Can Nikki Haley Be the Consensus Candidate—And Will It Matter?

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks at the Des Moines Register SoapBox during the Iowa State Fair on August 12, 2023 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Happy Wednesday! We’ve got a Republican debate tonight and a jam-packed newsletter today—let’s get right to it.

Up to Speed

  • The Republican candidates for president—sans the frontrunner, former President Donald Trump—will take the stage tonight at California’s Reagan Presidential Library for the second GOP primary debate. Trump plans to counter-program the event with a Michigan rally designed to highlight the ongoing autoworkers’ strike.
  • Sen. Bob Menendez, indicted last Friday on federal corruption charges, isn’t going down without a fight. In a defiant Monday press conference, Menendez said he would not resign and suggested he plans to run again next year: “Not only will I be exonerated, but I will still be New Jersey’s senior senator.” Menendez is accused of influencing U.S. foreign policy and funneling information to the Egyptian government in exchange for cash payouts and lavish gifts including gold bars, mortgage payments, and a Mercedes-Benz. 
  • Meanwhile, Democratic calls for Menendez’s resignation have reached a fever pitch: More than half of his Democratic Senate colleagues, including New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, have publicly demanded he step down. 
  • In an apparent attempt to preempt challenges sparked by Menendez’s legal troubles, his son Rep. Rob Menendez decided this was the week to announce his own reelection bid. He said he would run to serve the residents of his district, “in stark contrast to those who may run to further their own naked political ambition.” The New Jersey freshman also defended his father: “I strongly believe in his integrity and his values, and look forward to seeing him move past this distraction to continue fighting for our state in the United States Senate.”

Could It Be Nikki? 

If Gov. Ron DeSantis continues his monthslong slump in the polls, will former President Donald Trump simply glide to a third presidential nomination? Or is there still a path for another challenger to emerge in the role DeSantis was supposed to occupy: the opposition-unifying consensus candidate?

Going into the second debate, the person best positioned to rise to that long-shot challenge may be former governor and ambassador Nikki Haley.

Haley still lags well behind DeSantis (to say nothing of Trump) in national polls. But she has recently seen significant positive movement in key early states—most notably her home state of South Carolina, where two polls this month put her at 18 percent support, and New Hampshire, where she is suddenly averaging 13 percent support after months stuck in the low single digits.

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