ROD THOMSON: Haley is hurting her political future, and the GOP, by staying in the race

At this point in the Republican Primary, Nikki Haley is a hopeless long long-shot. Her chances of winning the GOP nomination hinge on a series of unlikely factors all happening at once. Her chances of permanently damaging her brand in the Republican Party, however, sport the inverse odds.

She has almost zero chance to beat President Trump mano a mano in her home state of South Carolina, where she was elected Governor twice. The only poll to date since the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary found Trump with a commanding lead in the state, 58 percent to 32 percent.

The Washington Post-Monmouth University survey of South Carolina GOP primary voters found they trust Trump more than Haley to handle every issue the pollsters queried — immigration, the economy, foreign affairs, even abortion. And remember, South Carolina is an open primary, so Independents and Democrats can vote in it, and he is still running away with the race. In party affiliation breakdown, Trump leads Haley by 60 points among voters who consider themselves strong Republicans. Even among independents and Democrats, Trump trounces Haley by 46 points.

This looks like it is shaping up to be a complete hometown beatdown for Haley.

The reality is that President Trump is the GOP nominee right now unless he dies or is permanently incapacitated. Even if convicted of one of the 91 indictments in four states, it’s likely that Trump will still be the nominee — it will just be more difficult to win the general election. Yet Trump being banished to some penal colony for saying things that institutional powers and political opponents disliked is the only realistic reason for Haley staying in the non-race. It’s a very longshot and a bit kamikaze.

Personally, I’m OK with Nikki Haley’s brand of Republicanism — wet finger in the wind, donor obedient, quick on the foreign wars, Chamber of Commerce beholden, weak culture warrior  — being heaved into the dumpster bin of history. But assuming she is not onboard with that heave, there are lessons for her and her supporters here.

Firstly, she risks becoming the completely reviled John Kasich of 2024, staying in to the bitter end for self-aggrandizing reasons and permanently staining himself for any political future. Kasich is probably delivering mail in Ohio at this point, like his father did.

Secondly, she continues to be the primary focus of Trump’s withering wrath, making her increasingly unpopular in the Republican Party and diminishing her slim chances at the convention.
Thirdly, she and her supporters remain blinkered over the reality that most Trump supporters don’t just like Trump — some don’t even like him at all — but they do agree with him on most issues. And she does not.

Fourthly, she has already been tarnished by the support of Never Trumpers, but that will get stronger the longer she stays in. That tiny, bitter group of Republican voters is not who you want in your corner if you are looking to win a Republican primary.

Fifthly, getting thrashed in her home state is not only embarrassing, it further eliminates her from the potential for a Cabinet position, or any hope of a convention strategy.

And finally, if something happened to Trump and it came down to a convention throwdown, smart money would be on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose positions were closest to Trump’s, along with Vivek Ramaswamy. But DeSantis has the proven track record and there is substantial goodwill toward him in the GOP.

Republicans nationally, and Trump’s campaign and committees, are going to face financial headwinds in 2024. The recent Trump campaign finance filings for 2023 revealed that his five campaign committees took in about $200 million in 2023, but spent about $210 million. Because of strong fundraising in previous years, there is still a net surplus in those committees, but it is an extra hurdle as a lot of the money was spent on legal defenses, and those aren’t going away this year.

This is compounded by the RNC’s fundraising problems. According to its filings, the RNC had only $9 million cash available at the end of November, less than half the DNC. Further, several state Republican parties, including the swing states of Arizona and Michigan, are in various degrees of financial distress.

Nikki Haley staying in the race, soaking up more donor money and forcing Trump to use his on her losing cause, is the final point of political self-destruction if she stays in. Few friends will be made, and fewer still allies.

Rod Thomson is a former daily newspaper reporter and columnist, Salem radio host and ABC TV commentator, and current Founder of The Thomson Group, a Florida-based political consulting firm. He has eight children and seven grandchildren and a rapacious hunger to fight for America for them. Follow him on Twitter at @Rod_Thomson. Email him at

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