In a few days, we'll get a rematch of the Republican presidential hopefuls duking it out on a nationally televised stage.
Well, not all of them.
Just like with the first debate last month, the GOP front-runner doesn’t deem Wednesday’s event at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute in Southern California worthy of his presence. In fact, former President Donald Trump is acting like he's already the chosen one.
There’s no question Trump is still dominating the GOP presidential race so far. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has long been Trump’s main challenger, continues to lose standing in the polls.
Voters want someone else. How about Nikki Haley?
Surveys of voters, though, keep showing that the majority aren’t happy with a rematch between Trump and President Joe Biden. In fact, they are put off by it.
Whenever I write about this lack of enthusiasm for a replay of 2020, my inbox is flooded with self-proclaimed moderates and conservatives who agree they want new choices.
I have no idea why that dissatisfaction isn’t translating into more support for another Republican. But there’s still time.
Anecdotally, among my conservative friends and Republican donors I’ve spoken with in recent months, Nikki Haley – the former South Carolina governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Trump – has started to emerge as a candidate of real interest.
Her excellent debate performance in Milwaukee also helped propel her image among voters. Haley’s experience and thoughtful answers on abortion, the national debt and foreign policy show she’s got the leadership chops – and reasoned temperament – to do the country’s top job.
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Haley bests Biden in election matchups
While Haley has only seen a modest bump in the national primary polls following the debate, she is rising more quickly in early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire. That’s because, unlike Trump, she’s putting in the time and going to the fairs and events that are integral to the process. The more people get to know her, the more they like her.
Tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy also saw a bump following the first debate because he got a lot of airtime from attacks by others on stage. Even though his performance was largely obnoxious and ill-informed (Haley schooled him on numerous issues), he earned attention – albeit for the wrong reasons.
In this next debate where six will likely compete, the five other contenders should make a point of engaging less with Ramaswamy and more with one another.
I’d like to see Haley shine. A few polls in the past month show she’d hold her own in hypothetical general election matchups against Biden.
GOP debate is refreshing alternative: Without Trump, Republicans focus on serious issues
One from Harvard/CAPS-Harris shows Biden losing to Trump, Haley and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.
And then another poll from CNN showed Haley as the only Republican with a decisive lead over Biden. In that survey, she bests Biden 49% to 43%.
GOP has to get abortion messaging right
If Republicans would be smart enough to choose someone with broad appeal like Haley to run against Biden, they could easily win back the White House.
For instance, one of the biggest issues that will be in play in 2024 is abortion. Much like we saw in the midterm elections, voters are motivated to protect abortion rights following the overturning of Roe v. Wade last year. Republicans must improve their abortion messaging beyond the fact they think it's bad.
Republicans, listen to voters: If GOP doesn't listen on abortion, the party can count on losing big in 2024
Haley has a message with bipartisan appeal. As the only female candidate, she's also in the strongest position to speak on this very personal issue. While she is personally "pro-life," she understands that the matter is nuanced and that talking about a national abortion ban is unrealistic and not helpful. Rather, she has said that the focus should be on access to contraception, encouraging adoption and banning late-term abortion.
"Let’s treat this like the ... respectful issue that it is and humanize the situation and stop demonizing the situation," Haley said at the first debate.
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Haley, 51, has also made age a part of her campaign. She often talks about how Trump at 77 and Biden at 80 are simply too old and disliked. In addition to her relative youth, she brings some refreshing diversity. Haley is the only woman in the GOP race, and she’s the daughter of Indian immigrants.
“I think the majority of Americans know we need a new generational leader, that we need to leave the negativity of the past behind us,” Haley told CNN’s Jake Tapper this month.
Like most conservatives (and unlike liberals), I tend to eschew identity politics. In this case, Haley could be the best option Republicans have to oust Biden.
Bring on the girl power.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nikki Haley can lead in 2024, but she must shine again in GOP debate