Friday, February 23, 2024

BTRTN South Carolina GOP Primary Preview: Why Nikki Remains in the Race

Tom addresses the only question about the South Carolina primary.

Nikki Haley is about to get thrashed in her own state of South Carolina in the GOP primary tomorrow.  This did not have to happen.  Donald Trump’s convincing win in Iowa, topped with leads in polling in virtually every other primary state that lay ahead, was more than enough to chase off every other remaining GOP contender before New Hampshire.  His win there should have chased off Haley, too, yet she remains.  The question is why?

(Let's get this out of the way:  BTRTN predicts that Donald Trump will win the South Carolina GOP primary by roughly a 60/40 margin, or perhaps a bit more.)

It’s not because she thinks she can pull off a true “Haley Mary,” in what would be the greatest upset of all time.  She certainly knows that is not in the cards.

There is only one real clue, but it is a big one – she is staying in because her donors want her to stay in.  She may be having trouble finding GOP voters beyond her base – even in her home state -- but she is not having trouble finding donors.  Campaigns usually end because donors recognize reality before candidates do, and turn off the spigot.  But Haley has funding to continue.

We can think of three possible reasons why she remains, with their support.

The first is that she thinks some massive catalyst in the GOP race could change Trump's fortunes soon, and it would be better to be in the race when that happens, to be able to claim to being the only viable candidate still standing after it happens.  But such thinking is borderline delusional at this point, because it is hard to envision what Trump could possibly do to incur the wrath of the MAGA base that he has not done already.  He’s bragged about groping women, paid off a hooker to conceal an affair with her, called Mexican immigrants rapists, tried to overthrow the 2020 election, stole government documents, was found to have raped a woman, then slandered her to the tune of $83 million, cheated his way to a fortune, was found guilty of it to the tune of $450 million and on and on – you know all this.  (And that does not even cover all he did while in office.) It is hard to imagine what else he could do, short of his own vision of a loyalty test, that is, gunning someone down on 5th Avenue (and he thought he would survive even that), to suddenly alienate the cult.

The second reason is that she is not trying to win herself, but rather aims to take Trump down, to do enough damage that he loses to Joe Biden in the fall.  This is not so far-fetched.  The voters who are now backing Trump include many who do not like him personally and some who voted for Joe Biden in 2020, and, of course, there are still some voters who are undecided.  By staying in the race and attacking Trump, which she is doing freely and with abandon, she has a platform to persuade the persuadable that Trump is bad for the country.  She may say Biden is bad, too, but most of her recent fire is directed at Trump.  Why take down Trump?  She may genuinely feel that the nation cannot withstand four more years of him.  She seems to be truly is alarmed by him personally and his isolationist foreign policy (an area in which she is far more aligned with Biden) and is making no bones about it.  It is certainly true that Ted Kennedy hurt Jimmy Carter in 1980, that Bill Bradley probably nicked Al Gore in 2000, and Bernie Sanders did no favors to Hillary Clinton in 2016.  It would not take much to knock off enough Trump votes by staying to the bitter end, as they did, to make him a loser in the general election.  If she drops out, she loses the platform, and disappears for this election cycle.

Finally, she is playing the long game.  She may be banking on a post-Trump world where the fever breaks and the GOP returns to its Reagan-esque roots of small government, low taxes and a muscular foreign policy.  She now knows that she commands 30-40% of the GOP now, even with Trump alive and kicking.  When he’s gone – and he has no logical successor at this point, given the DeSantis flameout – she would have that base to build on, and a message of a return to normalcy that could be quite welcome.

These last two reasons are not crazy, and her donors have a huge stake in a post-Trump world.  Haley is banking on her time coming at some point, and whether it is now, due to some incredible long-shot this spring, or in 2028, or 12-16 years down the road, long after Trump is gone.  And the best way to get to that future is to keep plugging away in 2024.








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