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Nikki Haley’s Desperate Search for Relevance

State of the Union:  A flailing and miffed Nikki Haley attempted to justify her continued participation in the presidential race on Tuesday.

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Nikki Haley told a small group of media and supporters on Tuesday in Greenville, South Carolina that she feels “no need to kiss the ring” of former President Donald Trump.

The Haley campaign had announced that the former South Carolina governor would be giving remarks on “the state of the presidential race” four days out from the South Carolina primary. Some speculated that Haley could be suspending her presidential campaign to save what is left of her reputation in the Republican party. Since overperforming in the open New Hampshire primary early this month, Haley lost a Trump-less Nevada primary (which did not bestow GOP delegates) to “none of these candidates” by more than a two-to-one margin. But it was not a resigned, humbled Haley that took the stage. While Haley sought to project command and calm with her tone, she seemed bitter and desperate on stage Tuesday.

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Surely speculation that she would be dropping out did not help Haley have the effect she intended—it’s not ideal for a candidate to have to justify staying in a race, much less that they can still win it. Haley sought to quickly dispel the speculation. “Some of you—perhaps a few of you in the media—came here today to see if I’m dropping out of the race. Well, I’m not. Far from it. And I’m here to tell you why,” she said at the beginning of her remarks in Greenville.

Haley’s main point in the pitch that followed was that most voters don’t want to see a Trump–Biden rematch. “The majority of Americans don't just dislike one candidate. They dislike both. As a country we've never seen such dissatisfaction with the leading candidates,” Haley said.

As evidence of this dissatisfaction on the right, Haley pointed out that “despite being a de facto incumbent, Donald Trump lost 49 percent of the vote in Iowa. In New Hampshire, Trump lost 46 percent of the vote.”

“That’s not good,” Haley continued. “We’re talking about almost half of our voters. What does it say about an incumbent who’s losing nearly half of his party? It spells disaster in November.” If losing nearly half of GOP voters in a primary spells disaster in November, what about losing over 80 percent of the vote in Iowa, nearly 60 percent in New Hampshire, and refusing to compete in the delegate-granting caucus in Nevada?

Haley is free to do the math for herself. Surely, her campaign and a bevy of dead consensus consultants have run the numbers and relayed their findings over and over and over again. Which is probably why Haley can’t help but seem so frustrated and spiteful. 

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Though Trump has “gotten more unstable and unhinged,” and is “getting meaner and more offensive by the day,” Republican voters and politicians are hopping aboard the Trump train. Why is that? Haley suggested that “in politics, the herd mentality is enormously strong.”

At other points in the speech, Haley implied she was once a part of that herd. “There are those who will try and paint me as Never Trump. That’s not who I am,” Haley said, touting her Trump administration credentials. “I’ve said it many times. I think Donald Trump was the right president at the right time. But times change and so has Trump.”

If given a herd, where would Haley lead it? Towards further globalization (she complained that Trump “wants to put a 10 percent tax hike on every single American” through tariffs); towards Social Security reform, an issue that has doomed Republicans for decades; and towards war with Russia and Iran.

On Tuesday, Haley promised to keep running, but will her herd follow when she runs off a cliff?

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