CPAC concluded with a vintage speech from former President Donald Trump, and it was no surprise when he took the top spot in the traditional straw poll. Yet, it was the names that followed him that offered the more interesting topic to analyze.
Ron DeSantis, perhaps expectedly, took a commanding second place, cementing himself as the heir apparent if Trump chooses not to declare in 2024. Though some seem certain another run is in the cards, there is some evidence he may look to play kingmaker instead, and getting all the same press without the grueling commitment may appeal to Trump.
Regardless, another 2024 prospect didn’t do so well at CPAC, and it’s leaving a lot of unanswered questions about her potential candidacy.
Nikki Haley came in at only 3% in the straw poll, garnering no more support than Josh Hawley, who has never been seen as much of a factor. Haley also didn’t speak at the conservative conference, being snubbed after her scathing rebuke of Trump some weeks ago. That’s left her floating between an overwhelming majority of Republican voters and the far smaller anti-Trump wing of the party. Where will she land?
Here was Haley’s response to Trump’s speech.
Strong speech by President Trump about the winning policies of his administration and what the party needs to unite behind moving forward. The liberal media wants a GOP civil war. Not gonna happen.
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) March 1, 2021
I don’t understand what she wants to be, and I’m fairly certain she’s not sure either. Does she want to be the “straight-shooting” anti-Trump figure that makes MSNBC anchors squee, or does she want to actively try to unify the party, recognizing that Trump and his policies are broadly popular within it? There isn’t really any middle ground to be had when it comes to the GOP electorate, no matter what the writers at National Review and the like wish were so.
Perhaps Haley miscalculated early on after January 6th, expecting Trump to fall to the wayside in the aftermath? Ever since her initial rebuke, pointedly breaking with Trump as having any future in the party, she’s been desperately trying to claw herself back into his good graces. That’s obviously something that must happen if she’s to have any chance in the coming years of rising to further prominence. Whether those in the establishment wing like it or not, the party is not the party of 2004 anymore. Reality must dictate Haley’s path forward, not hopes of finding a time machine.
Yet, her recent miscalculations are another mark on her possible candidacy, with Haley’s ability to make smart political choices now in question. No one hoping to pick up broad GOP support should have ever sat down with Politico’s Tim Alberta knowing anything she said would not only be used to divide her party, but also to harm her own ambitions. You are never going to make the media like you as a Republican, no matter how chummy you get. Haley’s missteps show an outdated mindset, and one that most GOP voters aren’t willing to tolerate anymore from their standard-bearers. That’s not even factoring in disagreements on policy, which do exist.
With all of that said, has Haley’s political future been ended before it ever really started? There’s no doubt that a large portion of the beltway conservative media, for lack of a better descriptor, love Haley. Yet, there’s also no doubt that she doesn’t speak to any significant portion of the Republican electorate right now. Can that be remedied? I’m struggling to see how given the competition she has in figures like Ron DeSantis and Kristi Noem. I guess we’ll find out.