May 25, 2024

With Nikki Haley officially suspending her campaign on Wednesday morning, the 2024 Republican presidential primary drew to a close. The rematch between Donald Trump and Joe Biden is on, and at least for now, the tables have turned compared to 2020. 

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READ: Nikki Haley’s Short and Cryptic Campaign Suspension Speech


The post mortems on the Haley campaign have also begun, with Politico proclaiming she “ran a near-perfect campaign.” Did she, though? 

Her debate performances were so commanding she at times left her rivals stuttering. Her answers on tricky subjects like abortion managed to expertly evade getting nailed down on specifics. With the exception of her Civil War gaffe and muddled messaging last week on Alabama’s IVF ruling, Haley rarely went off script. Even her advance team’s work was widely hailed among campaign veterans as detailed and superior to the competition.

The premise of the article is fairly simple, despite its eye-catching headline. It supposes that Haley ran a “near-perfect” campaign when it came to her positions, debate poise, and campaign competency. Her only problem, according to the Politico? That she couldn’t quite figure out how to attack Donald Trump, with the idea being that had she cracked that code, she could have been victorious. 

Let me explain why that’s a complete misread. 

The problem with Nikki Haley was not whether she went too soft or hard on Trump at any given moment. The problem with Nikki Haley was Nikki Haley, and ironically, some of the worst gaffes of her campaign didn’t involve Trump but Ron DeSantis. 

Recall that during the heat of DeSantis’ battle with Disney (which, despite her predictions, he won decisively), Haley took the side of The Mouse, suggesting that South Carolina would welcome their operation. It was a ridiculous comment given a company can’t just uproot tens of billions of dollars worth of infrastructure, but it was also a clear sign that Haley had no intention of breaking the corporatist hold over the Republican Party.

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Then there was her infamous claim that DeSantis was anti-energy because he didn’t support fracking the Everglades. Left unsaid in her debate snark was the fact that the Everglades had been surveyed and found largely unviable for oil and gas drilling. Regardless, unlike a desolate plain in Alaska, the damage done to the wetlands would be irreversible, and Florida relies on its natural beauty for much of its economy. There’s a reason its residents have continually voted to disallow off-shore drilling.

Those details weren’t really the issue, though. Rather, it was how Haley viewed Republican voters. She was so pre-scripted and focus-grouped that should couldn’t fathom that conservatives could have nuanced views on energy exploration. The same was true of her position on Ukraine, where she routinely acted as if anyone who wanted accountability regarding the aid being sent was secretly helping Vladimir Putin. Believe it or not, there was and remains plenty of room in the middle regarding Ukraine.

I could keep giving examples to prove Haley alienated Republican voters, but I’ll just show you.

When Ron DeSantis dropped out of the presidential race, he did so as the second-most popular GOP figure in the country according to polling data. By contrast, Haley ended her campaign with a near-net-negative favorable rating. Both attacked Trump so what was the difference? The difference was appeal. 

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Haley’s “near-perfect” campaign appealed mostly to Democrats while DeSantis appealed to conservatives, even if a lot of those conservatives ultimately decided the Trump indictments were an overriding factor. There was never a large enough lane for Haley to win with her strategy, which meant her campaign was doomed from the start. DeSantis at least tried to run a play that had a theoretical chance of working.

With all that said, the biggest problem with Politico’s analysis is that it assumes Haley will be viable when Donald Trump leaves the stage. She won’t be, though, because she is not representative of the current Republican Party. I’d go so far as to say she’s a non-starter in 2028. Does that sound like someone who ran a “near-perfect” campaign?

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