The Born Loser
Nikki Haley is going to lose. She knows she’s going to lose. That doesn’t mean it won’t be fun to watch.
The first sure loser has entered the race for 2024.
Though an official announcement is not expected until February 15, we can say with all but certainty now that Nimrata Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and ambassador to the United Nations, will make a bid to succeed Joe Biden’s ghost in the coveted Oval Office. This makes Haley, a one-time rising star and Trump admin alumna, the first Republican to mount a race for the White House against 45, who declared back in November.
Dead on arrival doesn’t begin to describe it.
Polls are famously useless, but even the margin of error that has kept an entire industry of Democrat hacks employed since their total miss on Trump could not resurrect Nikki Haley’s electoral prospects.
In a Morning Consult poll released last month, Haley logged just 2 percent support from Republican primary voters. Two. Even Liz Cheney performed better (though only by a point).
The Palmetto State politico would have to multiply her base by a factor of 24 to even get within striking distance of the former president’s 48. Of the six possible challengers included in the ranking, only Ron DeSantis even seems to stand a chance—though he is still well behind The Donald at 31 percent.
A Harvard CAPS/Harris poll released around the same time shows similar results: Trump at 48, DeSantis at 28, Mike Pence at 7, and Nikki Haley tied at 3 with Marco Rubio (who has not expressed the slightest interest in running this time around).
She is going to lose. She knows she’s going to lose. That doesn’t mean it won’t be fun to watch.
Because the man himself is in the race, and because Haley has a unique background to reckon with, the 2024 primary will be a far better indication than the midterm congressional fights of how the old guard will conduct itself in a party remade by Trump.
Haley herself has waffled on the all-important Orange Man question. She was just shy of a NeverTrumper in the 2016 primary, intimating over and over that the GOP frontrunner might have a bit of a race problem. (Haley herself, meanwhile, was famously enlightened—the Republican leader who banished the Rebel flag from the South Carolina Capitol.)
Once Trump became the party’s nominee, Haley begrudgingly got on board. When she was offered a plum post as ambassador to the U.N., she got a little more enthusiastic. With little explanation and even less public fanfare, she resigned after less than two years—called by the New York Times, for some reason, “that rarest of Trump appointees: one who can exit the administration with her dignity largely intact.”
How that could be true is hard to tell. Haley’s habit of waffling has hardly abated since leaving her ambassadorship almost half a decade ago. One day Trump would be a “friend”; the next, she’d clarify that “friend is a loose term.” One day the Capitol riot would be a minor error in judgment; the next it would be an inexcusable tragedy. One day Trump’s second impeachment would be a baseless Democrat witch hunt, and the next we'd learn she believed its central claims when it was still just a glint in Adam Schiff's buggy eye. Perhaps most plainly: One day she’d say she wouldn’t run in ’24 if Trump did, and the next that she’d mount a campaign for the White House.
Plenty of people in the GOP have been at turns rabidly pro- and anti-Trump as political winds shift. Nikki Haley is just the only one looking to challenge him for the presidency.
She is likely to try to pull off some kind of balancing act: boosting her 45 credentials while hammering home her dead consensus platform. The only thing worth betting on is which side of the tightrope she’ll fall off of.
Haley’s Trump-admin credentials are weaker than most. A Ukraine irredentist and Israel supremacist, she was always an odd choice as U.N. ambassador for an America First president. At the U.N., she was a much rarer advocate for American interests than for those of other nations and the global advance of liberalism. Whenever given the chance, she affirmed the United States’ commitment to rights-based ideology on the world stage, as when she insisted that the American regime did not consider “conduct such as homosexuality, blasphemy, adultery, and apostasy … appropriate for criminalization.”
This is what Nikki Haley has always believed, from the first campaigns when she waxed poetic about immigrant dreams in the land of opportunity and who we are as a disembodied country and the perpetual forward motion of the great experiment. She is the kind of person who considers and treats America as an idea—the end of history’s march toward maximal freedom.
Which is to say she is a progressive liberal—in the literal senses of both words—who happens to have mostly decent thoughts on tax policy.
That makes her, more than anything, a product of her time, which is a bit of an excuse.
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Nikki Haley came up in a GOP that regarded America this way, and so became entirely imperialist, capitalist, and libertarian. That this political revolution had nothing to do with the American tradition is secondary to the fact that it wreaked havoc on the people of America (not to mention Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Ukraine, or any of the other countries whose people became cannon fodder for the empire’s expansion).
It was also not a winning formula, which most people realize after 2016—even Nikki Haley said of the GOP’s future in 2021, “I don’t want us to go back to the days before Trump.”
She is hardly alone. In a week and a half, all those who feel similarly can thank her for sounding the death knell of the ancien regime.