Ross Douthat: Can Nikki Haley Beat Trump?

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday, The New York Times columnist, Ross Douthat, had a piece on whether Nikki Haley can beat Donald Trump for the Republican nomination for president.  He admits it is a long shot but not impossible. Here is a summary of  his analysis.

“First, assume that ideological analysis of party politics is overrated, and that a candidate’s contingent success can yield irresistible momentum, stampeding voters in a way that polls alone cannot anticipate.

For Haley, the stampede scenario requires winning outright in New Hampshire. The difficulty is that even on the upswing, she still trails Trump 46-19 in the current RealClearPolitics Average. But assume that Christie drops out and his support swings her way, assume that the current polling underestimates how many independents vote in the G.O.P. primary, assume a slight sag for Trump and a little last-moment Nikkimentum, and you can imagine your way to a screaming upset — Haley 42, Trump 40.

Then assume that defeat forces Trump to actually debate in the long February lull (broken only by the Nevada caucus) between New Hampshire and the primary in Haley’s own South Carolina. Assume that the front-runner comes across as some combination of rusty and insane, Haley handles him coolly and then wins her home state primary. Assume that polls still show her beating Biden, Fox News has rallied to her fully, endorsements flood in — and finally, finally, enough voters who like Trump because he’s a winner swing her way to clear a path to the nomination.

You’ll notice, though, that this story skips over Iowa. That’s because I’m not sure what Haley needs there. Victory seems implausible, but does she want to surge so impressively that it knocks DeSantis out of the race? Or, as the Dispatch’s Nick Catoggio has suggested, does the fact that DeSantis’s voters mostly have Trump as a second choice mean that Haley actually needs DeSantis to stay in the race through the early states, so that Trump can’t consolidate his own potential support? In which case maybe Haley needs an Iowa result where both she and DeSantis overperform their current polling, setting her up for New Hampshire but also giving the Florida governor a reason to hang around.

This dilemma connects to my earlier argument that beating Trump requires a joining of the Haley and DeSantis factions, an alliance of the kind contemplated by Trump’s opponents in 2016 but never operationalized. But I doubt Haley is interested in such an alliance at the moment; after all, people are talking about her path to victory — and here I am, doing it myself!

Fundamentally, though, I still believe that Haley’s destiny is anticipated by the biting, “congrats, Nikki,” quote from a DeSantis ally in New York Magazine: “You won the Never Trump primary. Your prize is nothing.”

I wish Douthat’s analysis comes true but not likely!



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