Haley’s Scorched-Earth Campaign Could Damage Trump

Nikki Haley will not exit the Republican presidential primaries with grace. In fact, she’s not planning to exit at all. 

Nikki Haley’s mission is now to damage Donald Trump as much as possible before the November election. And staying in the race to conduct a scorched-earth campaign against Trump is all she has left.

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“I’m weakening Trump because of who Trump is,” she said in an interview in her home state of South Carolina earlier this week. “Telling the truth in a primary is very important, so that’s what I’m doing.”

Haley doesn’t have a prayer in South Carolina despite calling the Palmetto state home. She trails Trump by 62 points in the latest Morning Consult poll. And 57% of Republicans believe that Haley should call it quits.

But Haley is ignoring all the calls for her to exit.

Wall Street Journal:

Haley has stayed in the GOP nomination race despite the former president’s commanding position and intensifying intraparty pressure for her to get out. The longer Haley highlights Trump’s faults—as she is increasingly doing—and refuses to concede, the greater the potential she might tarnish him among general election swing voters who, polls show, are more drawn to her than him.

The question she has to ask herself is: Who’s paying attention?

She’s disappeared in the polls, getting 25% to 30% all around. And unless you’re a political junkie, you’re not paying much attention to the primary race at this point anyway.

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Even if she thinks she has something important to say about Trump, no one is listening.

What about harming Trump?

“I’m going to win,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “I’m strengthening the party because I bring more people into the Republican Party, instead of pushing people away like Trump.”

It’s a dubious proposition to make that any voters who support her are automatically going to support Trump in the general election. In fact, the opposite is true. In New Hampshire, Haley won 60% of self-described independent voters. Exit polls showed that the anti-Trump vote went overwhelmingly to Haley. There’s no reason to suppose that those voters will vote for Trump in November.

While Haley’s quest for the nomination appears quixotic to some, she is getting enough donor money to keep her in the game as her campaign increasingly embraces an insurgent mentality. “It was venture capital. High probability of waste, small probability of saving the country. I don’t think it was a zero probability,” hedge-fund billionaire Cliff Asness, a Trump critic, said of his financial support for Haley in a post on X

Some close to her doubt she will run again in 2028 and hitting at Trump is unlikely to damage her prospects of making money in Corporate America, if that is her next chapter.

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In other words, what does she have to lose? Rich never-Trumpers keep giving her cash and she’s not hurting her post-politics prospects. And she gets to feed her ego with at least some media coverage.

By any reasonable measure, Nikki Haley should drop out. After her home state voters massively reject her, she may yet pull the plug. But she’s not hurting for money, and who knows? Maybe the polls are right and the bottom falls out of Trump’s support if he’s convicted of a felony leaving Haley as the only viable alternative.

On such thin reeds, human hope takes flight.

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