Nikki Haley has finally dropped out. But she still doesn’t think Donald Trump will win

In a concession speech, Ms Haley appears to see few downsides to withholding support for Trump, writes John Bowden

Wednesday 06 March 2024 18:23 GMT
Nikki Haley walks off stage after announcing the suspension of her presidential campaign
Nikki Haley walks off stage after announcing the suspension of her presidential campaign (Getty Images)

Nikki Haley’s departure from the 2024 presidential race leaves Donald Trump as the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party once again — or still, if you listen to his supporters, who argue that such has been the case for weeks.

The former governor of South Carolina made her exit from the campaign on Wednesday morning in Charleston, where just a few weeks ago she had watched as Mr Trump won a decisive victory in the state where she built her career. She thanked her supporters, giving particular mention to the young women who supported her as she made history as the first woman to win a statewide Republican primary contest.

Victories in Washington DC and on Super Tuesday in Vermont left Ms Haley in a position of clear distinction in comparison with her fallen rivals Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Tim Scott and Chris Christie. But she was clearly left in the dust by her opponent, who seems likely to claim the lion’s share of the more than 800 delegates up for grabs this week.

However, there was little indication of any plans by Ms Haley in her concession speech to “kiss the ring”, as she had called it a few weeks ago, and endorse Mr Trump for the presidency. It was a note that may have come as a surprise to some of the governor’s more cynical critics both in the GOP and Democratic Party, many of whom expected her to bend the knee and endorse the former president as Mr DeSantis, Mr Scott and Mr Ramaswamy all had done. Instead Ms Haley insisted that it was now on the former president to “earn” the support of the anti-Trump faction of the GOP represented by her campaign.

One revealing line in her speech on Wednesday seemed to say it all: “In all likelihood”, Donald Trump will be the nominee of the Republican Party, Ms Haley told reporters and allies in her remarks.

That’s a highly atypical thing for someone like Ms Haley, who was Mr Trump’s last challenger for the nomination, to say. Declining to throw her support behind her party’s nominee would be extraordinary enough in any other year, though in this case could possibly be explained away by Ms Haley’s (stated) concerns about Mr Trump’s criminal charges including his actions on January 6. But in this statement, Ms Haley seems to be leaving open the possibility that Mr Trump will still not become the Republican nominee, even given the now-reality that the former president is running unopposed in the GOP primary.

The sentiment which Ms Haley appeared to suggest in her remarks could be dismissed as a simple episode of misspeaking — something Ms Haley rarely does, compared to Mr Trump or Joe Biden — were it not for an equally suggestive comment from one of her few allies on Capitol Hill, Senator Lisa Murkowski. The Alaska senator was one of a handful of Republican senators who voted to convict Mr Trump during his second impeachment trial, and offered a frank comment to The Independent on Wednesday when asked about Ms Haley exiting the race.

“I wish she hadn’t,” Ms Murkowski said.

An equally puzzling comment, given that Ms Haley is expected to trail her opponent by hundreds of delegates after the dust settles from Super Tuesday. The only explanation for it is that (apparently) like the former governor, the senator from Alaska believes that there is still a possibility that Mr Trump’s campaign is on its last legs, or soon will be — and in that case, Ms Murkowski wants Ms Haley to be the alternative.

It may seem like pie-in-the-sky thinking, and maybe it is. But Donald Trump continues to press on towards the general election beset by unprecedented challenges in the form of his four ongoing criminal prosecutions, one of which is set to go to trial later this month. And his legal fees continue to mount, while his fundraising apparatus appears to be struggling — at least in comparison to Mr Biden’s. The assessment of Mr Trump’s political future would certainly be in line with her other comments about the race, particularly concerning the incumbent president: Ms Haley told reporters in Michigan late last month that she “fully believe[s]” the Democrats “are going to have a younger candidate going into the general election”.

The GOP convention is still several months away. It remains to be seen if the predictions of Mr Trump’s detractors within his own party will come to pass, but it appears increasingly unlikely after Tuesday that the GOP would accept Ms Haley as that alternative if they do. One thing is clear after Tuesday: the GOP electorate is going all in on Donald Trump this year. Whether Ms Haley has a place in a post-Trump GOP isn’t certain, but it appears there’s little room for her — or anyone else — while the Donald is still in the room.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in