If Trump Drops Out Today, Nikki Haley Still Won’t Be the Republican Nominee

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

She’s waging a valiant fight, keeping hope alive that Republican voters will realize Donald Trump is unfit for office and turn away from him before it is too late.

She deserves praise for sticking with her commitment to give voters who have not yet cast a GOP primary ballot an opportunity to have their voices heard.

It’s all well and good, even commendable, and it’s based on a belief that “buyer’s remorse” will set in as Trump’s legal woes mount.

Nikki Haley Lost Her Home State. The Entire Primary Is Next.

A number of polls show Nikki Haley, a scrappy fighter with appeal to moderates and independents, would be the stronger candidate against President Joe Biden in November. And the slice of Republicans supporting Haley spells danger for Trump, should they harden into Never Trumpers.

Haley is the last exit ramp for GOP voters, but they won’t take it. Haley’s gutsy challenge won’t end with her dethroning Trump, even if the former president is forced to step aside because of legal or health problems.

Trump is well ahead in Tuesday’s Michigan primary, and in the Super Tuesday states that vote on March 5, putting him on track for an insurmountable lead in delegates.

And according to experts on primary politics and political conventions contacted by The Daily Beast, the Trump takeover of the Republican Party is so complete that should their returning hero be felled for whatever reason, the Trump delegates, who have the power, would sooner settle for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Trump without the charisma) than they would Trump’s former U.N. ambassador Haley—a traitor to the cause in the MAGA mind.

“If he dropped out tomorrow, it’s not like she gets a free ride to the convention,” says John Fortier, an elections expert at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute (AEI). “The math is really bad for her.”

Delegates are the coin of the realm. It takes 1,215 to win the Republican nomination. Trump won 47 delegates in South Carolina; Haley won three. She has 20 so far; he has 139, and he’s just getting started.

More than a third of the delegates needed will be awarded on Super Tuesday, and Trump is expected to reap the lion’s share under GOP winner-take-all rules where a candidate who exceeds the 50 percent threshold gets all the delegates.

Trump Keeps Dominating Primaries While Getting Crushed in Court

Haley is right that the almost 40 percent share of the vote she got in her home state of South Carolina is “not some tiny group,” but it will only get her a smattering of delegates when the Republican National Convention convenes in Milwaukee in July.

“It’s hard to see where she would assert her leverage, and she doesn’t have a lot of leverage,” says Fortier. “If Trump is still saying he’s viable and other people are saying he’s not, he’s still going to get that nomination. If he clearly wasn’t advocating for himself and couldn’t go forward, then it would be an open race. But they would not pick her.”

Elaine Kamarck at the Brookings Institution, a centrist think tank, recently published an updated version of her book Primary Politics: Everything You Need to Know about How America Nominates its Presidential Candidates. She gives Haley kudos for staying in, which is the only way to accumulate delegates, and “people who control blocs of delegates are in very good shape.”

Once the convention opens, the Republican National Committee steps aside and three convention committees—Rules, Credentials, and Platform—are empowered to make decisions. If there’s a challenge to Trump, there would be a test vote early on in Rules or Credentials to gauge the level of dissent. In 1976, when Ronald Reagan challenged Gerald Ford, it began with a Mississippi credentials fight.

In 1980, when Ted Kennedy challenged incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter, people challenged “the robot rule” that said a delegate who voted against the wishes of their state delegation could be replaced on the convention floor. Kennedy was testing the sentiment for his candidacy. The ploy undermined any good will between the candidates when over 700 Kennedy delegates walked out of the convention, and it took several roll calls to conclude the ballot. (Carter had 2,123 delegates, more than enough to secure the nomination; Kennedy had 1,151.)

Kamarck puts the odds at “pretty low: 10 percent, 20 percent” of a remotely similar challenge occurring in Milwaukee at the GOP convention—should the delegates experience “buyer’s remorse” over heading into the November election with a candidate facing 91 felony counts.

“If there’s some sentiment brewing against Trump, it would manifest itself in the first vote,” says Kamarck, which would likely be in the Rules committee on Monday, the opening day of the convention.

Why Trump and His GOP Henchwoman Will Regret That Michigan Phone Call

Otherwise, the convention is owned by Trump and his loyalists—who already laid the groundwork for the convention under recently deposed RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel.

A different former RNC chair (who did not want to be quoted) marvels at the iron control Trump and his people have had over the primary process, saying they’re a lot more organized than they were in 2016 and 2020, and also noting that Trump’s got a powerful incentive to win back the White House and quash the legal charges he’s facing.

A year ago, Republicans were looking for an alternative to Trump. It was not crazy to think they could move past him. If the dominoes had fallen differently, if DeSantis wasn’t such a bust, if Attorney General Merrick Garland had moved quickly to prosecute Trump, or even if Haley had found her voice earlier in the process, we might be in another place.

Now there’s no chance absent some cataclysmic event that the Republican Party will get rid of Trump—or Trumpism.

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