NATIONAL NEWS

Nikki Haley hasn’t yet won a GOP contest. But she’s vowing to keep fighting Donald Trump

Feb 20, 2024, 7:30 AM

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — There are no wins on the horizon for Nikki Haley.

Those close to the former United Nations ambassador, the last major Republican candidate standing in Donald Trump’s path to the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination, are privately bracing for a blowout loss in her home state’s primary election in South Carolina on Saturday. And they cannot name a state where she is likely to beat Trump in the coming weeks.

But in an emotional address on Tuesday, Haley declared, “I refuse to quit.”

And in an interview, she vowed to stay in the fight against Trump at least until after Super Tuesday’s slate of more than a dozen contests on March 5 — even if she suffers a big loss in her home state Saturday.

“Ten days after South Carolina, another 20 states vote. I mean, this isn’t Russia. We don’t want someone to go in and just get 99% of the vote,” Haley told The Associated Press. “What is the rush? Why is everybody so panicked about me having to get out of this race?”

In fact, some Republicans are encouraging Haley to stay in the campaign even if she continues to lose — potentially all the way to the Republican National Convention in July in the event the 77-year-old former president, perhaps the most volatile major party front-runner in U.S. history, becomes a convicted felon or stumbles into another major scandal.

As Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement presses for her exit, a defiant Haley on Tuesday repeatedly likened Trump to Democratic President Joe Biden —and both as too old, too divisive and too unpopular to be the only options for voters this fall.

She also pushed back when asked if there is any primary state where she can defeat Trump.

“Instead of asking me what states I’m gonna win, why don’t we ask how he’s gonna win a general election after spending a full year in a courtroom?”

Haley’s hurdles

History would suggest Haley has no chance of stopping Trump.

Never before has a Republican lost even the first two primary contests, as Haley has by an average of 21 points, and gone on to win the party’s presidential nomination. Polls suggest she is a major underdog in her home state on Saturday and in the 16 Super Tuesday contests to follow. And since he announced his first presidential bid in 2015, every effort by a Republican to blunt Trump’s rise has failed.

Yet she is leaning into the fight.

Lest anyone question her commitment, Haley’s campaign is spending more than $500,000 on a new television advertising campaign set to begin running Wednesday in Michigan ahead of the state’s Feb. 27 primary, according to spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas. At the same time, the AP has obtained Haley’s post-South Carolina travel schedule that features 11 separate stops in seven days across Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado, Utah, Virginia, Washington, D.C., North Carolina and Massachusetts.

The schedule also includes at least 10 high-dollar private fundraising events.

Indeed, Haley’s expansive base of big- and small-dollar donors is donating at an extraordinary pace despite her underwhelming performance at the polls. That’s a reflection of persistent Republican fears about Trump’s ability to win over independents and moderate voters in the general election and serious concerns about his turbulent leadership should he return to the White House.

“I’m going to support her up to the convention,” said Republican donor Eric Levine, who co-hosted a New York fundraiser for Haley earlier this month. “We’re not prepared to fold our tents and pray at the altar of Donald Trump.”

“There’s value in her sticking in and gathering delegates, because if and when he stumbles,” Levine continued, “who knows what happens.”

Levine is far from alone.

Haley’s campaign raised $5 million in a fundraising swing after her second-place finish in New Hampshire that included stops in Texas, Florida, New York, and California, Perez-Cubas said. Her campaign raised $11.5 million in January alone — her best fundraising month ever. Her allied super PAC brought in another $12 million over the same period.

In fact, Haley’s team actually outraised Trump’s last month, according to federal filings released late Tuesday.

Trump’s campaign raised $8.8 million in January, with his primary super PAC taking in another $7.3 million. A separate pro-Trump political action committee brought in another $5 million, but spent a big chunk on the former president’s legal fees.

Even with Haley’s newfound financial advantage, Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., the lone member of Congress who has endorsed Haley, acknowledged it may be difficult for her to win South Carolina, a state where she lives and served two terms as governor.

“Obviously, you want to win them all, but for those who say it’s going to embarrass her, or end her political career, I disagree. She’s willing to take that risk,” Norman said in an interview. “I think it’s a courageous thing she’s doing.”

Trump not happy

Trump, in recent days, has shown flashes of fury in response to Haley’s refusal to cede the nomination.

He called her “stupid” and “birdbrain” in a social media post over the weekend as part of a sustained campaign of personal insults. Some primary voters said Trump crossed the line earlier in the month when he highlighted the absence of Haley’s husband, Michael, who is in the midst of a yearlong stint with the South Carolina Army National Guard to Africa.

In a rare show of emotion, Haley acknowledged the personal toll on her family.

“It was hard for us to say goodbye to him the first time when he deployed to Afghanistan. It was even harder last summer when he deployed to Africa,” she said with glassy eyes, her voice cracking.

Earlier in the speech, she insisted that she has “no fear of Trump’s retribution.”

“I feel no need to kiss the ring,” she said. “My own political future is of zero concern.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign chiefs released a memo describing Haley’s campaign as “broken down, out of ideas, out of gas, and completely outperformed by every measure, by Donald Trump.”

Eager to pivot toward a general election matchup against Biden, the former president is also taking aggressive steps to assume control of the Republican National Committee, the GOP’s nationwide political machine, which is supposed to stay neutral in presidential primary elections. Last week, Trump announced plans to install his campaign’s senior adviser Chris LaCivita as RNC’s chief operating officer and daughter-in-law Lara Trump as the committee’s co-chair.

There is every expectation that current Chair Ronna McDaniel will step down after Trump wins South Carolina’s primary and party officials will ultimately acquiesce to Trump’s wishes. Privately, Haley’s team concedes there is nothing it can do to stop the Trump takeover.

Former Republican presidential contender Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, said it was time for the party to unite behind Trump during an unrelated South Carolina appearance Tuesday.

“As far as I’m concerned, the primary’s over,” said DeSantis, who suspended his presidential bid last month after a disappointing finish in Iowa and quickly endorsed Trump.

In her interview, however, Haley warned her party against letting Trump raid the RNC’s coffers to pay for his legal fees while taking a short-term view of his political prospects.

Trump’s standing will fundamentally change if he is a convicted felon before Election Day, Haley said, acknowledging that such an outcome is a very real possibility as Trump navigates 91 felony charges across four separate criminal cases.

“He’s going to be in a courtroom all of March, April, May and June,” Haley said. “How in the world do you win a general election when these cases keep going and the judgments keep coming?”

Meanwhile, Biden was asked as he departed the White House on Tuesday whether he preferred to go up against Haley or Trump this fall.

“Oh, I don’t care,” the president said.

___

Peoples reported from Kiawah Island, South Carolina. AP writers James Pollard in Columbia, South Carolina, Jill Colvin in New York, Seung Min Kim in Washington and Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed.

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Nikki Haley hasn’t yet won a GOP contest. But she’s vowing to keep fighting Donald Trump