure from the Trump administration before the events leading to Trump’s first impeachment, and was gone well before the end of his term.
Left-leaning political analysts say that Haley’s leading the “Never Trump” GOP, but that’s not really true. Chris Christie is leading that particular effort. Haley has sidled up to Trump while trying to maintain some kind of distance, which is not only awkward, but also confusing and impossible to maintain. Either Haley will turn on Trump. fully, or she will fade away.
I believe if Haley turns, with her new Koch backers, and some momentum in the polls, she has a decent chance of knocking Trump out of the lead in N.H., and then moving to South Carolina, she could begin to move ahead in a powerful way. If she doesn’t, well, then she might end up on the bottom half of a Trump ticket. That won’t earn my vote, and hopefully, won’t win Trump another term. I’d prefer the first option.
Turn, Nikki, turn.
Brief remarks on Gaza:
Hamas shot at Israeli forces in Gaza on Wednesday, in violation of the ceasefire, then claimed Israel violated the ceasefire. The IDF has acted to stop Palestinians from returning to north Gaza (why would they want to during a war?), which was the biggest sticking point in negotiations for this hostage exchange. Hamas wants to “flood the zone” with civilians to keep Israel from resuming its military operation when the ceasefire ends. Meanwhile, “pressure” builds to rehabilitate Hamas after its inhuman pogrom, such as the U.N. Women retracting their statement condemning the terrorist group. Israel is facing a terrible dilemma, one that was engineered by Hamas, while leftist groups, including the Democratic Party, are “objectively on the side of some of the worst people on earth,” as Bret Stephens opined in the New York Times.