Here’s What Nikki Haley Should Say to the American People

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty

Barring some stunning turn of events, Nikki Haley is about to be—as NBC News’ Steve Kornacki warned—“buried in a delegate avalanche” by Donald Trump on this week’s Super Tuesday.

Sure, Haley won the Washington, D.C, primary on Sunday. But based on the number of delegates being awarded on Tuesday, coupled with the fact that many states award them on a “winner-take-all” basis, it is about to become increasingly difficult for Haley to make a mathematical case for staying in the race. Indeed, The New York Times is already calling this Haley’s “last stand.”

Truth be told, since losing the New Hampshire primary in January, Haley’s rationale for remaining in the race has been dubious. If she is to linger past Super Tuesday, she will need better rationales. Luckily, I have some ideas.

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First, there is the noble reason. By showing moral clarity, Haley is carrying the torch for millions of conservative Americans who believe in liberal democracy, fiscal accountability, a rules-based international order—and other boring things we used to call “basic principles.”

By refusing to back down, she is courageously providing a beacon of hope for non-Trumpy conservatives. And she is establishing a beachhead—or “government in waiting”—in case Trump’s hold on the GOP someday breaks, and we finally get to say, “Told ya’ so.”

I’m obviously sympathetic to this beacon-of-hope idea, however remote the chance of it happening it might be. The problem is that the audience this resonates with is already on board. For everyone else, this argument is esoteric and quixotic.

As such, to round out her more romantic argument, Haley will need to unveil a more pragmatic, if cynical, rationale. What I’m proposing is a bit radical: Haley should tell the truth about why, as an ambitious pol, she’s compelled to stay in the race.

It might go something like this:

“Some of you are asking why I am running for president at this point,” Haley could say. “The truth is that there is a non-trivial chance Donald Trump will die or be physically impaired between now and November.

“This is not something I am rooting for. But as Mitch McConnell recently said, ‘Father Time remains undefeated.

“Actuarially speaking, the mortality rate for an obese 80-year-old man who gets little exercise, eats unhealthily, and is under great stress, presents a legitimate concern. Trump and Biden have already lived past their life expectancy in the U.S. To be honest, I’m not sure Donald should be buying green bananas, much less planning to be president.”

If this seems a bit harsh, it is. This speech would make Trump go ballistic.

Then again, Haley has already invoked the “age” issue. She already called for mental competency tests for candidates over 75 (which would apply to Joe Biden and Trump). More recently, she questioned Trump’s mental fitness after he confused her with Nancy Pelosi.

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Likewise, Trump is already attacking Haley for running against him and reneging on her RNC pledge to automatically support whomever the GOP nominates. And who could forget (or forgive) his attacks on Haley’s husband, who is deployed in Africa with the National Guard.

Is Haley ready to ratchet up her attacks to a higher level? If she wants to have a rationale for staying in the race (still a big “if”), she will have to escalate things.

Next, Haley would pivot to the electability argument:

“And because poll after poll shows I have a better chance to beat Joe Biden, I am running as an insurance policy, so to speak. And this policy doesn't just kick in if Trump becomes incapacitated due to health reasons.”

Here, Haley would continue to make the case that Republicans should want her—no, need her—as an “In case of emergency, break glass,” plan B. This is to say, she shouldn’t drop out “for the good of the party.” Instead, she should stay in for the party’s own good!

Her hypothetical speech continues:

“Remember, Trump is also facing 91 criminal charges. To be sure, he hopes that he can get lucky and win the presidency before the convictions come. But there is a non-zero chance that the GOP will have nominated someone this summer who is then convicted of a crime before the November elections.

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“In this scenario, Republicans won’t have time to search for someone who can quickly be vetted, get up to speed on international and domestic policy issues, or raise money required to mount a national campaign.

“I will be the nominee in waiting—a backup quarterback, so to speak—who just happens to have a better chance of winning the big game than the aging QB.”

There are a million reasons why Haley is the preferable GOP candidate to Trump, and Haley has already invoked many of these reasons. However, if Super Tuesday goes the way I think it’s going to go, she’s going to have to explicitly say some things that she has, heretofore, merely flirted with saying.

She will have to use every single reason at her disposal to justify remaining in this race.

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