Could Nikki Haley Still Derail Trump in the General Election?


Former United Nations ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will not be the Republican presidential candidate. But she could still threaten Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Securing the nomination requires winning at least 1,215 of 2,429 delegates at the GOP convention. After winning the South Carolina and Michigan primaries, Trump has 138 delegates, and Haley has 24.

That lopsided ratio of delegates will likely be similar after Super Tuesday on March 5. That’s when 15 states hold Republican primaries, which account for nearly half of all delegates to their convention.

Unfortunately for Haley, most state Republican primaries award most or all of their delegates to the winner. That’s why Haley received only 6% of her home state of South Carolina’s delegates even though she received 40% of the votes.

Nate Cohn, the chief political analyst for The New York Times, is betting that Trump could easily win more than 90 percent of the total delegates at stake on Super Tuesday. Before the end of March, Trump could secure the nomination.

At that point, her prior half-hearted support of Trump as the Republican candidate will not spare her his wrath.

Haley has gotten under Trump’s skin more than any of the other primary contenders. Her refusal to abandon the fight until late in the game has driven Trump to often attack her rather than President Joe Biden. Trump’s narcissistic modus operandi for revenge will likely lead him to hinder, if not block, Haley from winning any political office in the future.

The Republican convention audience will be overwhelmingly pro-Trump, and Haley will face immense party pressure there to endorse him. Even if she does, it’s not likely to be a full-throated endorsement. And Trump and the crowd are unlikely to offer more than tepid applause.

Her strongest rationale for not endorsing Trump at the convention would be a conviction, or a run of especially bad news, in one or more of his criminal cases. But given the slow pace of legal proceedings (except the scheduled late-March start of the NYC Stormy Daniels hush money case) Trump may still look plenty strong when the GOP convention rolls around in mid-July.

A bolder course of action for Haley would be to avoid the convention and declare that she remains a reasonable conservative alternative to Trump, noting that she has consistently received support from 20% to 40% of Republican voters. She could time her announcement to coincide with the convention, turning the media spotlight from what should be the main event to one that offers an interesting counterpoint.

Her campaign could shift from winning the Republican nomination to “saving the real Republican party” from Trump. It would be an arduous effort that would need money and volunteers. Could she get them?

Haley has lasted this long in the Republican primary for one reason: she has big funders willing to put money into her campaigns. Madison Fernandez, the author of Politico’s campaigns newsletter, says, “Haley and her allies outspent Trump in the lead-up to both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.”

But even big funders have limits. Americans for Prosperity, the face of the conservative Charles Koch’s fundraising network, said the day following the South Carolina primary vote that it was pulling financial support for the Haley campaign and allied organizations. Before that announcement, the Koch network spent $32 million to boost her campaign. Another super PAC, Independents Moving the Needle, spent $500,000 on video ads less than a week before the New Hampshire primary on Jan 23. Haley lost New Hampshire but did garner 43.2% of the vote.

If Haley doesn’t do well on Super Tuesday – winning at least one state and collecting a noticeable number of delegates, a lot more of her financial backing will probably dry up.

Haley also is short on support from Republican party leaders. Of the 12 other primary candidates who competed with Trump, only two endorsed Haley, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, and Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, Former House Speaker Paul Ryan, and U.S. South Carolina Representative Ralph Norman have also endorsed her.

To remain relevant in this year’s election cycle, Haley will need to somehow draw in conservative independents and anti-Trump Republicans who no longer feel the party represents them. One option would be to announce that she will be an independent candidate for president but will work to advance the GOP agenda. This is similar to the approach that Bernie Sanders took when he toyed with running as an independent for the presidency.

Realistically, she would not have a chance of becoming president. But she could be a spoiler for Trump. Her stated goal would be to resurrect the “real” Republican Party with its long-held values of supporting family values, less government, and open-market policies. Above all, she would present stable leadership. She would run a government based on adherence to the Constitution, not personal loyalty.

Haley doesn’t have to compete in all the states to significantly impact the distribution of electoral votes.

Being a write-in candidate is the easiest path to getting on a state’s ballot. Of the eight states that allow voters to write in any name as a write-in vote, three states, including Iowa, provided Trump with 18 electoral votes in 2020.

Another 33 states will only count votes for write-in candidates who officially registered with the state. A candidate can easily meet those requirements by submitting necessary registration documents by a specific deadline, paying a fee, or collecting signatures. Haley could do that.

Another route is to run as an independent candidate. The deadline to file as an independent is in August for 31 states. Some states bar candidates who sought and failed to secure the nomination of a political party from running as independents in the general election. However, according to Ballotpedia, ballot access expert Richard Winger concluded that “sore loser laws have been construed not to apply to presidential primaries.” According to Winger, 45 states have sore loser laws on the books, but 43 of these states do not seem to apply to presidential candidates.

The point is that there is a path forward for Haley to run as a counterbalance to the MAGA wing of the party. That might stir enough excitement to entice PACs to fund her effort. Volunteers may step forward to work their state to demonstrate that they cannot tolerate a party dominated by a single personality. The new group Principles First could be attracted to her effort. They are focused on advancing a more principled center-right politics in the United States.

An independent Haley presidential run could keep media interest high and less focused on two elderly white men slugging it out. Even the conservative media, such as NewsNation and perhaps a few Fox’s commentators, might enjoy poking Trump as they have done in the past.

It all comes down to Haley deciding if she wants to go down peacefully resigned to accepting the new Trumpian Republican Party or if she’s going to open a new page in the history of her party.

We’ll all know by the beginning of August, if not before.

Nick Licata
Nick Licata
Nick Licata, was a 5 term Seattle City Councilmember, named progressive municipal official of the year by The Nation, and is founding board chair of Local Progress, a national network of 1,000 progressive municipal officials. Author of Becoming a Citizen Activist. Subscribe to Licata’s newsletter Urban Politics


  1. I hope I’m wrong, but I still suspect that Nikki Haley will run as an independent, No-Labels candidate. She has boxed herself in by staying in her anti-Trump posture, and if she waits to run in 2028, the Republicans won’t forgive her and stronger Trump-successors will fend her off. She has said she won’t run as an independent or help defeat Biden, but her word is “fluid.” Her other option is to lie low, but that’s not her style, once bitten by fame.

  2. Haley has just dropped out of the Republican primary and still says she would not be part of a No Labels independent ticket, since that would involve a Democratic running mate. Horrors! Haley voters now become the key swing vote, with both Trump and Biden courting them. Stay tuned.

  3. As I wrote, Haley’s strongest hand is to run as an ardent conservative. She will not attract Biden voters And, she shouldn’t even try to court them, because that effort would discredit her as a conservative Republican.

    By running as a “true Republican” she opens the way for Rs disaffected with Trump to vote for her and send a message to the Republican Party that it is continuing to splinter, to the point of making the party lose in future elections if Trump continues to control the party.


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