You’re reading that headline and thinking, “We already knew that. No Republican with any hope of ever becoming the party’s nominee will challenge him if he decides to run.” True. Haley, Ron DeSantis, the Senate peanut gallery of Cruz, Hawley, Cotton, Rubio — they’ll all dutifully bow out and defer to Trump if he seeks the nomination, knowing they have no hope of defeating him and will earn MAGA’s abiding scorn if they try. And once Trump fans write you off, your national future is over. Forget 2028 or 2032.
So yes, we knew this without her telling us. But still, this is noteworthy for two reasons.
One is that Haley’s the one figure in the party more than any other who embodies a non-Trumpist direction for the future. Any other primary challenger would set up a weird “Trump vs. Trump lite” contest which would devolve quickly into a comparison between the genuine article and a pale imitation, but Haley represents something distinct from Trumpy populism. She’s a woman, a minority, and is clearly more of a pre-Trump establishment Republican in orientation than a MAGA type. She’d give Republican primary voters a real choice. And although most would choose Trump, there’s potential for embarrassment in how many would choose her. A 66/33 split in his favor would generate lots of headlines about a “divided GOP,” “Trump’s woman problem,” “Trump’s suburban problem,” and on and on. Conceivably he would add her to the ticket to heal the rift. For Haley to say “I won’t challenge him” ensures there’ll be no meaningful choice on the primary ballot in 2024.
Then there’s the second reason. Remember this interview she gave to Politico’s Tim Alberta? On January 12, six days after the insurrection at the Capitol, when it seemed like a meaningful share of Republicans in Congress led by Liz Cheney might turn on Trump, Haley lowered the boom:
She took a breath. “Fast forward, I’m watching the television the morning of the 6th and I see Don Junior get up there,” she said, reciting the president’s son’s calls to action against Republican leaders, closing her eyes as if reimagining the scene. “And then I hear the president get up there and go off on Pence. I literally was so triggered, I had to turn it off. I mean, Jon [Lerner] texted me something and I said, ‘I can’t. I can’t watch it. I can’t watch it,’ because I felt the same thing. Somebody is going to hear that, and bad things will happen.”…
“When I tell you I’m angry, it’s an understatement,” Haley hissed, leaning forward as she spoke. “Mike has been nothing but loyal to that man. He’s been nothing but a good friend of that man. … I am so disappointed in the fact that [despite] the loyalty and friendship he had with Mike Pence, that he would do that to him. Like, I’m disgusted by it.”
Can the Republican Party heal with Trump in the picture?
“I don’t think he’s going to be in the picture,” she said, matter-of-factly. “I don’t think he can. He’s fallen so far.”
This was the most certainty I’d heard from any Republican in the aftermath of January 6. And Haley wasn’t done.
“We need to acknowledge he let us down,” she said. “He went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him. And we can’t let that ever happen again.”
Two weeks later, when the early momentum among Republicans to join the impeachment effort had all but entirely collapsed, Haley was suddenly back on Fox asking Trump’s critics to give him a break. The weathervane had detected that the breeze was blowing in a different direction and had shifted accordingly. Now, three months to the day after she said “we shouldn’t have followed him” and “we can’t let that ever happen again” about Trump leading the party down the wrong path, suddenly she’s affirming that she’ll support him for president. Again.
The only people more disgusted than Trump fans by her cynical maneuvering this afternoon are Never Trumpers. Why, shared contempt for Haley’s opportunism may be just the thing to reunite this party!
Which, actually, suggests that she wouldn’t be as much of a force in a primary as everyone thinks. She’s alienated everyone by her game-playing. No one trusts a word she says. Who’s going to get excited for that?
If anyone shocks the world by challenging Trump in a 2024 primary it’ll be Chris Christie, who has less to lose than the Cruzes and Hawleys because he has no chance of winning a national primary even if Trump isn’t in the race. His best shot at making himself a political figure of some stature again is to become known as the guy who had the stones to take Trump on. Christie’s pugnacious enough in his own right that he wouldn’t wilt as easily as other challengers might once Trump started attacking him. He’d lose, but that primary could be entertaining.
Exit question: What would the vote be in a “Trump vs. DeSantis” primary if it were held today? Trump wins, but how comfortably?
I asked @NikkiHaley if she would support Donald Trump if he runs again in 2024.
“Yes,” she told me.
“I would not run if President Trump ran, and I would talk to him about it,” she added. “That’s something that we will have a conversation about, at some point.”
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— Meg Kinnard (@MegKinnardAP) April 12, 2021