How Nikki Haley burned bridges in South Carolina–and still pulls punches against Trump

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Nikki Haley says she’s staying in the presidential race at least until Super Tuesday, though most of the media now deem the primary over and done with.

While Donald Trump’s media detractors have found new lines of attack, they can’t deny that his big wins in Iowa and New Hampshire have practically given him a headlock on the nomination.

But the biggest roadblock in her path is her own home state.

AS TRUMP EASILY BEATS HALEY IN NEW HAMPSHIRE, SHE VOWS TO STAY IN THE RACE

How is it that a former two-term governor is trailing Trump by 20 to 30 points?

The Trump juggernaut seems close to unstoppable. This Saturday’s Democratic primary in South Carolina (bold prediction: Joe Biden will win) will draw any potential party-switchers away from the GOP contest. 

And the Republican Party, transformed by Trump, is much more conservative in her state than when Haley left office in 2017.

Even Haley, Trump’s former U.N. ambassador, isn’t predicting victory. She says she simply needs to do better than the 43 percent she won in New Hampshire’s open primary. That’s a tall order.

Nikki Haley, former ambassador to the United Nations and 2024 Republican presidential candidate, during a campaign event in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024. (Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

But there’s an even deeper reality hurting Haley, according to some digging in South Carolina by two veteran New York Times reporters. All this came out during her years as governor, but is new to a national audience.

There’s a reason, says the piece, that the governor, Henry McMaster, who had been her lieutenant governor, has endorsed Trump. And the House backbencher who she picked for senator, Tim Scott, has endorsed Trump. And the congresswoman whose career was threatened in 2022 until Haley endorsed her, Nancy Mace, has endorsed Trump.

Haley said last week that South Carolina lawmakers had “no love for me” because she tried to make state government more transparent and vetoed pork-barrel projects.

Longtime GOP consultant Chip Feikel told the paper “she was good on economic development but not great on cultivating relationships. She forgot who helped her get here.”

NEW HAMPSHIRE SHOWDOWN: WHY TRUMP IS CONNECTING WITH VOTERS AND HALEY AND DESANTIS HAVE NOT

Perhaps the classic case involved former governor Mark Sanford, whose tenure was ruined by the “Appalachian Trail” extramarital affair, who agreed to her request for a $400,000 ad blitz to salvage her campaign. 

“And then she cut me off,” Sanford told Politico. “This is systematic with Nikki: She cuts off people who have contributed to her success. It’s almost like there’s some weird psychological thing where she needs to pretend it’s self-made.”

Ouch.

There’s another way to look at this: “Haley and her supporters attribute the hard feelings she left in her wake to jealousy, sexism and the sense that a young woman of color had simply not waited her turn.”

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley

Republican presidential hopeful and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks after results came in for the New Hampshire primaries during a watch party in Concord, New Hampshire, on January 23, 2024. (JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

But clearly, the accumulation of complaints reflects a pattern of burning bridges and alienating allies, even if it also depicts her as a fighter.

While Haley has sharpened her rhetoric against the former president, regularly calling him “unhinged,” she is still pulling her punches.

On Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” when host Kristen Welker asked whether the $83-million verdict in the E. Jean Carroll defamation case was “disqualifying,” Haley answered in process terms:

“I absolutely trust the jury. And I think that they made their decision based on the evidence. I just don’t think that should take him off the ballot.” 

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign town hall in Rye, New Hampshire, January 2, 2024. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

On the third try, Welker asked: “Why give him a pass on this issue, where a jury has found him liable for sexual abuse?”

“I’m not giving him a pass on anything,” Haley said before pivoting to Trump’s supposed decline as a 77-year-old. Everyone supports juries. What she did not do was address the substance of the accusations, which Trump continues to vehemently deny.

Welker moved on: “He has mocked your birth name. He has suggested you’re not eligible to be president because your parents weren’t born here. Of course, you are eligible. You were born here…What do you make of him bringing back this birther playbook against you? Do you think it will work in South Carolina and win over voters there?”

“I mean, honestly, Kristen, I laugh every time I see one of his tweets, every time I see him throw a temper tantrum, because I know Donald Trump very well. When he feels insecure, he starts to rail. He starts to rant.” She completely ducked the question.

Welker, again: “Would you go so far as to call those attacks racist, Ambassador?”

“I think that’s for everybody else to decide.”

Haley has obviously made a calculated decision not to criticize Trump too harshly on personal matters. She undoubtedly believes that could turn off MAGA voters who might defect to her. But with less than a month to go before her home state primary, the try-not-to-offend-anyone strategy isn’t working.

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Footnote: Haley confirmed, as previously reported, that her house had been swatted–a false emergency call–while she was not at home. But she disclosed that she and her husband Michael, who’s away on military deployment, “take care of my parents. They are 87 and 90…And they were at home and with their caregiver. And so I will tell you that the last thing you want is to see multiple law enforcement officials with guns drawn pointing at my parents and thinking that something happened. It is an awful situation. It put the law enforcement officers in danger. It put my family in danger.”

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This is outrageous and unacceptable. The feds must step up efforts to trace those making these reckless calls and make sure they get significant jail time. 

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