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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

March 7: Haley Doesn’t Understand Her Own Party

Again, I don’t regularly share posts here that are strictly about Republicans, but it’s important that Democrats don’t share Nikki Haley’s misconceptions about the GOP, which I addressed at New York:

After being trounced by Donald Trump on Super Tuesday, Nikki Haley announced on Wednesday morning that she is suspending her presidential campaign. Haley outperformed low expectations in the 2024 race. Initially, she didn’t stand out in a crowded field of candidates who hoped Trump would self-destruct or that Republicans would return to the old-school conservatism of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. But as other candidates (notably Ron DeSantis and her fellow South Carolinian Tim Scott) flailed around in Iowa trying to resurrect archaic strategies for winning the nomination, Haley timed her brief moment in the spotlight well. She survived a demolition derby among non-Trump candidates via strong debate performances and an increasingly explicit appeal to Republicans who cherished their party’s past and dreaded its MAGA future.

But Haley never resolved her perpetually ambiguous attitude toward her vanquisher, promising to support him in the general election even if he’s a convicted felon yet criticizing him in increasingly sharp and personal terms as her own campaign lost steam. The ambiguity continued in her announcement of that campaign’s end; she refused to “endorse” Trump right now but pointedly observed that she has always backed her party’s nominees. Her demand that Trump “earn” the votes of her supporters doesn’t make much sense; half of them are Biden supporters, and the other half want Trump to become somebody else….

So despite her habit of congratulating herself regularly for the courage she has exhibited in promoting her own career, Haley is ending her campaign in a state of strange irresolution. She might have made her peace with Trump earlier and climbed aboard his bandwagon, perhaps even becoming his running mate and heir apparent. Conversely, she seemed to have the money to continue losing to Trump in post–Super Tuesday primaries, for a while at least. And she definitely could have made a very big splash by offering to head up a unity ticket sponsored by the nonpartisan No Labels organization, which may be deciding this very week whether to run a candidate for president. Instead, she’s just going away, surely leaving some of her backers wondering what Haley 2024 was all about.

Perhaps, as David Freedlander’s recent foray into Nikki-land for New York suggests, Haley shares the delusion of some of her core supporters that her campaign represents a righteous remnant of Goldwater-Reagan conservatives who will recapture the Republican Party when the temporary madness of the MAGA movement melts away. It’s often forgotten that Haley originally emerged from the right-wing DeMint-Sanford wing of the South Carolina Republican Party and won her first gubernatorial race as the protégé of Sarah Palin. As she insisted in slapping aside overtures from No Labels, she’s always viewed herself as a “conservative Republican,” not any sort of moderate. And in her brief announcement ending her campaign, she gave shout-outs to the drab agenda of fiscal discipline, term limits, and national-security hawkishness that characterized the conservative movement before Trump came along and blew up “entitlement reform” and “forever wars” as the unpopular causes they undoubtedly are.

Nikki Haley would be well advised to adjust to the evolution of her party or to leave it. Instead, she is suspending her political career along with her campaign, and it’s anybody’s guess if she knows where she is going next.

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