By the time the polls closed in New Hampshire the conventional wisdom had solidified— former President Donald Trump will win the Republican nomination and have the long-anticipated rematch against Biden. The conventional wisdom is based on a set of hard facts. Not only did Haley not win New Hampshire — she didn’t come within 10 points of Trump. Her next stop is South Carolina — a state created by the late Republican strategist Lee Atwater to be a “firewall” for Ronald Reagan or for any conservative who gets sidetracked by the Republicans up north. Also, this is Haley’s home state, and she is running about 30 points behind Trump. Losing is bad. Losing in your home state is worse.
After South Carolina comes Super Tuesday and its large number of delegates. Seven of the primaries that day — about half — are closed primaries; meaning that only Republicans can vote in them depriving Haley of the independents who made up more than half of her New Hampshire vote. In addition, the Republican party allows states to adopt winner take all type rules. On Super Tuesday two states, Alaska and Colorado, allocate delegates to candidates proportionally — the remaining states use some sort of winner take all or winner take most system. For instance, in delegate rich California, if a candidate wins 50% of the vote, they get all the delegates. If not, the delegates are awarded proportionally. In a two-person race Trump is likely to win many delegates.
Against these odds the big question is — why is Nikki Haley staying in?
On election night she decided to speak early, concede the race, and give a straight from the heart speech about her plans to go forward. As she reminded the crowd, “New Hampshire is the first state — not the last.” Of course, there’s a full month before the next showdown in South Carolina and she might upon reflection change her mind. In the meantime here are some possible reasons for staying in.
We don’t know yet how much money Haley has in the bank but in the fall serious deep pocketed Republicans like the Koch brothers got in the race behind her. Super Tuesday is very expensive with big states like California and Texas, but Haley may think she has a sufficient war chest. In the next month she will see if the money keeps coming in or if her backers get cold feet and pull out.
Trump faces lots of uncertainty
In the months before the convention Trump may be convicted of one or more crimes. It’s hard to predict how his loyal base will react. So far Trump’s indictments have only made them more loyal and there’s no reason to believe that convictions would change their minds. Nonetheless a conviction would certainly play into Haley’s critique of him as the chaos candidate. And she may be thinking she’d be the last person standing.
Trump could lose the general election by even more votes than he lost it in 2020
This would leave Haley as the “I told you so” candidate and pave the way for her to be the generational change and the leader of the post-Trump Republican Party — setting her up to run in 2028. Running for a major party nomination is a grueling and difficult process. But Haley is only 52 years old and with one campaign under her belt she could be a formidable candidate in 2028.
Trump could win the general election
He could repeat the shambolic presidency of this first term, he could prove to be more organized and efficacious or both. It probably wouldn’t matter since the Constitution limits presidents to 2 four-year terms, and he would not be able to run again in any event. Haley could still be a front-runner for 2028.
There is, however, the possibility that staying in could backfire on Haley. It’s possible that her New Hampshire showing was her high-water mark and that embarrassing finishes down the road will hurt her future prospects. And/or she could earn the wrath of Trump’s supporters —who like Trump could get very angry at her for staying in.
Nonetheless, at 52 she has broken into the national stage and has what Donald Trump at 77 does not have — time.