Newsweek

Nikki Ha­ley’s Open Field

The Capi­tol ri­ots cleared the way for a 2024 run by a daugh­ter of im­mi­grants who of­fers Trump­ism-with­out-trump

- BY BILL POW­ELL US Elections · U.S. News · US Politics · Politics · Elections · Donald Trump · White House · Jared Kushner · Republican Party (United States) · Rand Paul · South Carolina · Kamala Harris · Donald Trump, Jr. · Washington · United States Senate · NBC · George W. Bush · United Nations · Nikki Haley · Laura Ingraham · Marco Rubio · Junior's Restaurant

The Jan­uary 6 riot cleared the way for a politi­cian of­fer­ing Trump­ismwith­out-trump.

Nikki Ha­ley was a Don­ald Trump loy­al­ist, one of the rare high-pro­file cabi­net mem­bers to leave the White House on good terms. Trump son-in­law Jared Kush­ner even told Newsweek last sum­mer that she'd be wel­come to re­turn, any­time she chose. But there she was on the Laura In­gra­ham show on Fox News in late Jan­uary, of­fer­ing a dis­tinctly non-trumpian view of the 2020 elec­tion.

“We lost a lot of women and a lot of col­lege-ed­u­cated. We want to bring them back in and ex­pand the tent,” she said. “Jan­uary 6 was a tough day, and the ac­tions of the pres­i­dent since Elec­tion Day were not his finest, and [that] trou­bles me greatly be­cause I'm re­ally proud of the suc­cesses of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, whether it was for­eign pol­icy or do­mes­tic pol­icy. [But] the ac­tions of the pres­i­dent, post elec­tion day, were not great.”

Ha­ley's state­ment rocked the GOP and, not co­in­ci­den­tally, ar­tic­u­lated a ra­tio­nale for her own 2024 run, as­sum­ing she wants one. She was care­ful to praise Trump's achieve­ments, but she un­mis­tak­ably dis­tanced her­self from her for­mer boss in a way that other po­ten­tial 2024 can­di­dates—ted Cruz, Marco Ru­bio, Rand Paul—have not. In Trump-world in Mar-a-lago, says a for­mer se­nior cam­paign ad­viser who was granted anonymity in or­der to speak can­didly, “heads were ex­plod­ing.”

As a pro-busi­ness, fairly con­ven­tional Repub­li­can gover­nor of South Carolina, Ha­ley had won the sup­port of women and col­lege-ed­u­cated vot­ers in two statewide elec­tions. Left un­said— it didn't need to be said—was that she didn't think Trump could win those vot­ers back, and that she could. It also went with­out say­ing that as an In­dian-amer­i­can woman, she would be per­fect casting to run against Vice Pres­i­dent Ka­mala Har­ris.

Ha­ley's com­ments made clear how pro­foundly the Capi­tol de­ba­cle has al­tered the party land­scape. With his Repub­li­can-record 74 mil­lion votes in 2020 and his close de­feat (which his base didn't ac­cept, in any case), Don­ald Trump was the over­whelm­ing GOP fron­trun­ner for 2024. If the for­mer pres­i­dent him­self didn't run, the lead­ing spot would surely go to a Trump-anointed sur­ro­gate like Don Jr. or Cruz. But the vi­o­lence in D.C. shriv­eled the Trump­ists' po­lit­i­cal power, and even an ac­quit­tal in the Se­nate im­peach­ment trial won't re­store their hold.

Many an­a­lysts had al­ready spec­u­lated about Don Jr.'s prospects. Dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign and ever since, Trump's el­dest son had taken a high pro­file po­lit­i­cal role in speeches, TV ap­pear­ances and on so­cial me­dia, de­fend­ing his fa­ther and evis­cer­at­ing his crit­ics. He was good on the stump, en­er­gized crowds and seemed to rel­ish po­lit­i­cal com­bat. He had no po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence—he still works as an ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of his fa­ther's com­pany—but as his fa­ther's 2016 win made clear, that can be a plus.

In the weeks since the 6th, Trump and his sup­port­ers com­forted them­selves with polls that showed the for­mer pres­i­dent re­tained sig­nif­i­cant sup­port among GOP vot­ers. An NBC sur­vey taken in late Jan­uary showed 87 per cent ap­proved of Trump's per­for­mance as pres­i­dent–just two points lower than his ap­proval rat­ing among Repub­li­cans just be­fore the elec­tion.

But Ju­nior's po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions fell along with the Capi­tol bar­ri­cades. He had been a warm-up speaker at the “Stop the Steal” rally that turned deadly. Since then he has been on so­cial me­dia, de­fend­ing the rally and bash­ing Demo­cratic crit­ics— al­most as if noth­ing im­por­tant had hap­pened. Most po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts and even some Trump loy­al­ists can't be­lieve he ac­tu­ally thinks that. “If any of [the Trumps] are think­ing about a po­lit­i­cal fu­ture, then re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing the ‘brand's' post-jan­uary 6 image has to be a 24/7 op­er­a­tion,” says the for­mer cam­paign ad­viser.

Ha­ley to the Res­cue?

For Those repub­li­cans who be­lieve THE party should sim­ply move on from the Trumps—just as it did from the Bushes af­ter Ge­orge W.'s dis­as­trous eight years in the White House—there stands Nikki Ha­ley. She's an ob­vi­ous choice for a party that needs to ex­pand be­yond non-col­lege-ed­u­cated white men. She's an In­dian-amer­i­can woman, the daugh­ter of im­mi­grant par­ents, and has a record as a ca­pa­ble, two-term gover­nor. As U.N. am­bas­sador she worked qui­etly and, to hear sev­eral of her fel­low am­bas­sadors tell it, ef­fec­tively in push­ing Trump's for­eign

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