Will Nikki Haley 2024 presidential race benefit Republican Party – or Donald Trump?

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Nikki Haley has set the date for a big announcement this month – expected to be the launch of her 2024 presidential run.

In typical fashion, former President Donald Trump turned to social media to weigh in on the former South Carolina governor and his former ambassador to the United Nations: “Nikki has to follow her heart, not her honor. She should definitely run!”

Haley has been a loyal ally to Trump, and she had initially said she wouldn't get in the race if Trump did. Trump, who announced in November, clearly was trying to make a dig.

Yet it was his claim that she should “definitely run” that stood out most to me.

More competition could help Trump

For some time now, my fear has been that if too many Republicans challenge Trump in the primary, we could get a repeat of 2016, where the other candidates split votes among themselves and Trump rises to the front.

Although he has not declared a run, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has positioned himself as Trump’s most formidable opponent and is polling best next to the former president.

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DeSantis has spent the past year laying an impressive ground game and earning the support of major GOP donors around the country. He’s also coming off a decisive reelection that helped cement Florida’s position as a red state.

While Haley has never fully left the public sphere, it has been a while since she made headlines with the frequency of DeSantis or Trump.

Here’s the reality as it stands now: When voters are asked about a Trump vs. DeSantis match, DeSantis often comes out ahead. Make it a multiway contest, and the numbers change.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and her husband, Army National Guard officer Michael Haley, attend the inaugural of Gov. Henry McMaster on Jan. 11, 2023, in Columbia.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and her husband, Army National Guard officer Michael Haley, attend the inaugural of Gov. Henry McMaster on Jan. 11, 2023, in Columbia.

FiveThirtyEight recently broke down some of these numbers. According to the polling site: “In polls with more than two candidates in the field, Trump almost always leads.”

This proved true in a recent Morning Consult multiway candidate poll of potential Republican primary voters that showed Trump in the lead with 48% of respondents and DeSantis following with 31%. Former Vice President Mike Pence had 8%, and Haley followed a distant fourth, with 3% support.

So as far as Trump is concerned, the more candidates who want to get in, the merrier.

What does Nikki Haley bring to table?

I’m still glad to see a candidate like Haley get in the race. I’ve long thought the party needs more like her to get involved. The GOP has been dominated by older, white men, and it’s refreshing to see someone new step up.

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“I think she’s got a good message, and she’s got good policy positions, and she's got a successful track record,” says Hadley Heath Manning, vice president for policy at the free-market Independent Women’s Forum.

She’s also not surprised that Haley is one of the first to join the race.

“I think it’s on brand for her to get in early,” Manning says. “She represents herself as somebody who doesn't cower down. And I think that's what she's doing, she's not cowering to Trump or anybody else. I think Americans want leaders who are going to do what they think is right, regardless of the perception of it or other consequences.”

Haley, 51, has an inspiring story as the daughter of immigrants from India who became a well-respected two-term governor, the first woman to hold that office in her state. She’s a walking testament to the American dream.

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If she were to win the presidential primary, she would not only be the first woman to be the GOP presidential nominee, she'd also be the first woman of color to win a major party’s presidential nomination.

“It’s hard to ignore that she’s a very compelling candidate,” says Jason Cabel Roe, a Republican strategist who has worked with presidential contenders such as Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio.

While Republicans don’t tend to get as excited about identity politics and these “firsts” as Democrats do, I think a growing number of the GOP are realizing it’s beneficial for the party to start better reflecting the country.

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Nikki Haley as vice president?

And Haley has proved she’s a strong conservative leader who can tackle the issues of the day with less vitriol than some of her GOP counterparts. For instance, she earned bipartisan praise in 2015 when she signed a bill that removed the Confederate flag from the state Capitol after nine people were murdered at a Black church in Charleston.

Haley also appointed Tim Scott to the U.S. Senate in 2012 to fill an open seat. He was the first Black senator from the South since Reconstruction and at the time was the only Black member of that chamber.

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I don't doubt Haley's presidential ambitions or her qualifications, but it's possible she is auditioning for another role, too.

Strategist Roe says that Haley is positioning herself as a vice presidential contender, and that serving in this role for four or eight years could put her in a phenomenal place for her own White House bid down the road.

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Given her age, she’s got time.

Regardless of how things play out in the next two years, having a wider range of accomplished, dynamic Republican candidates will benefit the party – and help pave the future of a GOP without Trump.

Ingrid Jacques is a columnist at USA TODAY. Contact her at ijacques@usatoday.com or on Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump says Nikki Haley 'should definitely run!' Would it benefit him?