Nikki Haley: a force to be reckoned with?

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Former President of the United States, Donald Trump, has faced many obstacles to his re-election in the past few months. Last year, within five months, he was indicted in four separate criminal cases and charged with 91 felony counts. This includes the former president’s questionable involvement in organising the January 2021 US capital riots and the E. Jean Carroll defamation case, which Mr Trump has been found guilty of and ordered to pay $83.3mn (£65.6mn). Nevertheless, Mr Trump is unaware he might have another rival in the Grand Old Party (GOP) itself – former governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley. 

Iowa’s Republican presidential caucuses, the first major electoral test for Republican candidates, proved to be a landslide victory for Mr Trump. Having obtained 50% of the vote and twenty delegates on his side, the former president caused the withdrawal of both Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis, both now endorsing their former competitor.

Mr Ramaswamy and DeSantis have previously been seen as rival nominees, especially after Mr Trump’s legal troubles. However, after his withdrawal, Mr DeSantis stated that “it’s clear to me that a majority of Republican primary voters want to give Donald Trump another chance” and “he has my endorsement because we can’t go back to the old Republican guard of yesteryear, a repackaged form of warmed-over corporatism that Nikki Haley represents”.

One candidate, Nikki Haley, has stood firm despite these withdrawals and will attempt to rival Mr Trump. Most recently, the 2024 New Hampshire caucuses have proven that Mrs Haley is a candidate to be feared, obtaining over 43.3% of the vote despite endorsements by Mr Ramaswamy and DeSantis.

Mrs Haley is a candidate to be feared, obtaining over 43.3% of the vote

Nevertheless, who is Nikki Haley? In addition to serving as governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017, she also served as the US Ambassador to the UN from 2017 to 2018. If selected, she will become the first female presidential nominee in the history of the GOP. Most notably, only eight years after Hillary Clinton ran an unsuccessful presidential bid against Donald Trump. 

The main problem is whether Haley can stand up to Mr Trump and the other Republican candidates who have endorsed him. Yet, given the landslide results from the Iowa and New Hampshire caucuses, this is unlikely. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that only 5% of Republicans believe that it is extremely or very important that the US elects a woman president in their lifetime. This does nothing but reinforce Mr Trump’s potential candidacy. 

Despite this, something could play positively into Mrs Haley’s hands: Mr Trump’s disqualification from the presidential election. This is the case in Colorado and Maine, where Donald Trump is banned from the presidential ballot due to breaching the US Constitution’s insurrection clause. Nonetheless, Trump is expected to appeal both state rulings in the US Supreme Court. Furthermore, the Colorado Republican Party has stated they are considering holding a caucus on their own if the appeal is not accepted so Mr Trump can be nominated.

What is left now are the primary elections, which are supposed to occur in Nevada, South Carolina, and Michigan in February. It should be noted that South Carolina is Mrs Haley’s home state, which will impact her favourability with voters. Additionally, it is interesting to note the recent voting intentions of the Republican Party. Mrs Haley has seen her support increase by up to 20% compared to her rival’s 3% (including other candidates’ endorsements). 

Mrs Haley has seen her support increase by up to 20%

Nonetheless, it is important to look into not only the primaries but also the state of the Republican Party itself. Will the opposition be able to rival the incumbent Democratic Party this time around? According to polls by ABC News, President Biden’s approval rating is under 40%, proving Americans are looking for a change in leadership. However, will the change come in the form of the GOP? Some suggest that there is a shift in American bipartisanship. A poll by YouGov states that 45% of Americans have a very or somewhat favourable opinion of Robert F. Kennedy Jr, former President Kennedy’s nephew. RFK Jr is the most favourably viewed candidate in the American political spectrum. Furthermore, RFK Jr has stated that Trump has contacted him to be his running mate. Such a move might mean that Trump sees RFK Jr as a threat to a Republican win in the 2024 presidential election.

Therefore, Nikki Haley still has a long way to go to become the Republican nominee for the American presidential election. However, even if she does win, she may face threats from a third-party intervention, which had already affected George H. W. Bush in the 1992 election and may stop her presidential aspirations. 

Image: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

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