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What Nikki Haley Is Really Doing

OMG, what if that vicious minx threatens to run as an independant and spoils everything? Maybe she'll be the first VP...sorry the first lady position is taken.

Then she waits four short years and is shoe in for either Belleview or the Presidency. Having to listen to the Dark Lord daily, it's probably the former.

What Nikki Haley Is Really Doing

Challenger to Trump has no path to victory, but her fans don’t care: ‘It’s like a lottery ticket’

By Molly Ball, WSJ

Feb. 26, 2024 9:00 am ET

What is Nikki Haley doing? The answer is clear enough: demonstrating the inconvenient fact that a sizable portion of the Republican primary electorate isn’t on board with another Donald Trump nomination, no matter how inevitable it seems.

She did it again in Saturday’s South Carolina primary, which saw the former United Nations ambassador trounced by 20 points in her home state—yet still notching 40% of the vote, a remarkable showing for a candidate with no plausible path to victory. “40% is not some tiny group,” she told her supporters after the results came in as she vowed to fight on in the next batch of contests on the calendar. “There are huge numbers of voters in our Republican primaries who are saying they want an alternative.”

Unfortunately for Haley, many of the voters backing her in primaries haven’t been Republicans, and her level of support among GOP voters is nowhere near enough to derail Trump’s march to the nomination. There might not be an endgame for her, but there is a market. Donors have proved impressively willing to continue throwing money away: Her campaign last month outraised Trump’s, powered by large donations from wealthy capitalists. (The conservative Americans for Prosperity Action network, however, told its staff Sunday it would stop funding efforts on her behalf.)

Former President Donald Trump defeated Nikki Haley in the South Carolina Republican primary on Saturday, leading with a 20-point win. WSJ’s Senior Political Correspondent Molly Ball breaks down how Trump’s win in Haley’s home state impacts the rest of the race.

And there is an audience: Haley has a vocal cheering section in the GOP’s Never Trump faction, which includes a swath of highly credentialed former officeholders who say they no longer recognize their party.

These were the people who gathered in Washington over the weekend for the Principles First summit, a conference of anti-Trump conservatives that styled itself as counterprogramming to the Conservative Political Action Conference where Trump rallied his faithful on Saturday.

Sessions at the Principles First gathering featured an array of luminaries from yesterday’s GOP: former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former federal judge J. Michael Luttig, former Rep. Adam Kinzinger, as well as former presidential candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. The former Trump White House staffers Alyssa Farah Griffin, Cassidy Hutchinson and Sarah Matthews appeared on a panel together, where they agreed that another Trump term would be, in Cassidy Hutchinson’s words, “the greatest step toward fascism that we have taken in this country.”

Haley wasn’t on the program, but the confab, which drew more than 500 attendees from all over the country, might as well have been a meeting of her fan club—a vivid illustration of the small but passionate voting bloc that continues to power her long-shot bid.

Former Trump White House staffers Sarah Matthews, in black, and Cassidy Hutchinson spoke at the recent Principles First summit.

Maureen Hosey, a 59-year-old accountant from Brewster, N.Y., wore a Haley campaign T-shirt bearing the words “Barred. Permanently”—an allusion to Trump’s recent warning that he would blacklist Haley’s donors. “I’m a lifelong Republican. She is saying the things I remember Republican politicians saying,” Hosey explained. “I still think she doesn’t stand a chance.” She had traveled to the conference with her friend Iris Glass, who wore a Mike Pence campaign tee with the slogan “Too Honest,” another repurposed Trump line.

Another lifelong Republican, 66-year-old Brian Considine, a business owner from Middletown, Md., said Haley was the first politician he had ever donated to. “I think she’s fabulous,” he said. “People say she has no endgame or her only point is to destroy Trump. I think that’s a good thing.”

Farah Griffin, the former White House communications director who broke with Trump after Jan. 6, 2021, and now serves as a co-host of “The View,” argued onstage that Haley is “proving something really important in this historic moment, which is that about a third of Republicans cannot be with Donald Trump, and they’re pleading for someone else.”

The Trump campaign argues that Haley is damaging her party’s prospects by preventing the GOP from unifying behind its all-but-certain nominee. And the Democrats seem to agree: President Biden’s campaign has eagerly amplified Haley’s increasingly harsh criticisms of the front-runner. “I think she’s one of our better surrogates,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said on CNN on Friday.

Speculation abounds about Haley’s real motives for staying in the race. Some Principles First attendees theorized she might be positioning herself as a fallback for the party this cycle if Trump—who faces 91 charges across multiple cases—is convicted of a crime or in case of what one called “an errant cheeseburger.” Others hoped she might join a third-party ticket or lead the party forward after a loss in this year’s election. “I think it’s important that there’s somebody there as an alternative for the future,” said Barbara Comstock, a former Republican congresswoman from Virginia who has endorsed Haley ahead of the state’s March 5 primary.

Zean Gassman, 64, who retired from healthcare finance and lives in Annapolis, Md., traveled to South Carolina last week to attend Haley’s and Trump’s events and knock on doors for Haley’s campaign. “It’s like a lottery ticket,” he said. “Your chances are very, very small, but you’re definitely not going to win if you don’t buy a ticket.”

Principles First’s founder, Heath Mayo, said he appreciated Haley’s determination. “There are a lot of theories, but I think she genuinely cares,” he said. “She sees the threat, and she sees there’s no benefit in bending the knee.” Haley, he argued, is making a “long-term strategic calculation that this is the last hurrah” for Trump, and demonstrating Trump’s weakness as a general election candidate. “40% of Republican primary voters picking a different path should be setting off alarm bells in the Trump campaign,” he added. “You can’t get to the White House if you don’t have a message for those voters.”

Many attendees said they would have liked to see this feisty side of Haley sooner. “I liked her a lot more before she kissed Trump’s feet,” said Stephanie Sharp, a former Republican state legislator from Kansas who sported a “KELCE SWIFT ’24” T-shirt and matching earrings featuring the football player-pop star couple. “It is important for someone to be speaking up to him, but it’s really convenient for her to be vocal and specific now when she has no chance to win.”

Indeed, at the outset of the campaign, Haley’s tortured nonposition on the front-runner’s many outrages was her calling card. Having worked for him, left his administration without incident, denounced him after Jan. 6, insisted she wouldn’t run against him and then reversed herself, she spent the campaign’s early months mostly avoiding the subject.

When Trump’s first indictment came down last March, she said it seemed to be “more about revenge than it is about justice.” In the first GOP debate, she criticized Trump for increasing spending, but raised her hand when the candidates were asked if they would support him after he was convicted of a crime. Later she said that as president, she would pardon him. Having made a savvy—some said cowardly—assessment that going fully anti-Trump was a fast path to irrelevance, she continued in this ambivalent vein through the first two primary contests.

But something changed after the Jan. 23 New Hampshire primary. Despite being beaten by 11 points, Haley emerged defiant. In the weeks since, she has had a new spring in her step, and she has been more and more aggressive in her attacks on Trump’s faculties, positions, record and political potential. On Saturday, she called his recent comments to a group of Black voters “disgusting” and “unhinged.”

Yet while both Haley and Trump have said she isn’t in contention to be his running mate, she hasn’t ruled out supporting him in the end, telling NPR last week that she considered Biden “more dangerous,” and saying in her South Carolina concession speech, “We need to beat President Biden in November.”

As much as the anti-Trumpers at the Principles First gathering applauded Haley for lending an assist to their cause, some of them worry that she could eventually do more harm than good if she ends up supporting Trump in November. Such an endorsement, the thinking goes, could be a powerful signal to reluctant conservatives and independents trying to decide which of two unpalatable candidates represents the lesser evil.

For now, though, they are content to enjoy Haley’s quixotic crusade. “I did have the concern that she could serve as an on-ramp” funneling reluctant voters to the GOP, “but I don’t buy it now,” said the anti-Trump conservative writer Bill Kristol, who spoke on a conference panel on “America’s Tradition of Classical Liberalism.” Kristol has been urging Haley to stay in the race and doesn’t think she will endorse Trump in the end. “The criticism is strong enough and resonant enough that even if she supports him, it’ll be grudging,” he added. “I don’t think it’s going to make a difference.”

Write to Molly Ball at

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