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Nikki Haley’s Unproven Reserves
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Nikki Haley’s Unproven Reserves

The GOP contentender has had a good few weeks, but can she keep making gains?

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks alongside Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie during the NBC News primary debate on November 8, 2023, in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Other than getting herself whopperjawed over an ill-conceived and poorly launched proposal to end online anonymity, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has been having a helluva good run in recent weeks.

Indeed, her social media blunder is evidence of how well things have been going for her. When you’re in fifth place, a half baked idea served up on daytime television doesn’t get much attention. But as Vivek Ramaswamy can attest, the wacky ideas that can help get you the celebrity you need to be competitive promptly become liabilities once you arrive.

What made former President Donald Trump mostly impervious to this otherwise iron law of longshot candidacies is that he was already famous. Trump wasn’t getting media attention because of his zany ideas. He was getting media attention because he was probably the most famous first-time candidate since Dwight Eisenhower to run for president. Though Trump’s celebrity was of a somewhat different nature than Ike’s.

Trump also had a gift for dishonesty and elision that exceeded even the towering levels of bullcrap in politics, e.g. “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” Kooky ideas kept Trump in the news because media outlets craved the intense reactions—positive and negative—he produced as an already famous human. Ramaswamy, Haley, or another little-known figure can burn credibility to get famous, mortgaging future viability for immediate name identification. Trump worked that in reverse. His pre-existing celebrity helped him with access to the media and simultaneously lowered the expectations for his policies. 

Haley, a serious person who has had serious jobs, has a much, much narrower beam to walk. And in the next month, if she keeps her balance better than she did this week, Haley could finish ahead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in Iowa, essentially knocking him out of the race. 

If she can follow that up in New Hampshire with another second-place finish, Haley would have a month until her home state of South Carolina votes—a month to try to make it a real race with Trump. 

One part of the river of good news for Haley of late is a new poll from Marquette University Law School that shows Haley running the best against Joe Biden in the general election, leading him by 10 points nationally, and more than doubling the advantage that either Trump or DeSantis have in a hypothetical 2024 matchup with the incumbent. 

Evidence in support of the electability argument Haley has been making to Republican voters is very important for her just now. After all the money and effort that has so far been wasted on DeSantis, Haley needs something that seems substantial for candidate-switchers to base their decision on. 

But she should not forget the basis for her superior performance against Biden. 

Of any of the four—Biden, Trump, DeSantis, and herself—Haley had the best favorability rating, a net score determined by subtracting the percentage of voters with unfavorable views about a candidate from the percentage of favorable views. 

DeSantis is the worst off at -21, then Biden at -19, and Trump at -15. Only Haley is in positive territory, with a net score of 7. 

While it would be correct to say that Haley is much less unpopular than the others, it wouldn’t be right to say she is more popular. That’s because her greatest asset is that she is more unknown than the rest. 

While all but 1 percent of Americans have opinions about Trump and Biden, 31 percent of respondents had no opinion of Haley. 

That’s bad in the sense that she’s not famous enough to be a contender yet. And, as she learned with her misadventures in online anonymity, Haley will find that the cost of gaining celebrity is almost always measurable in higher unfavorable views. 

But it also means that she and her campaign have a modicum of control over how that 31 percent gets sorted out. 


Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.


STATSHOT

Biden Job Performance
Average approval: 40.4%
Average disapproval: 56.2%
Net score: –15.8 points 

Change from one week ago: ↓ 1.4 points                        
Change from one month ago: ↓ 0.4 points

[Average includes: Quinnipiac: 37% approve-59% disapprove; NPR/PBS/Marist: 43% approve-52% disapprove; Reuters/Ipsos: 39% approve-56% disapprove; Quinnipiac: 39% approve-58% disapprove; NewsNation: 44% approve-56% disapprove]

New Hampshire GOP Primary

Donald Trump: 45.7% (↓ 1.3 points from summer 2023)

Nikki Haley:  18.7% (↑ 14 points)

Chris Christie: 11.3% (↑ 4.3 points)

Ron DeSantis: 7.7% (↓ 9 points)

Vivek Ramaswamy: 7.0% (↑ 3.7 points)

[Averages include: Washington Post/Monmouth, CNN/UNH, WHDH-TV/Emerson]


TIME OUT: ‘THE LAST LIGHTKEEPERS’

New Yorker: “For the greater part of two decades, Sally Snowman has lived and worked contentedly on Little Brewster Island, a craggy patch of bare rock, crabgrass, concrete, and dilapidated buildings in Boston’s outer harbor. Under the auspices of the Coast Guard, she serves as the keeper, and the historian, of Boston Light. The lighthouse, opened in September, 1716, was the first in the American colonies, and Snowman is the last official keeper in the United States. … Gradually, a classic tableau came into view: a tapering stone tower, a white clapboard keeper’s house with green trim, a small boathouse. … A neon-orange No Trespassing sign was planted on the lawn, and the boathouse was empty; water rats have burrowed underneath. Snowman unlocked the keeper’s house, built in 1884 near the water’s edge. In the vestibule was a wooden sign painted with a beaming lighthouse and the legend ‘We will leave the light on for you.’”


DESANTIS, HALEY SCRAP OVER SCOTT SUPPORTERS

Wall Street Journal: “Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis are trying to take advantage of Tim Scott’s exit from the Republican presidential field by scooping up his supporters, endorsers and donors. … An Iowa Poll released late last month showed Scott with the support of 7% of likely participants in the state’s Republican caucuses, while another 10% listed him as their second choice. … Any path for Haley would require a strong showing in her home state… Having her fellow South Carolinian out of the mix means Haley, a former governor, wouldn’t have to compete against another local candidate there. DeSantis, who like Scott has placed his heaviest emphasis on Iowa, is expected to appear this weekend at a major event in the state focused on evangelical Christians. Those voters dominate the GOP caucuses and Scott had made them a central focus. … Haley, Trump, DeSantis and Christie all reached out to Scott on Monday. … Scott has no immediate plans to endorse any candidate.”

How Scott fell out: New York Times: “His television ads weren’t working. His operation was burning through far more cash than it was raising. … The man long expected to be the super PAC’s biggest donor, the billionaire Larry Ellison, wound up not giving anything to the group after Mr. Scott entered the race … By early November, Mr. Scott had sunk so low in polls that he barely qualified for the third presidential debate in Miami. … Mr. Scott, 58, was unable to convert his compelling life story — and more campaign cash at the outset than any other candidate — into concrete support. … Internally, the campaign was plagued by miscommunications, missed opportunities and mistrust. Allies questioned the candidate’s devotion to the race and his decision to lean on a senior team, led by Jennifer DeCasper, with so little presidential experience.”

Haley launches eight-figure early state ad buy: CBS News: “Nikki Haley’s presidential campaign announced it will be booking $10 million worth of television, radio and digital ads in Iowa and New Hampshire. The ad campaign is set to launch beginning in the first week of December and will run through Iowa’s Republican caucuses on Jan. 15 and the New Hampshire primary. … The $10 million ad booking in the two states through January is nearly five times larger than the DeSantis campaign’s $2 million TV ad reservation in Iowa for the same time period. … The DeSantis campaign currently has no ad reservations in New Hampshire or South Carolina, though the super PAC backing him does. He has anchored his bid in Iowa.”

While DeSantis doubles down, again, in Iowa: Politico: “Ron DeSantis’s campaign is moving three of its top officials to Iowa this week, a move that comes as the Florida governor is increasingly staking his hopes on a strong performance in the state’s first-in-the-nation GOP nominating contest. … Deputy campaign manager David Polyansky, national political director Sam Cooper and communications director Andrew Romeo are among the DeSantis aides who will now work from Iowa. … In all, the campaign is sending roughly 20 people — or one-third — of its Tallahassee-based national staff to the state. … As part of the wave, the DeSantis campaign has set up a headquarters in Urbandale (the campaign had one other office up to this point).”

Christie clears donor threshold for December debate: NBC News: “Chris Christie has amassed support from the 80,000 donors needed to qualify for the fourth Republican presidential debate in December, as he pushes to remain on the stage… Christie’s campaign says it has seen a ‘surge of organic support.’ … Christie still has to clear the Republican National Committee’s polling thresholds to qualify for the fourth debate, according to an NBC News analysis of the requirements. The RNC requires candidates to reach at least 6% in two national polls — or 6% in one national poll and two polls from different early primary states.”

‘I’m all in’: Mike Johnson endorses Trump: Wall Street Journal: “House Speaker Mike Johnson (R., La.) endorsed Donald Trump’s presidential campaign Tuesday … ‘I’m all in for President Trump,’ Johnson said in an interview on CNBC. The comments made Johnson the highest-ranking Republican in Washington to throw his support behind the former president. … Johnson made the comments hours after the New York Times reported that he had described Trump as lacking in moral character and unfit for office in a 2015 Facebook post. … Johnson said considerations about Trump’s character were outweighed by his record on the economy and national security.”

As Nevada AG launches fake electors probes: NBC News: “Nevada’s attorney general has opened an investigation into the state’s false electors — despite previous comments that such a move was unlikely… [Democrat Aaron Ford] is the latest state attorney general to open up a probe into the matter, which involves Republicans who supported Donald Trump and purported to be their states’ rightful electors even though President Joe Biden won their states in the 2020 election. The Michigan attorney general has charged her state’s false electors, Arizona’s probe is underway, and Georgia electors face charges, as well.”

RUST BELT DEMS SCUTTLE BIDEN HOPES FOR TRADE DEAL

Politico: “In recent days, the U.S. has pulled back on trade negotiations with Asian partners after pushback from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who is facing a challenging reelection bid in an increasingly red state. Now, the agreement won’t be finalized in San Francisco this week, as the administration had planned for months… Despite the trade pact — called the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework — not being subject to congressional approval, Brown’s comments sent a clear signal… ‘People are taking the time to make sure they do right by him,’ said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly. ‘He’s up next year.’ … Lawmakers like Brown now face the challenge of dealing with the legacy of former President Donald Trump’s protectionist policies that proved attractive to voters in key states.” 

Wife of New Jersey governor launches Senate bid, a boon to Menendez: New Jersey Globe: “First Lady Tammy Murphy … announced that she would seek the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by indicted incumbent Bob Menendez. The race pits Murphy, the wife of Gov. Phil Murphy, a businesswoman, and the mother of four, in a primary fight with three-term Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown) — and possibly with Menendez, who has refused to say if he plans to seek re-election next year. … Murphy will likely become the candidate of party insiders against Kim, securing organization lines — and preferential ballot placement — in the June 2024 primary. She is expected to quickly gain the endorsements of three of New Jersey’s most powerful Democratic county chairmen.”

Dem donors ditch Sinema: Politico: “Democratic donors have fled Sen. Kyrsten Sinema since she left the party — and she hasn’t made up the loss with Republicans or independents. … The campaign finance data indicate it will be a daunting task. … Her previous contributors are more loyal to the Democratic Party than they are to Sinema. … [Rep. Ruben Gallego] has supplanted Sinema as the de facto Democratic nominee in Arizona’s Senate race — and Democratic donors are responding. … ‘Her fundraising is somewhat dried up,’ said Barrett Marson, a GOP operative in Arizona. ‘There isn’t an independent donor base as there is a Republican donor base and a Democratic donor base.’ … Sinema raised $4.6 million in the first nine months of 2023, less than half as much as Gallego’s nearly $10 million haul. … Gallego raised $691,000 from Sinema’s biggest 2018 donors, while Sinema herself raised only $277,000 from that same group.”

BRIEFLY

Rep. Abigail Spanberger to run for Virginia Governor in 2025—Washington Post

After narrow 2022 escape, Rep. Ilhan Omar draws familiar primary challenge—Minneapolis Star Tribune

Alaska lieutenant governor launches House campaign—Anchorage Daily News 

Dem Rep. Dan Kildee will retire, opening Michigan battleground district—Midland Daily News

New Hampshire cements January 23 primary in defiance of DNC—Politico

WITHIN EARSHOT: THE WAFFLE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

“I got elbowed in the back and it kinda caught me off guard because it was a clean shot to the kidneys. And I turned back and there was Kevin. … I chased after him, of course.”—Tennessee GOP Rep. Tim Burchett, one of the eight members who voted to oust the former speaker, discusses his physical confrontation with Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).


MAILBAG

“Can you comment on the Polling Roulette chart in [last week’s] newsletter? It goes against narratives I keep hearing—that either Trump is doomed to lose but alternatives doomed to wither in the primaries, or Trump bound to win and alternatives bound to under-inspire. Yet it very much reflects my very narrow on-the-ground perceptions, that while Trump has some vigorous support there is a cavernous appetite for a conservative alternative.”—Rebekah Hall, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Helpful question, Ms. Hall! I think all of those views are overstated. The poll, a survey by Siena College conducted for the New York Times, shows that former President Donald Trump would thump President Joe Biden in five of the six most competitive swing states, but that former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley would do even better against Biden. When thinking about polls like these, please always remember that they start with a false premise: “If the election were being held today.” Respondents know that it isn’t, and such surveys, especially when there is an incumbent in the race, are good ways to register disapproval with the status quo. Lots of people who claim to be undecided really do have preferences, but don’t want to say so. It’s also true that persuadable voters are the least ideological, least engaged voters. They’re thinking about these things a great deal less than, say, someone who is corresponding with the writer/editor of a political newsletter. Haley might indeed run much better than Trump against Biden, but for now, her advantage stems mostly from the fact that she is so much less well known than Trump. The next 50 weeks will change the electorate—economic trends, world events, etc.—and the candidates, particularly our perceptions of them. Nothing yet is “doomed” or “bound” to happen. It is entirely possible, though not likely, that Haley could end up as the Republican nominee. It’s also possible that Biden could lose reelection, win narrowly, or get a second term in a relative landslide. Political professionals and pundits like to think that these things are knowable or predictable. At this point, outside of some broad, obvious limitations, they are not. The good news for candidates and voters is that they ought to feel free to do as they please and think since we know so little about what will transpire and how voters will really respond when the time comes. 


You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes and, always, good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission private. My colleague, the Curriered and Ived Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!

CUTLINE CONTEST: EXTRA, EXTRA

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin greets voters and their children while campaigning at Piney Branch Elementary School November 7, 2023, in Bristow, Virginia.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin greets voters and their children while campaigning at Piney Branch Elementary School November 7, 2023, in Bristow, Virginia. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

A nice switch to have a cutline contest about someone we don’t usually get to see, but famous enough to allow a little topical humor. The photo of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on the campaign trail drew lots of great responses, but the winner, maybe a fan of Better Off Dead, saw the joke clearly.

“No, I don’t know who you are.  That’ll be a buck fifty for the newspaper.”—Paul Williams, Shaker Heights, Ohio

Winner, Too Soon? Division:

“Stay in school, work hard, and you too can grow up to be pres … er, governor!”—Michael Smith, Georgetown, Kentucky

Winner, Rising Stars Division:

“Potential future presidential candidate greets Gov. Glenn Youngkin.”—Linda McKee, DuBois, Pennsylvania

Winner, Age of Majority Division:

“In conducting a post-mortem on the 2023 election losses, Youngkin and advisers identify the campaign’s attempt to target the youth vote as possibly needing reevaluation.”—Nick Burling, Willoughby, Ohio

Winner, Capt. Clarence Oveur Division:

“Do you like gladiator movies?”—Bob Goldman, Gilroy, California

Winner, Van Houten Division:

“Don’t tell me you love candy for its sweet, sweet taste, too?”—Mark Swedberg, Natal, Brazil

Winner, Commas Count Division:

“No, no.  I said your school should offer you access to play, boy.”—Bill Ward, St. Augustine Beach, Florida

And one programming note: The weekly contest for the photo at the top of today’s note will be the last one for November, so get your entries in before we find ourselves flung headlong into December! Who knows, your prize could be a holiday gift for some deeply weird loved one.

Send your proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the best entrants for each week and an appropriate reward for the best of this month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun!


A THANKSGIVING LITANY 

I have long made a habit at Thanksgiving of sharing the words of the great Adam Kelly, a West Virginia newsman who was known as “the country editor,” a nod to the 1946 Norman Rockwell paintings of the same name. I learned my vocation from Kelly’s son, Bob, whose voice I still hear every time a lede goes on too long or an adjective is too flowery. His father’s practice, maintained by his son and other successors after Adam’s death, was to publish each year on Thanksgiving what would in an ecclesiastical setting be called a litany. 

You can read it here, but these are the lines that always leap out at me: “Family and freedom are ordinary words … except for those who cannot now experience those blessings, and so, Lord, this day I give You thanks for the priceless privileges which are mine as an American citizen … The freedom to speak, to write, to think, without government interference or control; the right to worship You in any way I choose, I thank you, Lord.”

I say again: Amen, amen, amen.

Also in the name of Americanism, I will again share with you my perfect recipe for stuffing, or dressing, or whatever you people like to call it in your part of the country. The point of the dish by any name, though, is all about the bread. This is no place for European affectations like dried fruit or shellfish. It is a humble dish, not a gaudy or attention-seeking one. It is sturdy and reliable, like the holiday itself, and, if done well, my favorite part of the Thanksgiving feast. 

[block]Cut a loaf of really good, plain, soft white bread into ½-inch cubes. Bake it in a 225-degree oven for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until dry and crunchy. Place it in a large mixing bowl. Add ½ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, two tablespoons of finely chopped sage, and a tablespoon of finely (are you sensing a trend?) chopped thyme. Melt 10 tablespoons of the fattiest butter you can find in a big skillet and then sauté until lightly browned 2 cups of finely diced sweet onion and 1½ cups of finely diced celery. No chunks, please. At the end of cooking, add the herbs and parsley, and stir them through the onions and celery. Drizzle this deliciousness over your bread and herbs. Toss it all well, adding two teaspoons of kosher salt and a teaspoon of finely ground pepper as you go. Then gradually add 1½ cups of broth, tossing lightly at intervals. (I prefer to use turkey stock made from simmering gizzards and giblets, but any good poultry stock will do.) Adjust the seasoning. In a small bowl, whisk together two large eggs and another cup of cool or room-temperature broth. Fold that gently but thoroughly into your bowl of savory bread cubes. Place the mixture into a lavishly buttered 13×9-inch dish, cover with foil, and bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes.[block]

We will be on hiatus next week, so please take our best wishes for a fine, carbohydrate-loaded celebration of the many blessings in your own lives—particularly those related to the great gift of living in this free, peaceful, prosperous nation of ours. God has been prodigious in his blessings to America. May our gratitude lead us to better caring for it and each other.

Nate Moore contributed to this report.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.