Why You Should Want Nikki Haley to Win the Primary
Let the GOP tear itself apart.
Image: Trump and Haley at the UN General Assembly in 2018.
The Iowa caucuses are tomorrow, and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is a long shot at best. According to the well-respected Des Moines Register poll, former president, fascist and rapist Donald Trump has a 28-point lead with 48% of the vote to Haley’s 20%. Florida governor and censorious homophobe Ron DeSantis comes in third at 16% and unqualified conspiracy theorist douchebag Vivek Ramaswamy is last with 8%.
I think most Ds agree that every Republican here would be a terrible president, but that Trump’s history of plotting coups to overthrow the government makes him a unique danger. Nonetheless, I’ve seen some on the broad left who are worried about a Haley win because she might be a stronger general election candidate. She’s not under indictment; she’s young, she appears more moderate and more reasonable than Trump. A Politico analysis in December found that she’d do better against Biden than Trump would.
I think Politico, and Haley fearers, miss some important context though. Namely, Trump won’t accept a Haley win. Which means that if she somehow is victorious, the GOP is likely to tear itself apart.
Everyone paying any attention knows by this point that Trump refused to accept the election results when he lost to Biden in 2020. Less discussed, though, is that Trump has again and again refused to accept election results in GOP primaries.
In 2016, when Trump decisively lost the Iowa caucuses, he immediately claimed that the winner, Ted Cruz, cheated. “Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he illegally stole it,” Trump tweeted. “That is why all of the polls were so wrong any [sic] why he got more votes than anticipated. Bad!” He then went on to argue that the caucus should be rerun, or that Cruz’s votes should just be tossed out, and he threatened to sue.
Trump went on to quickly sew up the nomination without Iowa, and his election denial in the primary was mostly forgotten. But Trump has signaled numerous times that if he is challenged for the 2024 nomination he won’t accept the results. In April, he refused to sign an RNC pledge promising to support the eventual Republican nominee; the signature was supposedly required for participation in the debates, which Trump simply boycotted. And Trump has already claimed that DeSantis is trying to rig the caucuses. If the former president somehow does lose, it’s clear he’ll spew election denial, as he did in 2016.
And what would Trump do if he actually somehow lost the primary itself? One thing we know he almost certainly wouldn’t do is concede. He might try to orchestrate violence at the convention and take the nomination by force, as he tried to seize the country by force on January 6. He might leave the GOP and insist on running third party. He might simply tell his followers that he is the true nominee and tell them to write him in, or to boycott the election.
However Trump tried to contest or deny the primary results, the result would be chaos. Trump has a stranglehold on somewhere around 28% of Republican voters. That means if Trump runs third party or tells his partisans to stay home, the GOP could lose a quarter to a third of its voters.
If Trump cuts into GOP totals by 5 points the party would get crushed in states like Michigan, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Nevada, and could easily lose Texas and Florida. If he took 10 points, the GOP could lose Ohio and Alaska. At 15 points (hardly implausible) Missouri, Montana, Kansas, and many more states would suddenly be competitive.
In any Trump third party scenario, down ballot races would be chaos, since Trump would certainly demand fealty and perhaps campaign against candidates who tried to stay neutral. Democrats could easily win the Senate, which otherwise looks out of reach. They’d win the House, probably by wide margins.
Root for Haley. Maybe even vote for her.
Trump is currently up by about 60 points in national primary polls; he’s almost certainly going to win. But if he loses, the GOP doesn’t get a stronger candidate. It gets a catastrophic election and a divided party. It might even fragment for good. The narrative that Haley might be a stronger general election candidate is ignoring the titanic orange cockroach in the room. The GOP isn’t really a functional party. It’s just a skinsuit Trump pulls on over his carapace and mandibles, and he’ll shred it if it becomes inconvenient.
Again, this scenario is unlikely. But there is at least a plausible argument that Haley can keep the primary competitive until Super Tuesday. Cable and network news are desperate for an interesting horse race story. If Haley can come within 25 or so in Iowa and within 10 in New Hampshire, she’s likely to get a lot of positive, overheated press, a lot of new voter interest, and a lot of campaign contributions.
Trump will suddenly find himself treated as a candidate, rather than as a de facto pre-coordinated king. He’ll be in an electoral contest. And when Trump is in an electoral contest, history indicates, he loses his fucking shit.
You could argue that Trump is constantly losing his fucking shit. And you’d be right! He screams on social media; he launches spittle-flecked authoritarian denunciations of the judges and prosecutors at his (many) trials.
So far, though, media attention to these outbursts has been mixed and divided. It’s likely to be a somewhat different story when he’s running in a horse race with blanket coverage. His election denial and racist attacks on Haley will be be front and center in most mainstream media outlets. Low-information voters who don’t realize yet that Trump is going to be the nominee are going to be forcibly reminded of his worst aspects just as they realize he’s got a real chance to be president again.
Haley would be a horrible president. But Democrats, and I think everyone, will benefit if she manages to make Trump sweat and rant a little—or more than a little. That’s why I’m probably going to register Republican in IL and vote for her. And if by some miracle she actually wins the nomination, all the better. The GOP is long past due to destroy itself before it finishes destroying the country.
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