Republican megadonor Koch network backs Haley over DeSantis in bid to beat Trump

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The Republican donor network controlled by billionaire Charles Koch is getting off the sidelines and backing Nikki Haley for the 2024 Republican nomination, a major boon for her campaign as she battles with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for the runner-up spot.

Americans for Prosperity Action announced on Tuesday that it was throwing its support behind Ms Haley’s campaign in what is sure to have been a major disappointment for Mr DeSantis, who had long been considered Donald Trump’s main rival for the GOP nomination but has seen his bid for the White House falter in the wake of Ms Haley’s rise.

“When we announced our decision to engage in our first ever Republican presidential primary, we made it clear that we’d be looking for a candidate who can turn the page on our political dysfunction – and win. It’s clear that candidate is Nikki Haley,” CEO Emily Siedel said. “We can’t keep looking to the politicians of the past to fix the problems of today. Nikki Haley represents a new generation of leadership and offers a bold, positive vision for our future. AFP Action is proud to be endorsing her and we will be doing everything we can to help make her the next President of the United States.”

The group made it clear, too, that this wasn’t just an endorsement of Ms Haley; it was a repudiation of both frontrunners for their respective parties’ nominations, Donald Trump and Joe Biden. A statement on the group’s website urged voters to “turn the page” on both politicians.

While an endorsement of Mr Biden was obviously not on the table for the network of groups led by the conservative Koch family, AFP had also stated plainly earlier this year that it planned to endorse against Mr Trump.

It remains an open question if the group will make an endorsement in next year’s general election should Mr Trump and Mr Biden be their parties’ nominees, though that seems doubtful at this time.

“Nikki Haley has a positive vision for America that can unite our nation and restore the American Dream. Joe Biden is a disaster and the American People are hurting because of his failed policies. Donald Trump and Joe Biden had their chance – they can’t fix what is broken,” read AFP’s website on Tuesday.

The announcement was celebrated by Ms Haley, who has seen her support in the polls rise on the back of strong debate performances.

“I’m honored to have the support of Americans for Prosperity Action, including its millions of grassroots members all across the country,” she said. “AFP Action’s members know that there is too much at stake in this election to sit on the sidelines. This is a choice between freedom and socialism, individual liberty and big government, fiscal responsibility and spiraling debt. We have a country to save, and I’m grateful to have AFP Action by our side.”

Ms Haley and Mr DeSantis both are thought to be competing for the possibility of an upset victory in the notoriously unpredictable Iowa caucuses. While Mr Trump holds a massive lead over both of his top two rivals in both national and state-level polling, past poor performances in early state contests have doomed many a presidential bid as skittish donors and voters often shift support to candidates they feel will have stronger momentum in the general election.

His rivals’ hopeful scenario may very well not play out, however, even if the former president suffers a defeat or a narrow victory in Iowa or New Hampshire. Past polling has shown that the former president often rallies in the wake of negative headlines, including most recently news about his impending four criminal trials. Analysts watching the GOP primary field have noted a deep-seated anger among voters against what they perceive as an effort to thwart Mr Trump’s political career by the “establishment” or imagined shadowy forces in Washington, and as a result his Republican rivals have been wholly unsuccessful in chipping off support from his base at any meaningful level.

The rise of Ms Haley has largely vexed supporters of Mr DeSantis, who had hoped their candidate would consolidate support among Republican voters who were, for whatever reason, seeking an alternative to Donald Trump in 2024. Intead, they have watched as the Florida governor has trended steadily downward in the polls for months while his campaign is repeatedly battered by articles and commentary on cable news about Mr DeSantis’s awkward demeanour and lackluster debate performances.

At the last Republican presidential debate, hosted in Mr DeSantis’s home state, Ms Haley made headlines once again as she derided rival Republican candidate Vivek Ramaswamy as “scum” for criticising her daughter.