Nikki Haley, like Ron DeSantis, Tim Scott, and most of the other people who started out vying for the Republican presidential nomination, seemed to have decided early on in their campaigns that they needed to avoid attacking serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT) and alienating his MAGA cult followers as much as possible and so refrained from mentioning him except in the mildest and vaguest terms. Many observers wrote about the incompetence of SSAT’s challengers and the fact that although they raised quite a bit of money, they did not spend it on attacking SSAT.
This strategy of not going after the front-runner never made much sense if they wanted to win the nomination and so it was assumed that they were merely auditioning for the vice-presidential slot. And that seemed a valid theory as they dropped out and embraced SSAT. But their strategy of treating SSAT with kid gloves in order to ingratiate themselves with him did not make much sense either since SSAT hates anyone who does not completely kowtow to him and so he began attacking them, especially DeSantis and Haley, since they were the ones who had the best shot by the time the caucuses and primaries actually had their contests. As this dawned on the two of them, they started going after SSAT, mildly at first but more pointedly later.
Lately, Haley seems to have started making even harsher attacks on SSAT, although it was slow at first and sthis hesitancy suggested to some observers that she was hedging her bets by using passive language because she was still hoping for a VP invitation.
FOR THE PAST YEAR, Haley has finessed the Trump problem—how to consolidate the non-Trump vote without alienating Trump’s supporters—through strategic ambiguity. “Rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him,” she tells crowds. That line appeals to voters who blame Trump for his impeachments and indictments. But note that she leaves an opening (“wrongly”) for those who think he’s innocent.
In reality, Haley is already paving the way to endorse Trump.
THE TRUTH IS THAT THERE IS NO NEW Nikki Haley. For months, she acknowledged the chaos around Trump but refused to say whether it was his fault. Now she admits that he’s volcanic and vengeful, but she refuses to say whether that’s a fatal moral defect or just a manageable political problem. She knows that there are voters on both sides of these questions, and she’s looking for a way to signal that no matter which side you’re on, she’s with you. That’s the core of Nikki Haley. That’s who she is.
But even as she seems ever more certain to lose after failing to win in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, rather than bow out, she seems to be ramping up her campaign. She seems to be deliberately baiting SSAT with repeated attacks on his mental competence, even calling him “totally unhinged”. She even said that she absolutely trusts the jury that awarded E. Jean Carroll a whopping $83.3 million in damages, which seems guaranteed to infuriate SSAT and the MAGA crowd because of their insistence that the whole system is rigged against him. She has also attacked SSAT and Joe Biden on the age issue, saying both are too old, annoying SSAT who only wants the focus to be on Biden’s age. She even went on Saturday Night Live, widely seen as having a liberal bent and thus an enemy to MAGA and Republicans, to troll SSAT.
As Joe Perticone writes, Haley is finally running a real campaign. This persistence of Haley staying in the race is clearly frustrating SSAT who has been trying get the Republican party to pressure her to drop out.
Instead, she seems to be going for broke, burning many bridges in the process.
Nikki Haley has entered her YOLO stage.
The last of Donald Trump’s rivals in the GOP primary, Haley is unloading on the former president — proceeding without any real caution for the first time in her campaign.
She’s taking repeated, pointed, shots at an “unhinged” Trump’s mental fitness and legal problems. She’s taunting him to debate her: “Show me what you got.” In recent days, her campaign responded to an 815-word memo from Trump’s advisers — a document arguing Haley is toast — with a “Why are you so obsessed with us?” meme from “Mean Girls.”
Few, if any, believe it will work. And Haley’s let-’er-rip approach comes with serious risk. Attacking Trump so frontally could create a long-term branding problem for her. Already, the MAGA-dominated GOP has accused her of treachery. Trump allies say she’s effectively burned her career in Republican politics.
But Haley seems to have concluded that freedom is just another word for trailing by 20-plus points.
“It’s very clear she’s got to differentiate. It’s deliberate,” said Vikram Mansharamani, who co-chaired Haley’s campaign in New Hampshire. “It’s sort of a requirement at this stage.”
And in a primary largely sapped of serious competition — and for months, any sense of excitement — Haley, at least, appears to be having a good time.
So what might her plan be? Maybe she is hoping that something will cause SSAT’s campaign to flame out spectacularly and that she, as the last rival standing, will be able to claim the mantle of the party nominee. The odds of that succeeding are not that great. Maybe she is merely seeking maximum name recognition and thinks that come 2028, people will forget her attacks on SSAT and see her as a familiar figure and choose her as the party nominee.
Or maybe her campaign will end the same way that nearly all the other rivals to SSAT ended theirs, with her bending the knee and kissing SSAT’s ring and seeking forgiveness for her sins.