Last woman standing: Nikki Haley

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley is defying Donald Trump and refusing to concede...
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley is defying Donald Trump and refusing to concede defeat. PHOTO: REUTERS
"I refuse to quit. I feel no need to kiss the ring," Nikki Haley said, defiantly.

She was talking about Donald Trump’s ring, of course, because she is predicted to lose the Republican presidential primary vote on Sunday in South Carolina, the state where she was once governor, by a landslide (at least two-to-one against her).

Trump’s campaign spokesperson, Steven Cheung, promptly replied on X, formerly known as Twitter, that "She’s going to drop down to kiss ass when she quits, like she always does." Always a class act.

"What a move!" responded Betsy Ankney, Haley’s campaign manager. "Steven Cheung is the key to winning back suburban women!" (Suburban women who usually vote Republican deserted their party in droves over its anti-abortion legislation, and telling them that a woman will have to kiss Donald Trump’s ass probably won’t win them back.)

Just another day in Nikki Haley’s forlorn and seemingly quixotic campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Trump’s people keep demanding that she quit and accept his victory, but she just won’t do it.

Haley says she will stay in the "race" that isn’t really a race at least until after Super Tuesday (March 5), when voters in 16 states choose about a third of the total delegates for the presidential nomination.

She might even stay all the way to July, when the Republican national convention finally chooses the party’s candidate.

She still has the support of a number of rich donors. She raised $US16.5 million last month, when her primary challenge to Trump was already clearly doomed and they all knew it.

"Just know, I’m not going anywhere," she said at a campaign event on Wednesday.

"I’m in this for the long haul. And this is going to be messy."

So what’s her strategy? It is to be the obvious next-best choice for Republicans if and when Donald Trump is eliminated from the race by illness, scandal or a criminal conviction.

If that should happen between now and November — and what are the odds on that? — then the party will have nobody but Haley to turn to.

With Trump off the board and all the other presidential hopefuls long since dismissed, Haley would be the only choice the party could unite behind, even though she has been increasingly critical about the Orange Ego.

To stay in the race at all she had to appeal to the substantial number of Republicans who feel that Trump has hijacked their party.

She has warned that he is "more unstable and more unhinged" than he was during his first term in the White House.

When Trump implicitly urged Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to attack any Nato member who fails to meet the 2% target for defence spending, she told him: "Don’t take the side of a thug who kills his opponents."

And she knows her defiance of Trump will be secretly welcomed in many parts of the Republican Party: "Many of the same politicians who now publicly embrace Trump, privately dread him. They know what a disaster he’s been and will continue to be for our party. They’re just too afraid to say it out loud," Haley said.

Yes, it’s quite possible that Trump will manage to postpone most of the pending trials and keep appealing the guilty verdicts long enough to remain out of prison and contest the election in November.

It is less likely that he will win it, although the American media do their best to make it look like a cliff-hanger.

If Trump is convicted of a criminal charge or becomes visibly incapacitated, many of his apparent supporters in the party would seize on that pretext to drop him from the ticket, partly because they loathe him but mainly because they think he will lose them the election.

They won’t move against Trump unless a viable alternative presidential candidate is available, however, and Nikki Haley is that candidate. That’s why the money keeps flowing to her campaign, even though in conventional terms she hasn’t got a prayer of winning.

When Joe Biden was asked recently whether he’d rather run against Nikki Haley or Donald Trump this autumn, he replied "Oh, I don’t care," but that is quite a long way from the truth. He would greatly prefer to face Trump, because he is and always has been confident of beating him.

Trump is three and a-half years younger than Biden, but a great deal less coherent and rapidly getting worse. His legal troubles are all-consuming.

As Haley said, "He’s going to be in a courtroom all of March, April, May and June. How in the world do you win a general election when these cases keep going and the judgments keep coming?"

Whereas Haley might actually be able to beat Biden.

 Gwynne Dyer is an independent London journalist.