Nikki Haley faces a dark path forward

Nikki Haley is perhaps the country’s most prominent Republican, having refused to fall in line and endorse Donald Trump’s presidential bid.

It is unclear how long that could take.

What you need to know

  • Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley will deliver her first public speech on Wednesday since leaving the Republican primary.
  • Haley’s allies and opponents are awaiting her decision on whether to support Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee.
  • Some allies believe Haley may be forced to back the former president before the November election to avoid permanently alienating the Republican Party’s base, but her supporters say in interviews they hope she won’t relent and that they may not support her in the future as she does
  • Meanwhile, President Joe Biden’s team is quietly organizing a Republicans for Biden group, which will eventually include dedicated staff and focus on the hundreds of thousands of Haley voters in every battleground state.

Some allies believe she may be forced to back him before the November election to avoid permanently alienating the Republican Party’s base. Some even suspect that Haley will reappear on Trump’s short list of vice presidential candidates in the coming months, despite Trump’s recent statement to the contrary.

But if Haley submits to Trump, as so many of his Republican critics have done, she also risks destroying her own coalition of independents, moderates and anti-Trump Republicans who still show up to support her in low-key primaries of profound influence. -red Indiana to deep blue Maryland. On Tuesday, she will get another chance to demonstrate her continued strength during Kentucky’s presidential primaries, more than two months after she suspended her campaign.

Haley’s decision on Trump in the coming months will be closely watched not only by her supporters, but also by allies of Trump and President Joe Biden. What she decides to do — and whether her coalition follows — could have a profound impact on this year’s general election and her future as a top-level Republican whose brand appeals to many outside her party.

“Nikki Haley could be the person who unites us,” said Thalia Floras, a 62-year-old retail manager from Nashua, New Hampshire, who was a lifelong Democrat before voting for Haley in her state’s January primary.

But Floras also has a warning: “Nikki Haley has a good place with me now. But if she goes with Trump, I’m done.”

People close to Haley, a 52-year-old former governor and U.N. ambassador, say it is unclear what she will do.

Haley voters are up for grabs, but only Biden is trying

Haley and Trump haven’t spoken in months. That includes the period after she withdrew from the Republican Party primaries in early March, according to a person with direct knowledge of Haley’s private conversations.

And while some Republicans who supported Haley will certainly organically drift back to Trump, the Biden campaign is working to win over its supporters, whom they view as true swing voters.

Biden’s team is quietly organizing a Republicans for Biden group, which will eventually include dedicated staff and focus on the hundreds of thousands of Haley voters in each battleground state, according to people familiar with the plans.

The Democratic president has not kept his intentions secret.

Biden issued a statement thanking Haley for her courage to challenge Trump just minutes after she withdrew from the primaries in March.

“Donald Trump has made it clear that he does not want Nikki Haley’s supporters. I want to be clear: there is a place for them in my campaign,” Biden said at the time.

Trump, meanwhile, said in late January that Haley donors would be permanently excluded from his “Make America Great Again” camp. While he has refrained from attacking her since she left the race, Trump also has not made public statements of goodwill, as he has done for other vanquished rivals such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

As part of Biden’s continued support of Haley’s coalition, his campaign late last month released a digital ad highlighting Trump’s often personal attacks on Haley, including his primary nickname of her as “birdbrain” and the suggestion that “she is not presidential wood’.

Asked about Trump’s lack of outreach to Haley and her supporters, senior adviser Jason Miller avoided any mention of her and instead cast doubt on the strength of Biden’s coalition of Black Americans, Latinos and young voters.

“The reality is that the Republican Party is united behind President Trump, while the Democratic Party is fractured over Joe Biden’s disastrous policies on issues like inflation and the border,” Miller said.

Few expect Haley to outright support the Democratic president. Such a decision would make it difficult, if not impossible, for her to win a future Republican Party presidential primary if she decides to run again.

Instead, Biden’s allies are hopeful that Haley, along with other high-profile Republican Trump critics, will either remain silent or offer a statement of support that focuses on the election’s commitment to democracy rather than direct praise for Biden.

If and when Biden’s team is able to recruit key Republican supporters, they will likely wait several more weeks to unveil them to help maximize their impact when voters pay close attention to the November election.

Pro-Biden Republican Geoff Duncan speaks out

Former Georgia Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, a Republican who had endorsed Haley in the Republican Party primaries, formally endorsed Biden earlier this month. In an interview, he said he made the decision before speaking to Biden’s campaign, although Biden personally called him to thank him after Duncan announced his decision.

Duncan did not rule out taking a prominent role in the Republicans for Biden group or even speaking at the Democratic National Convention this summer, just as former Ohio Governor John Kasich did four years ago.

Duncan hopes Haley will not ultimately support Trump, as many of Trump’s high-profile Republican critics have done.

“I feel like this would be a short-term sugar high just to curry favor within the Republican Party,” Duncan said of Haley’s possible endorsement of Trump. ‘She has the right to do what she wants to do. It is clear that everyone is playing the political analysis. But where do we draw the line at a certain point?’

The list of high-profile Republicans willing to oppose Trump in 2024 is exceedingly small.

Even those who described Trump as a dangerous threat to democracy, such as New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, ultimately supported him. Sununu, who was among Haley’s top national surrogates during the campaign, declined repeated requests to comment on her political future. And DeSantis, once Trump’s chief rival and also a potential early 2028 candidate, is now planning to raise money for Trump’s general election campaign.

Haley steps back into the public spotlight

Haley has only just begun to emerge from a post-campaign period of isolation, during which she took time to reconnect with her family, especially her husband, a serviceman who recently returned from a nearly year-long overseas tour.

She plans to give a foreign policy speech later this week — her first public speech since ending her 2024 campaign — at the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based conservative think tank where she has signed on as Walter P. Stern- chair.

And last week, Haley sat behind closed doors in South Carolina with dozens of donors and allies, thanking her coalition while largely ignoring Trump. She did not encourage attendees to support his campaign.

Simone Levinson, a Haley bundler who attended the private meeting, said there is still a need among Republicans for a next-generation figure who can communicate well and build consensus.

“There is very strong evidence that she struck a chord that still resonates with millions of Americans,” said Levinson, who lives in Florida.

Haley’s coalition is sending a message

Without any formal organization, advertising or even private encouragement, Haley voters continue to show up in low-key presidential primaries, which will last until the end of June, even though Trump is the only candidate left in the race.

Haley won more than 21 percent of the vote during the presidential primaries in Maryland last week. That’s after posting similar numbers the week before in Indiana and Arizona, just weeks after leaving the race.

“She’s articulate and intelligent, and those are things that Trump is not,” said retired school psychologist Kathy Showen, an independent voter from Cross Lanes, West Virginia, who voted for Haley for the first time last week.

Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, Floras said she will reluctantly vote for Biden this fall because she can’t stomach Trump. But she is hopeful that Haley will compete again in 2028.

However, her feelings could change if Haley relents and supports Trump before the fall elections.

“I would be really disappointed if she doesn’t stand up to him,” Floras said. “That would come to her mind.”