Two are still standing. The number of Republican presidential candidates has been narrowed down from 15 or so to just two, Donald Trump and Nikki Haley.
It’s a reality of current political life that in a nation of 50 states and more than 300 million people, two small states like Iowa and New Hampshire can play such a commanding role in determining the nominee of a major political party. Not only do they have small populations, but their demographics are atypical of so much of the rest of the country. They have no large cities, very few minorities and minimal union membership.
As for the Democrats, President Biden was and is their only candidate, guaranteeing his renomination and creating the probability of another general election campaign between two candidates, Biden and Trump, who are viewed unfavorably by a significant majority of the American people.
The remaining question is whether Haley has any viable path to victory and, if not, how long she will remain in the race. Supporters of Trump, of course, are calling for Haley to end her candidacy so that all energy and funding can be directed toward the general election against Biden.
Let me acknowledge up front that I am biased toward Haley. During her time as ambassador to the United Nations, I had the chance to meet with her and to observe the outstanding job she did fighting for and defending America’s interests from attacks in that dysfunctional, anti-American international body. Her forceful, articulate encounters with ambassadors from Russia and anti-Israel, third-world dictatorships rank alongside those of Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick during the Reagan years.
I always found Haley to be cordial and agreeable as well as knowledgeable and dedicated. Members of her security detail would tell me how thoughtful she was, with no arrogance or condescension. And as a practicing politician for many years, I truly admire how she has bested all the other Trump challengers in what is such a grueling marathon. Running for Congress in a single district for a few months is exhausting enough. Doing that nationwide for more than a year as a decided underdog, defying the odds while fighting off slings and arrows from Trump, is in another league altogether.
Having said all that, I don’t think Haley has a real chance of beating Trump to the nomination. The next major contest will be the South Carolina primary on Feb. 24. Though she was a successful governor of that state, polling shows her trailing Trump by as much as 30 points. After that, her only even remote hope would be the multiple state primaries on Super Tuesday, March 5. Adding to her woes is the reality that the more it appears Trump will be the certain nominee, the more her funding will dry up.
Still, I think Haley has the right to stay in at least for a while longer. Not only is it difficult for a candidate who has made it this far to give up her dream overnight, but Trump’s barrage of petty attacks on her in his speech after the New Hampshire primary would make her withdrawal from the race appear to be a surrender to his heavy-handed tactics. As for the Trump camp’s appeal for party unity and a concerted effort against Biden, Trump squandered that opportunity not just by attacking Haley, whose support he will need in November. He also missed his chance to lay out his case against Biden before a national audience.
My guess is that, sooner rather than later, Haley will realize that she has taken her campaign as far as it can go, and will withdraw. But she will do that at a time and in a manner of her choosing. And she will do it with class.
Peter King is a former congressman, and a former chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security. Comments? pking@ liherald.com.