When I first began seeing social media alerts yesterday regarding an upcoming announcement from Nikki Haley’s campaign, I assumed that she might surprisingly be following Vivek Ramaswamy to the exits after her third-place finish in Iowa. But the announcement had nothing to do with suspending her campaign or withdrawing from the race. She reaffirmed that she would be heading back to New Hampshire to continue the battle but with one difference. She said she would not participate in the next GOP debate unless Donald Trump agreed to do so also. That left Ron DeSantis as the only one scheduled to participate and the debate has now been canceled. Let’s just say upfront that this is not a good look for Haley and could be seen as another misstep on the campaign trail. (Associated Press)
Nikki Haley said Tuesday that she wouldn’t participate in the next Republican presidential debate unless former President Donald Trump takes part in it, leaving Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as the only candidate committed to Thursday’s event.
“We’ve had five great debates in this campaign,” Haley said in a statement, released as she campaigned in New Hampshire. “Unfortunately, Donald Trump has ducked all of them. He has nowhere left to hide. The next debate I do will either be with Donald Trump or with Joe Biden. I look forward to it.”
Her statement was released a day after the all-important Iowa caucuses, in which Trump marked a wide margin of victory over both Haley and DeSantis.
Nikki Haley has no valid reason to pull out of the race right now aside from Trump having such a massive national lead. The latest New Hampshire poll out this week shows Haley in a commanding lead for second place at 34% behind Donald Trump’s 44.5%. DeSantis lags far behind in single digits. If that’s how it winds up playing out next week, it would wipe away the memory of Haley’s poor showing in Iowa and give her the opportunity to ask Ron DeSantis why he isn’t dropping out. She’s doing about as well against DeSantis in her home state of South Carolina, though Trump is still dominating with more than 50%.
This announcement about the upcoming debates is simply bizarre, however. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not terribly worried about one less primary debate imperiling our democracy or whatever. The non-Trump candidates have had plenty of debates already and I don’t think there’s all that much new territory to cover apart from local or state issues specific to the hosting state.
But with that said, Nikki Haley had been all fired up for the debates and seemed eager to participate in all of them. She at least seemed to believe that they were important. But now she’s suddenly saying that she will only debate Trump or Biden? Her refusal rings even more hypocritical when one of her latest and loudest complaints was about Donald Trump being “afraid” to debate her. The political optics are even worse when you consider that the primary was suddenly being treated like a two-person race by the person who finished third in Iowa only the day before.
In the end, of course, none of this is likely to matter much in the long run and these spats are mostly just political popcorn for the punditry. Unless something changes dramatically in a relatively short period of time (and you can’t imagine how tired I’ve become of typing that phrase), Haley and DeSantis are still just fighting for second place. Donald Trump is still floating near or above 50 in most of the states, with a few exceptions such as South Carolina. He’s not trailing anywhere that I can see. If that’s how the primary plays out, Trump will simply keep accumulating delegates until the question becomes a moot point.
If either of these non-Trump candidates is harboring any hopes for a position in a potential second Trump Cabinet, they might consider getting out sooner rather than later. You might have noticed the warm reception that Trump gave to Vivek Ramaswamy at a rally last night. He has endorsed Trump and will probably be out there campaigning for him. I won’t be shocked if he gets an offer. But the longer the other two keep battling Trump, the more his patience will probably wear thin.