Nikki Haley’s presidential bid: Long shot or lost cause?

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley announced last week that she’s running for president, making her the first Republican to formally challenge former President Donald Trump for the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination.

“We’re ready. Ready to move past the stale ideas and faded names of the past. And we are more than ready for a new generation to lead us into the future,” Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, said during her announcement speech in Charleston, S.C., last Wednesday. She made news by calling for “mental competency tests'' for politicians over the age of 75, a proposal that would apply to both Trump and President Biden.

That indirect shot at Trump is reflective of her fluctuating relationship with the GOP’s standard bearer. Haley criticized him strongly during the 2016 presidential primary, but served in his administration as ambassador to the United Nations. She said he would be “judged harshly by history” following the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, but later said “we need him in the Republican Party” and has avoided directly attacking him in recent interviews.

Polls of the potential GOP primary field show Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the lead by a large margin, with all other possible challengers polling in the single digits. In the most recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll, Haley garnered 4% support among Republican voters, putting her squarely in the second tier of candidates alongside former Vice President Mike Pence, ex-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

Why there’s debate

Despite those steep odds, some political analysts say Haley shouldn’t be written off. They argue that a potential grudge match between Trump and DeSantis could leave both frontrunners vulnerable and create room for an alternative candidate to emerge from the fray. Haley is the ideal name to break through in that circumstance, some argue, because of her political skill, conservative credentials and demographic appeal.

But doubters say it would take an extraordinary series of events for anyone other than Trump or DeSantis to win the GOP nomination; even if that does happen, Haley may not be poised to take advantage. Critics from both sides of the political spectrum argue that her waffling positions on Trump over the years have left her with no constituency among Republican voters — both the MAGA base and those looking to move on from Trumpism will likely view her with skepticism. Some also believe that her race and gender could be an impediment in a Republican Party that has become so strongly aligned with white grievance politics in the Trump era.

What’s next

Even if Haley never poses a real threat to Trump or DeSantis, she may still play an important role in the final outcome. Her name is frequently mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate and a recent poll suggests that her presence on the ballot could be just enough to help Trump fend off DeSantis and secure the nomination for himself.


Haley is best positioned to take advantage if Trump and DeSantis fall off

“If voters are too turned off by Trump’s baggage and DeSantis has a bad debate or two in the early going, I could see the GOP rank and file potentially coalescing around a different candidate. And Haley has the conservative bona fides, name recognition and favorability among her own party to give her a fighting chance in such an environment.” — Santul Nerkar, FiveThirtyEight

Haley hasn’t made a real case for why she should be president

“The bigger challenge for Ms. Haley is identifying the rationale for her candidacy beyond a winning persona. … Ted Kennedy famously fizzled in the 1980 Democratic primary when he couldn’t answer the question ‘Why do you want to be President?’ Ms. Haley needs her own answer.” — Editorial, Wall Street Journal

She has all of the assets Republicans should be looking for in a nominee

“A good and serious Republican Party would give Haley real consideration as a potential nominee, noting that her depth and breadth of experience and combination of indisputable toughness and charisma on the stump represent a rare combination of strengths in a potential president who is only 51 years old.” — Jim Geraghty, National Review

Everyone but Trump and DeSantis is doomed to fail

“Maybe one of the less imposing 2024 Republican candidates has had a mystical vision of something like a draft or a grand compromise happening again. But, more likely, all but a couple of them will soon join the ranks of politicians who, one morning, saw a president of the United States in the bathroom mirror and just had to give it a try. An impulse and sheer ego can sustain a delusion for a very long time.” — Ed Kilgore, New York

Haley isn’t likely to win, but it’s far from impossible

“Haley is a two-term governor who served admirably as ambassador to the U.N., is well spoken, and makes a good impression on Republican audiences. If she’s a long shot, she’s not a political nobody running for a cable TV gig or a book contract — as many unlikely Republican presidential candidates have over the years — and it’s not crazy to think she’ll get a serious look from Republican voters at some point.” — Rich Lowry, Politico

No one should assume that Trump and DeSantis are invulnerable

“Things could still play out in Haley’s favor. … The race is sufficiently unsettled due to the unusual circumstances of the two presumed top-tier candidates that it makes sense for other ambitious alternatives to emerge.” — W. James Antle III, Washington Examiner

Haley has positioned herself awkwardly between the two factions of the GOP

“Haley doesn’t seem to have a clear lane in the Republican field. … She no longer codes as a purely old-school establishment type of Republican. But she’s also not as fiery as the populists who tend to excite the base and thrive in the right-wing media ecosystem these days.” — Zeeshan Aleem, MSNBC

She’s not fiery enough for the GOP base

“Haley handled the Trump years more deftly than most. She never allowed herself to be dragged into anything too embarrassing or scandalous and didn’t fall victim to vicious Trump world backstabbing. But she probably isn’t the kind of candidate who can get through a Republican presidential primary. Shrewd as she has been, she can’t plausibly reinvent herself as a 2023 outrage merchant.” — Rosie Gray, New York Times

Haley could play an important role even if she can’t win the primary

“Haley easily could get lost in a crowded race. … She’ll need to run a strong campaign and perform well on the stump and in debates. But Haley is an obvious choice as a VP running mate should Republicans nominate a white man … and that alone is reason to keep an eye on her in 2023 and 2024.” — Stuart Rothenberg, Roll Call

Her race is a detriment in the Republican Party

“Being racially ‘different’ is offered by Haley in her announcement video clearly to position her as standing outside of the historical White-Black line of racial tension. … But Haley’s inadvertent invocation of America’s racial complexity is also a reminder that the Republican Party is heavily dependent on White votes — and on exacerbation of racial fears — for its recent success.” — Philip Bump, Washington Post

It’s hard to beat Trump after accepting to be his subordinate

“Haley is in a strong position. She embodies the party well. But her embrace of Trump made him look stronger and her weaker. She’ll have to climb a mountain of her own making to win the nomination against him.” — Issac J. Bailey, CNN

Is there a topic you’d like to see covered in “The 360”? Send your suggestions to

Photo illustration: Jack Forbes/Yahoo News; photos: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images (3)