QUAY: Nikki Haley Can’t Win The GOP Primary. So Why’s She Running?

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Grayson Quay News Editor
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Nikki Haley plans to announce a presidential bid on Feb. 15, according to reports

The former two-term South Carolina governor, who also served as President Donald Trump’s first United Nations ambassador, has no chance of winning. Morning Consult shows her polling at three percent in the Republican primary, tied with former Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney. Meanwhile, Trump continues to dominate the field with 48 percent.

So, why is she running?

There are basically three possibilities: she thinks she can win, she’s in cahoots with Trump or she’s angling to make a deal.

1. She thinks she can win

The 2024 primaries are still a long way off, and Haley has come from behind before. In 2010, when she won her first term as South Carolina governor, she was polling in last place until just weeks before the GOP primary. 

Her path to victory is narrow, but it does exist. She would probably need Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, widely considered the biggest threat to Trump, to stay out of the race. She’d also want former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to decide against running. The three have virtually the same brand positioning: Trump ally who’s not afraid to criticize him when necessary. 

The former president has a lock on about a third of the GOP primary electorate. The rest of the party, however, is willing to at least consider someone else. By presenting herself as substantively Trumpian in her policies but more clear-headed and electable, Haley could seize a wide swath of those voters.

It might also help her if a few anti-Trumpers, like Cheney or former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, jumped into the race. They’d remain permanently stuck at one percent, while giving Haley a way of deflecting attempts to paint her as the “establishment” or “RINO” candidate.

Even if DeSantis and Pence do run, Haley still has a shot. All three candidates (four if you count Pompeo) would have a vested interest in narrowing the field as quickly as possible. Haley’s native South Carolina is the third state to hold a GOP primary. With a win there, Haley might be able to convince the others that she has the best chance of beating Trump.

It’s a loooooooooong shot, but it’s a shot.

2. She’s working with Trump

During a Saturday campaign stop in South Carolina, Trump revealed that he had given Haley his blessing to seek the presidency. “I talked to her for a little while. I said, ‘Look, you know, go by your heart if you want to run,'” Trump told reporters

“She should definitely run!” he added in a Truth Social post Wednesday.

It’s possible Trump is egging her on because he knows she’d strip votes from DeSantis. Trump operatives admitted in December that they’re wary of a one-on-one against the Florida governor but optimistic about Trump’s chances in a crowded field. “Basically, we’re praying Nikki Haley runs,” one operative said.

If that’s the case, though, Trump’s exhortations sound somewhat out of character for him. The Trump we all know and (may or may not) love tends to lash out at any perceived disloyalty. It’s almost as if he knows she has no desire to seriously challenge him. (RELATED: ‘What Is Her Real Name?’: Hostin Accuses Nikki Haley Of Hiding Real Name For Political Purposes)

Trump confirmed in March that he has no plans to run alongside Mike Pence for a third time. That means he’s in the market for a new VP. Haley would be a good fit, and it’s possible the two have already struck a deal:

Haley stays in the race, wins over some Trump-weary Republicans, attacks the former president’s opponents on the debate stage and leeches support from DeSantis, all while building her own national profile. Then, once Trump is the presumptive nominee, she drops out and endorses him. A few months later, he adds her to the ticket, and she proves to be far more of an asset than if she’d never run.


3. She wants to make a deal

A final possibility to consider is that Haley knows she can’t win, but is confident in her ability to snatch up enough primary delegates to turn herself into an indispensable ally. 

Imagine this scenario: Trump wins Iowa and DeSantis takes New Hampshire. Haley places fourth in both contests behind Pence. These contests allocate delegates proportionally, so let’s say the two frontrunners each have about 20 with Haley and Pence at five or six apiece.

Then comes South Carolina, the country’s first winner-take-all primary. If this favored daughter candidate could pull off a repeat of John Kasich’s 2016 victory in Ohio, she suddenly takes the lead with over 50 delegates. Even if, like Kasich, she were unable to replicate her success elsewhere, she’d still have a good-sized stack of bargaining chips in front of her. (RELATED: Nikki Haley Sets Date To Announce 2024 Presidential Bid)

Those 50+ delegates could end up deciding the nominee if Trump and DeSantis end up in a brokered convention. In that case, Haley could buy herself whatever position she wanted, up to and including the vice presidency.

Even if Democrats held onto the White House in 2024, a victory in the South Carolina primary would keep Haley relevant in GOP politics, holding the door open for future opportunities.

Grayson Quay is an editor at the Daily Caller.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.