Nikki Haley Won’t Drop Out (As Long As Donors Keep Giving)

Haley will keep running on fumes.
Photo: JULIA NIKHINSON/AFP via Getty Images

When word got around that Nikki Haley was going to make a big speech about the “state of the race” just a few days before the South Carolina Republican presidential primary, some people naturally figured she was going to drop out of the 2024 race. While her disastrous deficit in Palmetto State polling has recently abated a bit (she’s now trailing Donald Trump by 25 points in the RealClearPolitics polling averages; she was behind by more than 30 points just a few days ago), she is still cruising for a bruising in her home state on February 24. And as polls begin to drift in for the massive number of states that are holding contests in the month after South Carolina votes, it’s clear she’s far behind Trump in most if not all of them. In Michigan, the very next state on the calendar, for example, Trump’s lead was 60 points in the only public poll we’ve seen this year. In California — the largest state to vote on March 5, Super Tuesday — Trump led by 52 points (72 percent to 20 percent) in a brand new Emerson poll. Nationally, the former president is supported by three-fourths of Republican primary voters, and leads Haley by 58 points (75 percent to 17 percent).

Soon Haley’s claim that every Republican voter who didn’t back Trump in Iowa and New Hampshire would be disenfranchised if she withdrew won’t be even remotely plausible:

There’s simply no sign that Haley is going to make this race even vaguely competitive. Trump will almost certainly have a majority of delegates pledged to him by the end of March. And in the unlikely event that Trump suffers some calamity that sends these delegates looking for a replacement (which isn’t easy under Republican rules), these loyal MAGA troops would probably rather choose a nominee at random than turn to Nikki Haley, whose criticisms of Trump have turned sharply personal in recent weeks.

But as she quickly made clear in her “state of the race” speech in Greenville (and in interviews just before it), Haley isn’t dropping out. Why? Because she doesn’t have to. So long as large- and small-dollar donors have the money to keep her going, Nikki Haley has the time. And so far she’s still raising dough. Her modestly improved poll numbers in South Carolina are less impressive when you realize she has massively outspent Trump in her old stomping grounds (probably the one state in the country where her name ID matches his). Bloomberg News reports:

The Haley campaign and her two allied super political action committees have booked $8.4 million in advertising there since the New Hampshire primary, according to data from AdImpact. South Carolinians have seen their former governor traverse the state on a two-week bus tour. Pro-Haley signs dot front yards and residents are inundated by multiple ads for her campaign on TV. …

By contrast, Trump’s team has booked no advertising in the state, with Make America Great Again Inc., the super PAC supporting him, spending just a modest $67,000 on text messages, according to a filing with the Federal Election Commission.

Haley isn’t awash in money, but she’s not having to post-date payroll checks, either, according to the Associated Press:

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, Perez-Cubas said. Her campaign raised $16.5 million in January alone — her best fundraising month ever — which includes $2 million in small-dollar donations online in the 48 hours after Trump threatened to “permanently bar” Haley supporters from his MAGA movement.

Haley raised another $1 million last week in the 24 hours after Trump attacked her husband, a military serviceman currently serving overseas.

At some point Haley’s lack of any plausible path to the nomination will sink in and the money spigots will begin to dry up. But why quit now? Haley has already foresworn a vice-presidential nomination and likely any prominent spot in a hypothetical Trump administration. She has very little to lose. And so she’s vowing to stay into the race through Super Tuesday, when barring some huge turnaround she’s going to suffer a defeat so overwhelming that even Never Trump Republicans will give up on her. In the meantime, she — and they — can dream.

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