Nikki Haley’s Strategies?

Victor Davis Hanson
American Greatness


Nikki Haley just lost the New Hampshire primary by 11 percent.

She had earlier come in third in the recent Iowa caucuses behind Ron DeSantis.

But DeSantis, not she, dropped out of the race. He then endorsed front-runner Donald Trump.

By contrast, Haley confidently announced that at last there was a two-person, head-to-head race. So she confidently headed to New Hampshire.

Her subtext was that if she did not win the upcoming two-person primaries, she would come in “second” rather than “last.”

Her supporters outspent all the candidates in Iowa and would do so again in New Hampshire. Haley consolidated the Never-Trump voters, won Independents and cross-over Democrats, and garnered millions from the donor class exasperated at the thought of a third Trump candidacy.

Moreover, nearly half of those who voted in the Republican primary were not themselves Republicans. New Hampshire was the most Haley-friendly primary in the entire campaign season.

Yet after coming in last in the three-person Iowa race with 19 percent of the vote, she still lost by 11 points in a New England state more reflective of a traditional Romney or Bush voter than of a Trump supporter.

Trump has now won the first two primaries by large majorities. As he reminds us, no Republican in recent history has lost the nomination after winning Iowa and New Hampshire.

So what is Haley’s strategy ahead?

In the short term, she will cede to Trump the Nevada caucuses and focus on her home state of South Carolina.

But then what?

Ron DeSantis wisely got out of the race and endorsed Trump because he did not wish to lose in New Hampshire. And he correctly surmised that he will be a frontline candidate in 2028, with a now-supportive Trump.

By contrast, Haley, after losing Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, may lose her native state even more dramatically, despite her longed-for head-to-head race with Trump.

Will Haley thereby tarnish her long-term political viability?

Who knows? But party pressure will only increase for her to drop out, seek unity in the party, and consolidate finite Republican donor funds behind Trump.

In sum, Haley now has four choices.

First, she can exit, endorse Trump, promise to campaign for him with Independents and cross-over voters, and expect an offer of a cabinet position or ambassadorship as she prepares to run again in 2028.

Or second, Haley can campaign even harder. She can raise lots more Never-Trump money and mimic George H.W. Bush’s second-place, year-long candidacy of 1980.

Even when losing, Bush tempered his attacks on front-runner Ronald Reagan. Meanwhile, he proved himself an adroit campaigner, consolidating a coalition of anti-Reagan establishment Republicans and independents in the primaries.

The advantages of Bush’s hard campaigning and appeal to centrists finally impressed Reagan realists.

Bush himself won over a hesitant Reagan to the once unthinkable idea of putting the aristocratic blue blood on the ticket as a balance to the supposedly hard-right Reagan.

The ensuing Reagan-Bush ticket smashed the incumbent Jimmy Carter.

Eight years later, Bush himself was rewarded by being nominated without much opposition in the primaries, endorsed by President Reagan, and winning the presidency in 1988.

Haley might do the same, moderating her attacks on front-runner Trump as she plays the noble opponent for a few more primaries.

That way, she might angle for the Vice President nomination, promising to deliver millions of centrist voters.

Such service would also boost her profile in a final four-year Trump administration and position her well for 2028.

Or third, Haley can limp about for a few more primaries, haphazardly campaign, and slowly fizzle out. That rope-a-dope strategy would be to remain a “backup” candidate.

An inert Haley would serve as the only remaining Republican alternative to Trump—on the chance he might be convicted and jailed and thus either be unable to actively campaign or wounded as the first felon to run as a major party candidate.

Or fourth, Haley can go the full-bore, dead-ender route.

She would ratchet up her harsh attacks on Trump’s age and emulate the 2016 Never Trump nihilism.

Haley could not win. But she could hurt Trump in the manner that the Never Trump vote wounded Trump in 2016 and might even have helped defeat him in 2020.

Haley would win accolades from the media, be canonized (for a while) by Democrats and Never Trumpers as a brave maverick speaking truth to power—and essentially blow up her political career.

Choice one, the Ron DeSantis route, is the most logical. But Haley might well choose the riskier options two and three of staying in the race.

Option four would end her career, delight an ailing Biden campaign, and could give the country more of the 2021-24 madness rather than a return to what worked in 2017-20.


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52 thoughts on “Nikki Haley’s Strategies?”

  1. Same ole, same ole…Haley will do what’s in her own self-interest, plus enrich herself in the process. Meanwhile, she appears desperately mediocre, pulling out all the stops to garner attention.

    1. As one of Haley’s “handlers$”, at 50$/month until the convention, and no $ and no MORE votes for Trump, after 4 in primaries and general elections, I disagree with all “Never-Nikki” voices.

      The real issue here is “compromise” between left and right. “Bipartisan” is only been an evil word for a few years. However, compromise, which is required in an intensely Partisan Landscape, has served us well for most of our history. Trump is opposed to “compromise” and “bipartisan leanings” in politics, in culture, in life. Haley is not.

      There are many things on which Haley will not compromise. In contrast, Trump will not compromise on ANYTHING.

      Since I am on record as giving to Haley, Trump has barred me from belonging to anything MAGA. Also barred, are all Haley’s supporters. Look at her rallies. “FatCats?” Not hardly. At $50/month, I am one of the BIG donors, and she has many millions. Many of us are now, for the first time, Never-Trump/Never-Biden voters.

      There now is really only 3 candidates for POTUS 24: Trump, Biden and Haley. One of them will be elected.

      Biden cannot win. except (maybe) against Trump.
      Trump cannot win without Haley supporters, who include most all Independents, and he will no longer get them.
      If Haley gets the nomination, she will win. She will not accept VP, nor will her supporters.

      The Republican primary will decide the next President. Strange, not illegal and not required by law, but true nonetheless.

  2. Strategy
    Enjoy exposure
    Spend Tons of money
    Keep as much as possible
    Try to damage Trump
    Hope for a gravy job with a lefty organization as a reward

    1. Or be rewarded with a leftist Ivy League university professorship
      I’m intrigued by your “5th option”, one that VDH did not consider. Another option would be to take the angle Trey Gowdy took, a low-profile Fox News talking head show. Money is money, after all.
      Enjoyed your comment.

  3. “…could give the country more of the 2021-24 madness ”
    – Biden and co. has been diabolical, treasonous, and downright evil!

    1. You are so wrong that your guess HAS to have a purpose, which is to denigrate Nikki Haley.

      (At 7=out=of-7) In the unlikely event she is nominated (8/8), she will be the next President (9/9).
      In the likely event that Trump is nominated, he will lose to Biden (1/2), by a small margin, no matter what Haley does.

      In NO Case, would Trump offer Nikki the VP spot.
      In No case would Haley accept the VP spot if offered..

      Too much water under the bridge for that.

  4. For me, I don’t wanna hear a woman’s voice running this nation and certainly not one that trolls for the lefts votes.

  5. James E. Kearney

    “or third …”

    Oh yeah, we’re still counting. Sorry, all the Powerpoint bullets over the years seem to have shot down my attention span for listy arguments.

    She should run for the Senate against Lindsay Graham. Either way, we’ll be rid of one of them.

  6. Which will it be Nikki? She seems to be doubling down and unrealistically calling her loss “second place.” What she doesn’t realize is that she is alienating the conservatives voters. If she was wise Nikki would follow Ron DeSantis lead and look towards the future. Time will tell if she is wise.

  7. It is probably worth it for Haley to stay in so long as the money holds out. She has raised her national profile, and it is widely favorable. Her prospects, as well as those of DeSantis, always depended on something knocking Trump out, whether health, legal issues or Melania’s objections. It wasn’t a bad bet though the odds have now become very much against her and appear to become more so each passing day, but it could still happen. Why would anyone be opposed to seeing how SC goes? Some number of Republicans and conservatives, probably 35-45%, prefer someone other than Trump. They’re entitled to the chance to have their say.

    As for becoming Trump’s VP, that would be a foolish move. No one enters Trump’s inner circle without coming out tarnished. He demands obsequience on the part of his underlings and no one, not even Trump, respects a sycophant. Being Trump’s VP did Pence no good at all.

  8. Adrienne Wasserman

    One commentator remarked that Florida had several devastating hurricanes, deSantis handled them as well as could be asked of a Governor. Therefore, deSantis is a reasonable choice to lead. Nikki Haley, although I find her personally appealing as a senior woman, was not an overwhelmingly popular governor, and is about to lose in her home state to Donald Trump by a huge margin of voters; voters who know her record in their own state. No Presidential candidate who cares about America can choose the Vice Presidential candidate on the basis of politics; the chances are reasonably high for decades now that the VP candidate will either assume the Presidency or run for it in the future.

  9. I think it’s time to retire the now successfully demonized “MAGA” and roll out “MANA” – “Make America Normal Again”. I’m sure the marxist dims will try to demonize that too, but they’ll have a harder time of I think. And the Biblical connection will not go unnoticed…

  10. Jack Swertfager

    My hope is that Nikki will choose option two, and that Trump will see the wisdom of selecting her as his VP nominee. President Trump will be a lame duck president. Nikki could easily run for Pres in 2028 and (perhaps) ensure a 12-year Republican presidency.

  11. Not sure option 3 is viable for Haley since the calls for her to drop out now are loud and getting much louder. Should she limp through SC, which pollsters say she will lose by double digits, the Trump base will never support her.
    If the imposter prosecutors do arrange a jury to imprison Trump, after he is nominated, Trump surrogates, Vivek, DeSantis, Scott, Carson, etc will take up the mantle of the campaign, not putting themselves out there but promoting Trump. Haley becomes the unviable candidate.
    It may be possible one, or more, of those surrogates unsuspend their campaign but they would also lose the MAGA base thus become unelectable in the general. Only Trump can win in Nov against whoever the democrats put forward.

    As for option #2, Haley vying for a VP position; not much of a chance after NH. Trump can be forgiving but he does remember the slights. He may be magnanimous in his rhetoric but Haley’s donor base is all Never Trumpers or democrats and he will not allow her into his inner circle.
    After listening to your interview with Kash Patel, I still believe he is the secret weapon Trump needs to help clear out the DC cesspool, making him my bet to be VP.

  12. It’s not often that I disagree with VDH, but I do here. Firstly, I think that DeSantis has ruined any possible chance of a federal position or a run in 2028. Too many people were aware of his funders and backers (swamp), why he left Congress in 2018, his voting record while he was there, and the manipulation that eventually and funding that supported his 2024 run. IMHO, he’s finished federally. With regard to Haley, her campaign manager has stated that the following primaries are open ones, basically indicating that Haley will be relying on Independents, Democrats and Never Trumpers for her showing in those primaries. This strategy did not work in New Hampshire. And one has to assume (or at least hope) that Trump will be less naive in his political picks, in 2024. I find it unlikely that Haley, even if she finally endorses Trump, will be put in any position in his government. We have seen the plethora of Trump ‘backstabbers’ coming out of the woodwork after 2020….Pompeo, Barr, Milley, etc., etc. Haley is no different.

  13. What does it matter what her strategy is. Every day Trump is above ground and breathing air is a good day for Democrats. If so-called “conservatives” could ever figure this out, we can go back to beating Democrats in elections rather than helping them win elections. How many more easily winnable elections must we lose before this sinks in?

  14. The purpose of a primary is to allow the various political parties to nominate the candidates of their choice so that the winner in their party can participate in the following general election.

    That clearly is not what happened in NH. Why recognize this exercise as nothing more than a Democrat-produced charade?

    First, in a deep blue state, the election had 3x more voters participating in the R than the D primaries. Does that sound just a bit fishy? Nobody mentions the obvious.

    Second, Trump had 70% R and 27% I voters. Haley had 70% I and 27% R. That’s in a supposed R primary. How many D voters switched to I or R prior to the election for the purpose of having a “protest’ vote against Trump? Impossible to know, but there is indisputable evidence (post election interviews) that many voted with this specific purpose in mind.

    So we have a mix of “sincere” votes versus “protest” votes, all made possible by NH’s fluid party-changing and voting rules. Yet we are mixing them together as if they are all the same. That is stupid. We are being gamed once again. You are an idiot if you fell for it.

    T won 70% of the R’s. H won 30% of the R’s. T won by 40%, not 11%.

    Or, assume that at least half of H’s votes were “fake-switcher” protest votes. In that case, Trump won by at least 35%, possibly much more.

    Not a mere 11%.

    This is obvious, smart reader, isn’t it?

    Follow the money. It is going out the R’s back door.

    265 words, 1440 chars.


    Much depends on how completely Haley has been co-oped by her backers. The Never-Trump Republicans are to an unknown degree allied with the radical Democrats. They gain power and prestige in the elite-focused top-down authoritarian US that the Democrats seem to want to create and that Trump stands directly in the way of.

    If Haley’s relationship with her backers is merely mutual allies of convenience, options 1-3 are open to her. If she has thrown in with her backers, she will go down in a blaze of glory and try to take Trump with her. She can run again once populism in the US calms down, as it did after the Tea Party movement.

    1. She HAS “thrown in” with her supporters. Actually, her supporters HAVE “thrown in” with Nikki Haley. And few of them would grudgingly throw in with Trump after the conventions are over. Trump says he doesn’t want them anyway.

      She WILL be nominated, or “sit it out”. She is not a “bird-brain”, as Trump says, and will NOT “try to take Trump” down.

      But it is WAY too much to expect her or her supporters to support TRUMP. He should have known that and probably did. Trump’s first problem is to get nominated. He counts on Biden to get him elected; too late for that in my opinion. He should have thought of that before choosing his UN Ambassador, or attacking her later. But he wasn’t as smart as he thought he was, and he will pay the price in the Republican convention, or in the general election.

      When she was in the cabinet, she saw Trump “up close and personal”. She didn’t declare for POTUS because she is a skilled politician, but because, as a patriot, she HAD to. That is the case with her supporters, also. Yes, there ARE patriotic Independents, and Democrats, and they ARE NOT going to vote for Trump,….. just sayin’.

  16. Reminds me of the scorpion getting the frog to carry it across the river, convincing frog that it would not kill him and drown them both. Half way across Scorpion stings frog, and frog asks why, because they are both going under. Scorpion replies, because I am a scorpion and that’s what I do.

    Haley, truly is a scorpion. While ambassador she snuck past the chief of staff to petition Trump to depose Pence and put her on the ticket. She is cunning, driven, etc. while Trump may have similar qualities, the disenfranchised feel more connected to him than anyone else.

  17. How much Confidence do you have that the Deep State, the Swamp the Establishment Class whatever you want to call them won’t rig the Election? They’ve failed at every attempt to keep him from running and now going so far as to keep him off the ballot if possible and nothing has worked.

  18. I understand that Haley wants to see if she can win in SC., but second place is her cue to step aside and help the Republican Party unite under Trump and aim at achieving the White House and Senate Majority also

  19. I remain baffled at how VDH can be so deeply wise and insightful can justify being a shill for Trump, after all these years. Trump faces a number of hurdles — the need to be involved in his indictments,, the near impossibility of enticing many independents to vote for him, and to fight the signs of increasing cognitive impairment, and the lingering burden of his name-calling and unending abuse of those who worked for him for years including John Bolton, Mike Pence, Elaine Chao, and now Nikki Haley. He CANNOT stop playground-level name-calling. His antics are so unpresidential and unnecessary. VDH, he cannot change and will not change. His elevation to Presidency would be a disaster for our country.

    1. What’s this?

      An MSNBC editorial by Joy Reid?

      Nice use of Never-Trumper buzz words. You covered just about all of them. Hard to do in one short paragraph.

      I agree that he does do mean tweets. Really sorry about that.

      “Elevation to Presidency” not required. Been there, done that. No altitude adjustment needed.

  20. Sullivan Augustine

    I voted for DJT in 2016. And I believe he received a very raw deal from academia, the media, and the bureaucracies. But his behavior has gone over the top. I don’t believe he will try, or be able, to alter the fundamental system and establish some sort of strong man situation, but I believe any administration he puts together will be chaotic.

    I’ve voted for every Republican nominee since 1972, but I won’t vote for DJT this year, pretty much regardless of who else is on the ballot.

    1. He will win handily without your vote. If he makes it to the finish line.

      Trump has sustained unprovoked attacks by the establishment (both sides) since before the beginning. We have caught these actors openly lying and fabricating on many occasions. You should keep that in mind.

      Trump is certainly associated with chaos. But it is not of his direct making. It’s the reaction of hair-on—fire lefties and their serial lying that causes the excess noise. By continually and loudly producing a ruckus, their aim is to have at least some of the gullible public think it is Trump’s fault.

      It appears that they have succeeded in at least changing a few minds.

      Congrats! I’m sorry you fell for it. But if you are a troll, that’s ok, too.

    2. Many other Americans agree with you. I will not vote for Trump to stop Biden, because the electorate nominated them. If Nikki Haley is NOT nominated, then I will not vote in November, the first time since I did vote overseas in November 1968 during a 3-year enlistment as a private.

  21. Five, she sticks around. At the end loses but is able to get a position over at CNN or MSNBC as a political commentator. No wait, that’s what Chris Christy was hoping for.

  22. Biden’s priest is a JESUIT
    Trudeau isa JESUIT
    Newsom is a JESUIT

    The evil Catholic church is bringing in the ILLEGALS

    I do not like the reappearance of the Jesuits…. Shall we not have regular swarms of them here, in as many disguises as only a king of the gipsies can assume, dressed as printers, publishers, writers and schoolmasters? If ever there was a body of men who merited damnation on earth and in Hell, it is this society of Loyola’s. Nevertheless, we are compelled by our system of religious toleration to offer them an asylum. – John Adams

  23. Pepe Sobreruedas

    Victor, Victor, Victor…your usual calm and rational approach underestimates tricky Nikki is more ambitious than Lucifer…She’ll party until the money runs out…

  24. Pepe Sobreruedas

    I get your drift Jim but maybe if you had been Jesuit educated you could’ve cleaned up your message for clarity: You meant to say Trudeau and Newsom are Jesuit educated? They’re certainly not members of the Society of Jesus…And if you’re going to credit a quote to Unitarian John Adams, at least use quotes…

  25. Trump will lose in November, his polling numbers against Biden are within the margin of error. Biden is not fit and will not be the Democrat nominee. Either Newsom of Whitmer or someone else will be the nominee and easily defeat Trump with the help of the media. Haley’s future will depend on how thirsty the GOP is willing to win the popular vote. Trump’s performance in New Hampshire shows that he is a sore winner and will further alienate suburban women.

    1. Trump may not get the nomination, and certainly will not run without the nomination, so maybe he will neither win nor lose in November. I agree, if nominated, he will lose, even if it means that Biden wins.

      That leaves Nikki Haley as a possibility. Unlikely to be nominated, but if nominated, a sure winner. There is little”Anti-Nikki” sentiment, except among some Trump fans. There is a LOT of anti-Trump sentiment, everywhere. Trump has now added many pro-Nikki fans to the NEVER Trump group, in his infinite wisdom (sarc).

      In America, if you do not like EITHER of the candidates, then by tradition you vote for the “least worse”.
      But in that case, as with the Dems in 2016, tradition ALSO allows you to NOT VOTE for anyone.
      Of course, some will vote for Independent JFK jr., but those votes will mostly come from Dems and Republicans equally, and only because they think it is their “civic duty” to vote.

      So the Republican convention decides who will be the next POTUS: Haley over whoever, or whoever over Trump.

      It is a LOT safer to go with Haley. If she gets the Republican nomination, she. and we, get the White House. If she DOES NOT get the nomination, then “whoever” gets the White House. Whoever will might be JFK Jr, or it might be Biden, although he is the first choice of NOBODY.

  26. I always enjoy Professor Hanson’s articles as well as his podcasts. I also like going back through the comments others have regarding the same.
    This one in particular was enlightening if not enjoyable in that there is a diverse group commenting. Some like Trump while others outright hate him. Some comment that VDH is too harsh on Trump and others say the professor should stop shilling for Trump.
    I admit to being a supporter and I find it difficult to accept those who state that Trump will be a disaster should he be reelected. Can anyone name what disasters struck the USA, other than the Black Swan of COVID; during the Trump presidency. 2017-2019 were pretty decent years for the nation. Did not Trump begin winding down the 20 year wars the nation was so tired of? How many missiles did little rocket man fire off at the US, South Korea or Japan. What was the cost to fill up your tank, to heat your home and what was the grocery bills? If anyone can say things are better under Biden they must be in the top 2% of income earners or have great wealth and killing it in the stock market.
    Give me mean tweets and the Trump economy anytime!

    1. Jeffery Lynn, that was Jan 2017 to Jan 2021; this is about the Republican nomination in 2024. So it is between Haley and Trump. I am a conservative Nikki supporter. After Trump’s recent comments about Haley, I am also a conservative “Never Trump/Never Biden/Never JFK Jr.” voter. Not voting in November makes more sense to me than voting against Biden. If the Republican voters want to risk Biden to MAYBE getting the very damaged Trump, so be it.

      “Let those with eyes see”. “Let those with ears hear”.

  27. Nikki Haley will go path 4. VDH thinks that would be stupid. Sure, she might be destroyed forever. She is a politician, and a smart one. So she is doing it for some other reason. I think she thinks Trump would be a disaster for the type of America that she wants. When she says “chaos” I hear “extreme partisanship”. To that extent she is correct.

    By the way, I have a few anti-Trump comments waiting for moderation for hours now.

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