Another Republican steps up

Today’s news is that Nikki Haley, former American ambassador to the United Nations, is planning to declare herself a candidate for next year’s Republican presidential nomination. An announcement is scheduled for 15 February.

There’s still almost a year to go before the nominating process even starts, but that’s not too early for campaigns to get started. Last time that there was an open Republican contest, in 2016, there were already six candidates officially in the field by early May of the preceding year, and most of those had been openly testing the water for months, raising money and putting an organisation together.

The winner of that 2016 contest, Donald Trump, is so far the only declared candidate this time. He lost the 2020 election by seven million votes, and in the event that he were the nominee again, most observers seem to think he would do even worse: last year’s mid-term congressional elections confirmed the view that he is electoral poison. But he retains a substantial base of support among the Republican grassroots.

The Republican establishment, having compromised with him disgracefully in the past, is now determined to stop Trump. It has not openly settled on a preferred alternative, but the clear favorite is Florida governor Ron DeSantis. He has so far been coy about his intentions, but there seems no reason to doubt that he will run: certainly Trump is treating him as his main rival.

I’ve been saying for a while now that I thought Trump’s chance of winning the nomination was slim, and that remains my view. The betting odds do not yet bear it out – Sportsbet this afternoon has him equal favorite with DeSantis at 7-5, followed by Haley at 12-1 and former vice-president Mike Pence at 17-1. But the punters give DeSantis a better chance at actually taking the presidency, 11-4 as against Trump’s 4-1.

Haley has less of a profile than DeSantis, but could well have more mainstream electoral appeal. If Trump is knocked out early, or forced to withdraw for some reason, an interesting contest could develop between them. DeSantis’s policy positions are closer to Trump’s, but there is little evidence that Trump voters care much about policy; the fact that Haley has been generally more loyal to Trump, serving his administration for two years and mostly refraining from subsequent criticism, may count for more with his supporters.

That said, the odds are against her. No woman has ever won the Republican nomination; only a handful have been serious contenders. Haley is hardly a moderate, but she is not the sort of fire-breather that tends to appeal to the narrow Republican electorate in the primaries. And the opinion polls, although they are a poor guide at this stage, show DeSantis and Trump having the field pretty much to themselves, with Pence a distant third.

Nor is there much likelihood that Trump will bow out early. More likely he will remain in the contest even if he is losing badly, soaking up oxygen and driving Republicans to unite around a single opponent – most probably DeSantis. Even defeat for the nomination may not end his campaign, since an independent Trump candidacy would be a distinct possibility. (It would almost guarantee a Democrat victory, but there’s nothing to suggest he cares about that.)

So Haley’s early announcement is an attempt to shake up the narrative and get some valuable attention. It probably won’t work, but stranger things have happened – as the 2016 experience amply testifies.


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