Nikki Haley in 2024? Forget it. Republicans are stuck with Donald Trump | Opinion

Don’t be fooled. The Republican Party can’t quit Donald Trump. The two-time impeached insurrection-inspiring investigation-laden transactionally-bigoted former president who made it official U.S. policy to steal brown kids to deal with immigration at our southern border won’t let them.

They are stuck with him. They deserve each other.

Sure, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served in Trump’s Cabinet, is throwing her hat into the ring for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. There will be others. Don’t be surprised if South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott joins what might be a crowded field that could include Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Mike Pence.

In theory, each of them has a plausible path to the nomination, if not the presidency. Pence is a former vice president. DeSantis is the Republican flavor of the month and is doubling down on conservative culture war priorities, which is why he is destroying public education in his state by doing idiotic things such as declaring that AP African American Studies has no real educational value, that is when he isn’t cruelly using undocumented immigrants like chess pieces or demeaning gay and trans Americans. Without Trump, Haley and Scott would be especially attractive to a Republican audience desperate to prove it isn’t as comfortable with racism as the Trump years exposed.

Forgot about all the previous talk from folks like Haley, who once pledged she wouldn’t run for the presidency without Trump’s blessing, or from South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who once had the courage to speak truthfully about Trump.

“You know how you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell,” Graham told CNN. “He’s a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot. He doesn’t represent my party. He doesn’t represent the values that the men and women who wear the uniform are fighting for. … He’s the ISIL man of the year.”

Now, though, such honesty about Trump in conservative quarters is passe. That was Graham seven years ago. Recently, he was singing a different turn while joining South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and Russell Fry, the man who represents the Seventh Congressional District, to endorse Trump at the Statehouse to jumpstart Trump’s 2024 journey.

Graham said this to Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity: “There are no Trump policies without Donald Trump. And I want him to have another shot.”

I have seen the occasional polls about the projected 2024 Republican primary field and the talk about DeSantis besting Trump in those way-too-early surveys of Republican voters. I’ve read the stories quoting Republican strategies about how Trump is in his weakest position in the party since he came down that golden escalator in 2015. I’ve even heard white Evangelical Christian leaders who swear before God – at least those who don’t think Trump is God, and God is Trump – that they are reconsidering their Trump support and have begun looking elsewhere, not because of his continual ugly, immoral and potentially criminal behavior, mind you, but because he might not be able to win another general election. Heck, there are Republican moderates probably silently hoping prosecutors in New York will finally do what all other prosecutors have been afraid to do, bring serious criminal charges against Trump to remove him from the equation.

I don’t buy any of it. Because the trump card is, well, Trump. He isn’t the type to go quietly into that good night. He’s already labeling every former supporter considering other candidates disloyal. That includes white Evangelical Christian leaders whose flocks are still very much enthralled with Trump, a man they were convinced by those same leaders that Trump was God’s candidate, sent to rid the world of the influence of evil liberals. It’s hard to put that toothpaste back in the tube. Either he’s God’s chosen or he’s not. A lost presidential election in 2020 and disastrous results for Trump-backed candidates during the 2022 midterms can’t change that. It’s darkest before dawn, remember. God works in mysterious ways.

There is no mystery about Trump’s ambitions. He won’t fall on his sword for the party. He won’t do what top Democratic candidates did in 2020, throwing their support behind Biden after it was clear he was preferred by the party’s base instead of holding on and risk damaging Biden’s prospects against Trump. He won’t bow out gracefully if his support among Republican voters drops off. That’s not who the man is. He didn’t care that he lost the popular vote to Biden by more than 7 million. He ignored those facts and called up his buddies in Georgia asking them to “find” him enough votes to win that once red state hoping to fraudulently remain in office. To be fair, he probably didn’t consider those efforts fraud because in his mind there can only be fraud if he isn’t victorious. He ignored precedent and did not greet the Bidens as they entered the White House the way the Obamas greeted him after the slugfest that was the 2016 presidential election cycle. He’s not that big of a man.

Trump is not letting go of the GOP crown jewel. It must be pried from his cold-dead hands, even if the party itself dies during the struggle.

Someone was clear-eyed enough to see this outcome.

If Trump is the nominee “the Republican Party will get killed, we’ll get creamed, we’ll lose, we’ll deserve it,” Lindsey Graham predicted.

He was talking about 2016. His prediction was just eight years premature.

Issac Bailey is a McClatchy Opinion writer based in Myrtle Beach.