Haley’s Gambit

Nikki Haley speaks during the Republican Jewish Coalition annual leadership meeting in Las Vegas. (Photo by David Becker for the Washington Post)

The task of moving the Republican Party past Donald Trump will soon get harder. Maybe by a little, possibly by a lot.

Regular readers know that I think Nikki Haley fills a unique niche in the coming presidential primary as the only candidate who won’t have enough support to win but might have enough support to spoil the chances of the most formidable Trump alternative, Ron DeSantis. As such, her campaign is more likely to produce a third Trump nomination than a first Haley nomination and everyone involved knows it. One Trump operative put it bluntly in December when he said, “Basically, we’re praying Nikki Haley runs.” Trump himself admitted in an interview on Thursday that he didn’t try to dissuade her from getting in.

So she’s in, or will be as of February 15. And given the odds against her, she’s almost certainly running to be someone’s running mate, not the nominee herself.

She reminds me of Ted Cruz both in how conniving she is in her ambition and how transparent her machinations tend to be. When Cruz ran for president in 2016, he spent the first six months of the campaign applauding Trump despite the fact that Trump was every inch the RINO squish on policy that Mr. Constitutional Conservative normally disdains. Cruz’s strategy was as obvious as it was cynical: He assumed Trump would collapse once Republican voters sniffed out his squishiness and that MAGA devotees would then stampede toward the most Trump-friendly populist still left in the field—namely, Ted Cruz.

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