The Nikki Haley Comet
The anti-Trump forces are rallying around the former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador.
Six weeks ago, I scoffed at what seemed like a concerted effort by pundits to promote Nikki Haley as an alternative to Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, pointing to Trump’s overwhelming lead polls of likely Republican primary voters and the implausibility that they would rally to Haley rather than another MAGA figure if Trump were removed from the equation. Nothing has changed since then to alter my analysis.
But the Haley boomlet has not receded. Indeed, it seems to have expanded into the realms of people with skin in the game.
NYT (“Top Democratic Donor, Reid Hoffman, Gives $250,000 to a Nikki Haley Super PAC“):
When Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, urged Democratic donors last week to rally behind Nikki Haley to provide Republican voters an alternative to former President Donald J. Trump, it seemed a far-fetched plea.
But at least one of the Democratic Party’s biggest financiers has already done exactly that.
Reid Hoffman, the billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn and a major Democratic donor, recently gave $250,000 to a super PAC supporting Ms. Haley, the former South Carolina governor who has gained momentum in recent weeks in the 2024 Republican primary race. The donation, which has not been previously reported, was confirmed by Dmitri Mehlhorn, a political adviser to Mr. Hoffman.
The pro-Haley super PAC, SFA Fund Inc., was asked specifically by Mr. Hoffman’s political team if it would take money from Mr. Hoffman, given that he is a Democrat who actively supports President Biden, Mr. Mehlhorn said. The super PAC, he added, said yes.
The pro-Haley super PAC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
SFA Fund Inc. has been one of the biggest players in the 2024 Republican primary race, spending more than $33 million on advertising and other expenses. Its biggest contributors in the first half of the year were Jan Koum, a co-founder of WhatsApp, who gave $5 million, and the venture capitalist Tim Draper, who gave $1.25 million.
Mr. Hoffman has financially backed an array of anti-Trump candidates and causes. He helped fund the lawsuit by E. Jean Carroll, the writer who sued Mr. Trump for rape and defamation. In May, a Manhattan jury found Mr. Trump liable for sexually abusing and defaming her.
The extra money will help Ms. Haley’s super PAC buy more television ads as she battles to separate herself from Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and close the gap in polling with Mr. Trump. But such cross-party giving is rare and could also risk a backlash. Even before Mr. Hoffman’s donation was made public, Mr. Trump had seized on coverage of Mr. Dimon’s comments urging Democrats to back Ms. Haley and used it in fund-raising messages.
“While globalist special interest donors from both parties forge an unholy alliance to beat us, I’m calling on our grass roots donors like YOU to fight back,” Mr. Trump wrote in a fund-raising email on Monday.
Ms. Haley herself has explicitly made appeals for Democratic backing.
“Anybody that wants to come support the cause, whether they’re Republican, independent or Democrat, we’re going to take them,” she said on Fox News last week. “And that’s the way the Republican Party should look at it is, this is a story about addition, not about getting people and pushing people away.”
Granting that a quarter million bucks is pocket change for someone like Hoffman, it’s interesting that he (and presumably Dimon) have decided Haley is the stalking horse to ride here. And it’s not just rich Democrats with money to burn who have gotten on the bandwagon.
NYT (“Some Republicans Have a Blunt Message for Chris Christie: Drop Out“):
Republican donors, strategists and pundits are publicly pressuring Mr. Christie to follow the lead of Tim Scott and Mike Pence and formally end his campaign. Many would like him to throw his support behind Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who has risen in the polls in early-voting states in recent weeks.
The focus on Mr. Christie’s bid reflects the anxiety that has consumed anti-Trump Republicans as the race moves into the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 15. Despite three debates, tens of millions of dollars and many months of campaigning, none of the six candidates still challenging Mr. Trump have made much of a dent in his double-digit lead. And they are rapidly running out of time.
“The people who are supporting Chris are not supporting him because they love Chris Christie — they want someone to take on Trump,” said Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who dropped out of the presidential race in 2012 after failing to gain enough traction to win the nomination. “He has a really important decision to make as to whether to back out and let his votes go to somebody else, or whether he’s going to actually improve Trump’s chances by staying in.”
But the dynamic this year reminds other Republicans of 2016, when Mr. Trump benefited from the large field, allowing him to divide the voters who preferred other candidates. Mr. Christie remained in that race until he finished sixth in the New Hampshire primary. He endorsed Mr. Trump 17 days later.
“Time is a flat circle, and everyone insists we relive, beat for beat, the 2016 election,” said Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist who has spent years working to defeat Mr. Trump. “The main thing that Christie could do to make a difference this time is to drop out.”
Patrick Murray, a New Jersey pollster who is the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said his data indicated that only about half of Mr. Christie’s support in New Hampshire would go to Ms. Haley, while the rest would be distributed among the other candidates. The five or six points that Ms. Haley would earn would not be enough for her to come close to Mr. Trump, who leads New Hampshire by nearly 30 points.
“It would help her be a closer second-place finisher,” Mr. Murray said. “It’s just not big enough to make the difference.”
Surrogates for Ms. Haley have been more hesitant to call on Mr. Christie to drop out. Katon Dawson, a former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party who now serves as an adviser to the Haley campaign in the state, said that decision would be solely “up to Chris Christie.”
“We can’t control what Chris Christie does after New Hampshire or before New Hampshire,” he said. “We can’t control what Ron DeSantis does. All we can do is watch who is raising the money and Nikki Haley is raising money.”
Don Bolduc, a retired Army general who unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in 2022 and has warmed up crowds for Ms. Haley at town halls in New Hampshire, was more blunt when posed the question. “I think it’s time for all of them to drop out and just let Nikki have the passing lane and just go right into the presidency,” he said.
Mr. Christie’s advisers argue that he is playing an important role by being the only candidate willing to take direct and frequent shots at Mr. Trump. Mike DuHaime, one of Mr. Christie’s top strategists, said a case could be made for any of the candidates other than Mr. Trump to drop out, given that none have been able to break the 20 percent mark in polling.
“Whatever case people make to you about Christie, the other two have no path either,” Mr. DuHaime said, referring to Ms. Haley and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. “Should everybody just drop out, or should we try to beat the guy?”
“He probably has the toughest path to the nomination, and you just have to face that reality sooner than later,” said Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist who worked on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. “Ideally, it would have been facing that reality yesterday, or a month or two months ago.”
I tend to agree with Christie that taking on Trump directly is the only path to beating Trump in the primaries. I just don’t think it’s going to be remotely successful. So, I at least get the argument for consolidating support around a more traditional Republican candidate.
To the extent that the primaries are anything but a sham effort, they seem to be winnowing the non-Trump field fairly swiftly.
WaPo (“Four GOP presidential candidates qualify for fourth primary debate“):
Four Republican candidates will take the stage in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday night for the fourth GOP primary debate: former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, and tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Former president Donald Trump will once again skip the event.
To participate in the debate, candidates had to meet the Republican National Committee’s debate requirements of at least 80,000 unique donors, with at least 200 unique donors per state or territory in at least 20 states or territories, and garnering at least 6 percent in two approved national polls or 6 percent in one national poll and 6 percent in polls of two different early-primary states.
Haley has emerged as the most viable alternative candidate to Trump in recent weeks, surpassing or tying DeSantis for second place in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Last week, she won the endorsement of the political network led by conservative billionaire Charles Koch. DeSantis’s campaign and the super PAC supporting him have faced recent drama, with the PAC that has overseen much of his presidential operation firing its CEO less than two weeks after the previous chief executive resigned.
With the Iowa caucuses just six weeks away, Christie and Haley have both made inroads with independents and anti-Trump Republicans voters, but the overlapping pool of supporters complicates both of their paths in New Hampshire. Haley currently is polling second in the state, but Christie is pulling more than 10 percent of potential primary voters — a share that could prove essential to GOP consolidation efforts against Trump.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum suspended his campaign on Monday, after failing to qualify for the last debate. In a statement announcing his suspension, he took aim at the RNC debate requirements and primary process, arguing they are “taking the power of democracy away from the engaged, thoughtful citizens of Iowa and New Hampshire” and claiming the “arbitrary criteria ensure advantages for candidates from major media markets on the coasts versus America’s Heartland.”
Former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson also did not qualify, having failed to make the cutoff for the last two debates.
Interestingly, this may be the last of the debates as we know them for the cycle.
NYT (“As Grumbles Over Trump-Free Debates Grow, Republicans Weigh Looser Rules“):
The next Republican debate on Wednesday could be the last one sponsored by the Republican National Committee in the 2024 primary race, with the party considering debate rule changes that would open the door to more onstage clashes but also diminish the fanfare around them.
The debate in Tuscaloosa, Ala., comes as Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador, is trying to assert herself as the main rival to former President Donald J. Trump, after months in which Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has ceded ground. The R.N.C. is weighing a proposal to end its demand that candidates participate exclusively in the party’s debates, with a final decision expected this week.
Few have been happy with how the debates, which are overseen by the R.N.C., have unfolded so far. Mr. Trump has boycotted them, dampening interest and lessening the stakes. His rivals have been forced to fight among themselves. And lower-polling candidates have steadily been pushed out by rising thresholds to qualify.
Debates are traditionally the marquee events of a presidential primary contest, with voters eagerly tuning in to watch the candidates disagree on policy and vie for their support. But the Republican front-runner’s stubborn absence this election cycle has robbed them of much of their drama.
The party had previously signaled plans to hold forums in January in both Iowa and New Hampshire before those states’ nominating contests. Now, those debates may not happen as events sponsored by the party, according to four people involved in the process, though no final decisions have been made.
Ratings for the debates have steadily shrunk. The first clash in Milwaukee, on Fox News, had 12.8 million viewers. The second debate, hosted by Fox Business, had 9.5 million. The third debate, on NBC News and other platforms, dwindled to 7.5 million, according to Nielsen figures.
And the fourth debate will be on a lesser-known platform than the first three, NewsNation. The moderators will be Elizabeth Vargas of NewsNation, the former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly and Eliana Johnson of the Washington Free Beacon.
As a matter of principle, I’m all for allowing the candidates to debate each other more often. The faster the non-Trump field is consolidated, the better. I just remain unpersuaded that it matters.