Haley doesn’t want to put up with this crap any more.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The plan for Nikki Haley’s long-shot presidential campaign was to croak Ron DeSantis by finishing ahead of him in Iowa and then getting a mano-a-mano showdown with Donald Trump eight days later in New Hampshire, Haley’s very best state in the whole country (better than her home state of South Carolina with its powerful MAGA presence).
But unfortunately for Haley, Iowa caucusgoers did not go along with the plan. DeSantis finished ahead of Haley there, and while the Floridian has no discernible path to the nomination, he will grimly persist until the money totally runs out. In a GOP competition that has all along depended on magical thinking about Trump self-destructing, why not imagine that Trump and Haley will both self-destruct, allowing DeSantis to rise again?
With nothing better to do, in fact, DeSantis was almost certainly depending on two scheduled debates in New Hampshire (one from CNN, the other from ABC and WMUR) to continue the attacks on Haley he tried out (with some success) in CNN’s Iowa debate. But Haley has now put the kibosh on that tactic by refusing to participate in either debate, forcing their cancellation. Her stated reason for dodging these encounters is that Trump won’t be there. But that obviously didn’t keep her from taking the stage in five previous debates. So the whole maneuver by Haley is based on her caucus-night claims in Iowa, which Politico described as an effort to spin adverse results:
Nikki Haley came out to her caucus night event in a not-quite full ballroom at the West Des Moines Marriott, having finished slightly behind Ron DeSantis. It was not the night that her allies were hoping for. But she spun it forward.
Haley congratulated Trump on his win, and announced she is heading to New Hampshire tonight. She claimed that her close third-place result had made the campaign a head-to-head race with Trump.
To be sure, DeSantis, having put all his resources into Iowa only to run 30 points behind Trump, isn’t much of a presence in New Hampshire. In the RealClearPolitics polling averages for the Granite State, he’s at 5.8 percent, trailing Vivek Ramaswamy, who dropped out of the race on caucus night in Iowa and endorsed Trump. Indeed, DeSantis is so weak there that it’s unclear that it would have benefited Haley had he dropped out. The first post-Iowa survey of New Hampshire, a tracking poll from Boston Globe/Suffolk, shows Haley at 34 percent trailing Trump at 50 percent, with DeSantis at 5 percent. The odds are good that Trump would win a majority of DeSantis voters if he did pack it in. So Haley pretending that DeSantis has disappeared is less about winning over his bitter-end supporters than about depicting herself as the last Trump rival standing, a posture that guarantees her maximum media coverage and Never Trump adulation. Besides, what does she have to gain by debating a zombie rival who is very likely to go after her with a tire iron as a flip-flopping RINO globalist squish?
Said zombie rival is reportedly himself ignoring New Hampshire and devoting what’s left of his once-formidable resources to South Carolina. It’s a state where he’s at least in double digits (11 percent, per RCP) in the polling averages and where he has over a month to exploit Haley’s weaknesses on her home turf while basically waiting for some miraculous calamity to strike both his rivals. He’s clearly not ready to return to misgoverning Florida just yet.
If Haley can’t beat or at least get really close to Trump in New Hampshire, her candidacy will likely be buried in the state that she left to become Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations on what everyone understood was a planned trajectory toward the White House itself. At that point we’ll find out once and for all if her Plan B (or perhaps even Plan A given the improbability of her presidential candidacy) is to seek a spot on Trump’s presidential ticket, and whether the putative nominee can stop calling her “Bird Brain” long enough to make her his sidekick and possible successor. But any way you look at it, Ron DeSantis has no reason to be in the race according to Nikki Haley.