Haley’s Comet

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during the Republican Jewish Coalition's Annual Leadership Summit on October 28, 2023, in Las Vegas. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Never have so many written so much about so little.

Until Monday, that was my feeling about Nikki Haley’s “surge” in the Republican primary.

It was just about a year ago that Ron DeSantis won reelection in Florida by an astounding 19 points, portending a changing of the guard—at last—in the leadership of the GOP. Polling conducted in the months afterward showed the governor competitive with, or even ahead of, Donald Trump in early primary states. The coming presidential race looked like it would be a Shakespearean drama about an old king trying to fend off a cunning young prince.

Instead, we got Bambi Meets Godzilla.

DeSantis hasn’t been within 30 points of Trump nationally in the RealClearPolitics average since May. He hasn’t been within 40 points since early September. Trump sits at 59.1 percent in the average as I write this, tied for his best mark yet. DeSantis is at 12.6 percent, two-tenths of a point off his worst.

The press is bored and dejected. The “Horse Race Industrial Complex,” as Tim Miller calls it, hasn’t had anything interesting to write about for six months. And so any sign of life, even the smallest green shoot pushing up through parched cracked soil, is destined to be lavished with undue coverage about the race “heating up.”

Enter Haley. She’s also seeing her best national polling to date at the moment, leaving her a mere … 51 points behind the frontrunner. “She’s breaking through at the right moment,” former Jeb Bush adviser Mike Murphy gushed to Politico. “Everything else has been ridiculous preseason coverage, like baseball teams at summer training. … I think it all starts now.”

It probably won’t surprise you to learn I do not share his optimism. Jonathan Last recently pointed out that the candidate who’s gained the most ground in polling since the start of August isn’t Haley, it’s, er, Trump. He’s the one who’s “surging,” no doubt thanks to some DeSantis-curious populists concluding that they’re not so curious about the governor after all.

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