Why Nikki Haley should stay in the race

Haley is telling voters she can be the alternative as a uniter that millions of them seem to want.



February 26, 2024 - 2:22 PM

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley lost Saturday’s primary in South Carolina, her home state. As a uniter, Haley’s candidacy continues to give Republicans a choice. Haley says she also would not abandon Ukraine to Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Photo by Arvin Temkar/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS

Donald Trump’s easy victory in South Carolina over Nikki Haley on Saturday was another large stride toward his third Republican presidential nomination. But the results also revealed that the former President presides over a divided party, and the fault isn’t Ms. Haley’s.

Mr. Trump’s victory again proved that he clearly is the favorite of most GOP partisans, as the exit poll shows he dominated with most party groups. His 20-point or so victory shows how much he now dominates the GOP, even if his vote share did underperform what most polls had predicted. Democrats could vote in the GOP primary, yet few of them showed up to help Ms. Haley. They may be happy to see a beatable Mr. Trump as the GOP nominee.

Republicans consider Mr. Trump to be more or less an incumbent who was denied a second term, and many think he deserves another chance to beat the beatable President Biden. The polls show GOP voters think indictments against Mr. Trump by Democratic prosecutors are unfair, and a good deal of their support is based on pushing back against that abuse of the legal system.

Mr. Trump dominated among voters who think border security is the most important issue, which is another gift from Mr. Biden. Between the indictments and the President’s manifest border failures, Democrats have given Mr. Trump a huge lift in the GOP primaries. Mr. Biden’s 40% approval rating has also convinced most Republicans that any nominee can defeat the President.

Yet Ms. Haley won nearly 40% of the vote, which as she said in remarks Saturday evening “is not some tiny group.” That’s especially true running against a quasi-incumbent who was endorsed by nearly every GOP official in the state. None of them want to risk getting a primary challenge if they fail to bend the knee to Mr. Trump. Yet as in New Hampshire, the size of her vote shows that millions in the party don’t want Mr. Trump back in the White House.

A Fox News voter analysis found that 59% of Ms. Haley’s voters say they wouldn’t vote for Mr. Trump if he is the GOP nominee. And the exit poll showed that 36% of voters said a conviction in one of his criminal trials would make him unfit to be President. Even if most of those voters hold their noses and vote for Mr. Trump in a race against Mr. Biden, the question is how many stay home, vote for a third party, or go over to Mr. Biden. Even a 10% defection could be decisive.

Ms. Haley said she’ll fight on through Michigan and the multiple “Super Tuesday” states on March 5. She has earned enough support to do so, and by all accounts she has more than enough money to keep fighting. That her fund-raising is so strong is another sign that Mr. Trump hasn’t united the GOP.

The Trump campaign blames Ms. Haley for dividing the party by staying in the race, yet they also claim to be looking past her to November. But if they’re really focused on the autumn, they ought to be working to unite the party and draw her voters back into the fold.

Mr. Trump is making no such effort. He didn’t mention her in his remarks on Saturday, and his campaign continues to threaten Ms. Haley and anyone else who isn’t lining up behind Mr. Trump. Unlike Mr. Biden with Bernie Sanders in 2020, Mr. Trump can’t attract her or her voters with policy concessions because their policy positions are similar. The biggest exceptions are her support for Ukraine and U.S. alliances, but Mr. Trump isn’t likely to budge on either.

Ms. Haley’s main case against Mr. Trump is his personal behavior and divisive brand of politics. Mr. Trump isn’t likely to change that, which may explain why his campaign against Mr. Biden has already taken on apocalyptic negative tones. By the time November arrives in a Biden-Trump race, both sides will be predicting hellfire-and-damnation if the other side wins.


There’s no denying that Ms. Haley faces an uphill battle in a party in which Mr. Trump and his allies have become the establishment. It’s long past time to retire the media trope that Donald Trump is some insurgent against the establishment. When you’ve been President and may be the three-time nominee, you’re as establishment as it gets.

Ms. Haley is telling voters she can be the alternative as a uniter that millions of them seem to want. It’s a message worth staying in the race for, as is the case for not abandoning Ukraine, Israel or Taiwan. She is also staking out a claim to be the candidate in 2028 who could say she warned Republicans if Mr. Trump loses this year. If Mr. Trump can’t win over more of her voters, he could make Ms. Haley a prophet.