KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — Nikki Haley’s team is bracing for a home state embarrassment in South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary on Saturday. Conventional wisdom suggests she’ll be forced to drop out. But that may not apply in 2024.
Ahead of a major speech on Tuesday, Haley told The Associated Press that she’s staying in the race no matter what at least until after another 20 states vote through Super Tuesday on March 5. That’s even as Donald Trump’s MAGA movement is furious that she’s refusing to drop out. After all, she’s the last major candidate standing in his path to the nomination.
The Associated Press spoke with Haley and several senior campaign officials and donors about her strategy ahead of the big speech. Here are some takeaways about how and why she plans to stay in the race:
SHE’S NOT QUITTING
Haley knows there is speculation she may drop out on Tuesday. But she told The Associated Press that she’s not going anywhere until at least after Super Tuesday. Yes, that’s even if she’s blown out by Donald Trump in her home state in Saturday’s South Carolina primary.
“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 said. “What is the rush? Why is everybody so panicked about me having to get out of this race?”
In case you don’t believe her, her team provided new details about her plans post-South Carolina.
She’s spending more than $500,000 on a new television advertising campaign set to begin running Wednesday in Michigan. Her post-South Carolina travel schedule 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.
THE LOSSES MAY PILE UP
Just don’t ask Haley which primary state she’s going to win.
It’s a fair question for someone who says she has a legitimate path to winning the Republican president nomination. But Haley and her team aren’t willing to answer that question specifically. Or maybe they can’t. That’s because polls suggest she’s a major underdog in virtually every state — even the state where she lives and was elected twice as governor — given Trump’s grip on the Republican Party.
Remember, Republican primary elections are typically decided by the party’s most energized partisans — not the broader swath of moderates and independents that are more influential in general elections.
Haley had a fiery answer when pressed on her specific prospects for victory during the AP interview.
“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?” she said.
Still, Haley’s team says there are several states where she can be competitive with Trump — especially those with open or semi-open primaries that allows a broader collection of voters to participate instead of just hardcore Republicans.
By the way, one of them is South Carolina, which allows voters to participate in whichever presidential primary they want — as long as they only vote once.
MONEY IS NOT A PROBLEM
Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but most presidential candidates do not drop out when they lose; they drop out when they run out of money. The conditions are related, of course. Who wants to waste money on a loser?
But somehow, even as the losses begin to pile up, Haley is raising money at the strongest rate of her political career.
Traditional Republican donors like Eric Levine, who hosted a New York fundraiser for Haley earlier this month, said he’s betting big that Haley will somehow find an opening if she stays patient given Trump’s legal baggage and propensity for major gaffes and scandal.
There’s also a more emotional appeal. Many in the party just aren’t ready to surrender to Trump’s MAGA politics even if the math is on his side.
Or as Levine puts it, “We’re not prepared to fold our tents and pray at the alter of Donald Trump.”
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, according to campaign spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas. Her campaign raised $16.5 million in January alone — her best fundraising month ever. She raised another $1 million last week in the 24 hours after Trump attacked her husband, a military serviceman currently serving overseas.
LEANING INTO TRUMP LEGAL ISSUES
As Trump calls Haley names like “stupid” and “birdbrain,” Haley is sharpening her focus on the Republican former president’s legal troubles.
Again and again, she attacked Trump for spending as much — or more — time in the courtroom as on the campaign trail. She predicted that Trump’s political standing would change dramatically if he’s a convicted felon before Election Day, while worrying aloud that the Republican National Committee would become a personal “piggy bank” for his legal fees.
“People are not looking six months down the road when these court cases have taken place,” Haley said. “He’s going to be in a courtroom all of March, April, May and June. How in the world do you win a general election when these cases keep going and the judgments keep coming?”
And she didn’t exactly agree with Trump that every one of the 91 felony charges against him are all politically motivated.
“Some, I think, are very politically motivated. Some, he’s going to have to defend himself,” she said in drawing a clear distinction.
LONG TERM OUTLOOK HAZY
Some Republicans want Haley to stay in the race all the way to the party’s July national convention. But Haley said she isn’t yet thinking much about her strategy beyond Super Tuesday. She also declined to say whether she’d drop out of the race if and when Trump hit the 50% delegate threshold to formally become the party’s presumptive nominee.
At the current rate, that’s likely to happen sometime in March.
She was also non-committal when asked if she’d help Trump on the campaign trail this fall if he ultimately secures the GOP nomination.
“I don’t know what actions I’m gonna take in terms of that, but I always said that even though I have problems with President Trump, I have more problems with Joe Biden,” Haley said.
And finally, we asked her if she could 100% rule out running on a presidential ticket with No Labels, a centrist third-party group that is actively courting potential candidates. She came close to taking herself out of contention, but this didn’t feel like the kind of answer that would put the question to bed for good.
You be the judge.
“I have not had one conversation with No Labels. They have sent signals to me that they want to talk. I have told them I am not interested in talking,” Haley said. “I’m running as a Republican. That’s my focus is to stay in this as a Republican nominee and to win as a Republican.”