Nikki Haley’s only hope now is to wait for Trump to beat himself

Republican presidential hopeful and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks after results came in for the New Hampshire primaries during a watch party in Concord, New Hampshire, on Jan. 23, 2024. Nikki Haley sought to warn Republican voters away from rival Donald Trump after he defeated her in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, saying nominating the controversial US ex-president would spell victory for Joe Biden in November. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

The Republican presidential primary seems pretty much over, but try telling that to Nikki Haley.

The former South Carolina governor — now Donald Trump’s sole primary opponent — decisively lost Tuesday’s primary in New Hampshire by more than 10 percentage points.


Haley doesn’t seem to think it’s too late to win the nomination, though, and has no intentions of dropping out of the race, saying “this race is far from over” and “there are dozens of states left to go.”

Haley hasn’t offered much of an explanation for why she’s choosing to stay in a race she seems to have no shot of winning. Following a landslide victory in Iowa, Trump won in nearly every demographic group in New Hampshire. Much of Haley’s support came from independents, who are able to vote in New Hampshire’s Republican primary. No Republican has ever won their party’s nomination after losing both Iowa and New Hampshire.

Haley knows all of this. She knows she can’t beat Trump. And she won’t. She’s just waiting for him to beat himself.

Trump has a lot of baggage, and while he has managed to outrun it so far, it’s only a matter of time before it starts to catch up with him. Haley has said that she wants to stay in the race at least through Super Tuesday, which also happens to be one day after the scheduled opening date of Trump’s first criminal trial (though it may be delayed). That trial, which involves charges of conspiring to obstruct the 2020 election, is only one chapter of Trump’s legal troubles. The trial for his alleged mishandling of classified documents is scheduled for May.

At some point, the U.S. Supreme Court will also rule on whether Trump can be disqualified from the ballot under the 14th Amendment, which could limit his path to his party’s nomination as well as to the presidency itself.

A lot can happen between now and November, and if Trump’s candidacy takes a hit somewhere along the way, Haley wants to be the one to step up in his place. That means she has to be the last woman standing.

In the meantime, Haley has escalated her attacks on Trump, invoking his reputation for chaos and raising questions about his age. She renewed past calls for mental competency tests for politicians above the age of 75 and challenged Trump to face her on the debate stage.

“With Donald Trump you have one bout of chaos after another,” Haley warned in her speech Tuesday night. “This court case, that controversy, this tweet, that senior moment.”

That’s about the closest Haley has come to acknowledging that Trump is a liability. It’s certainly the closest she’s come to suggesting that Trump is a threat. It’s easy to think that things may have been different had we seen this version of Nikki Haley much earlier, but it probably would not have made any meaningful difference. It’s difficult for Haley to come out swinging against Trump, lest she alienate the Republican base. Still, if she thinks that Trump’s past may bring about his downfall, she should be clear about it.

At this point, the best Haley can hope for is a Trump implosion. Is that possible? Yes. Probable? Who knows — scandal certainly hasn’t stopped Trump before. But until we know for sure, Haley doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.

Paige Masten is the deputy opinion editor for The Charlotte Observer.