Shortcuts / 16 January 2024

Nikki Haley and the Republican Primaries

Republicans in America have started the long process of picking who their presidential candidate will be in the 5 November election with today’s vote in Iowa. There’s a long and potentially brutal road ahead…

Hasn’t this been going on for ages already? 
Kinda. The debates between those vying for the Republican nomination for president kicked off in August last year. Not participating in those debates was former President Donald Trump…

Why not? 
He refused to take to the stage with the other hopefuls – he thinks he’s a cut above the others and shouldn’t have to debate them for the job. Instead, he did a series of special interviews with Fox News that were broadcast at the same time as those debates…. 

So he’s pretty confident… 
Oh yeah, and Trump is by far and away the favourite in the race. He’s polling at about 50% of the vote, according to the polls. 

Wasn’t another bloke giving it a shake? 
You’re thinking of Ron DeSantis. He is the very conservative Governor of Florida, who has made a political brand out of his opposition to COVID lockdowns and his attacks on what he calls “the woke left”. Going into things last year, he was considered to be coming second in the race against Trump, but his campaign has pretty much tanked. 

Why is that? 
The analysts say he hasn’t differentiated himself from Trump or done enough to explain to voters why they should pick him over the former president. 

Anyone else I should know about? 
Yep, Nikki Haley. 

Who’s she?
She’s the former South Carolina Governor and was Trump’s Ambassador to the United Nations for the first 2 years of his time in the White House. 

How have I heard of her? 
So you’ll remember Trump’s ‘America First’ policy? At Trump’s inauguration in 2016, he said he would focus on reducing America’s trade deficits – not by growing the economy but by pulling out of trade deals and prioritising American industries. And he said he would start a program of rebalancing the burden-sharing within alliances when it came to being the world’s cop on the beat. It was a huge departure from America’s international leadership in those areas. 

I think it’s coming back to me… 
Yeah, so when it came to defending that policy to the world, a lot of that played out at the UN, and it was up to Haley to make the case and defend Trump and his policies. 

What sort of policies? 
Things like pulling America from the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. America pulled out of several UN bodies, and a lot of funding for their programs went with them. He pulled out of an agreement with Iran and other Western Nations to keep Iran’s nuclear ambitions under control. He upended trade deals with China and other nations. 

It was a lot…
It sure was, and it was Haley who had to defend those decisions. But she didn’t do that apologetically. She was a staunch face of the US Government who was articulate and hard to rattle. 

So she’s a Trump loyalist?
Not really. She left the job after 2 years – it was a shock to those following these things closely when she did, but she said it was “intense times” and she needed to move on. But the UN Ambassador’s role massively increased her profile, and paved the way for this presidential run. 

Does she have a chance? 
Well, as we start the election season, the polls say she’s overtaken DeSantis and is coming in second to Trump. In a poll ahead of the Iowa primary, Trump was the top pick for 48% of respondents, Haley with 20%, followed by DeSantis with 16%. 

So there’s still a big gap between Trump and the rest of the field… 
Which means Trump’s lead seems unassailable, but anything can happen in a campaign… 

Like what? 
Well, Trump’s had a series of challenges to face with his many and varied legal cases. A lot of them will play out during this campaign, too, with hearings and court appearances from Trump and his former close confidantes, so that will all feed into the campaign. 

But even still, how do you make up those numbers? 
That it all comes down to election maths… And look, many analysts are sceptical about Haley’s chances of success because of the extent of Trump’s lead, but it comes down to where she’s getting her support. 

Explain that….
If Trump’s support sticks around that 50% and more mark, well, no one has a chance of beating him. But if Haley can ramp up her support by taking votes from Trump supporters, things could take an interesting turn. 

Sounds simple… 
But it’s very hard to do because we’ve heard for years now how rusted on Trump’s support base is. 

Of course… 
So it will all depend on whose column she’s taking voters from – if it’s DeSantis or some of the other several candidates, it’s not as impactful as making people change their minds about Trump. 

But surely some voters will be keen to support her because she’s a woman? 
That might appeal to some Republican voters, but the polls say it’s not a big factor. Haley’s looking to become just the second female presidential candidate of a major party in American history after Hillary Clinton. Not that you would hear Haley or her campaign talk about that much… 

What’s she saying?
She does talk about being a woman as an asset – on the campaign, she often gives the Margaret Thatcher quote: “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.” But she will not buy into any discussion that would see her accused of complaining about her gender. 

Isn’t it. 

So how are the Republicans going about confirming who their candidate for president is?
So the primaries have started. These are the state-by-state nominating contests that will take nearly 6 months, followed by the Republican convention in July, where the candidate will be confirmed. 

So in these primaries, voters are picking who they want to represent the party in the presidential election? 
Not quite… True to the US electoral system, the process is a bit convoluted – what happens is voters do not directly select their candidates. What they’re doing is choosing delegates, who in turn choose the candidates at the national convention. 

And what happens at the convention? 
The delegates vote for their preferred candidate. And the more populous a state is, the more delegates it sends. But in these primaries, we know who those delegates support, so we will get a sense of which candidate is doing well and who is going not so well… 

So that’s the Republicans. What about the Democrats? 
President Joe Biden has said he’s going to run again, but there is a process for the Democrats to go through. Two others have put up their hands to challenge him, and there will be state-by-state caucus votes, but Biden is expected to be confirmed as the Democrats’ candidate. 

So he’s a shoo-in? 
Probably, which is not to say Biden’s overwhelmingly popular… The President’s approval ratings have declined to the lowest of his tenure in overall terms amongst Americans and among Democrats.

So strap in, eh? 
Yep – it’s gonna be a bumpy ride as we head to the presidential election on 5 November.

Squiz recommends

Reading A handy article from the New York Times on who all the candidates are for the presidential nomination. It includes the independents and those who have dropped out, so it’s all in one place. 

Listening – NPR’s podcast called Consider This – the episode on the ‘Political Evolution of Nikki Haley’. It’s a good quick listen.

Squiz Shortcuts - A weekly explainer on a big news topic.

Get the Squiz Today newsletter

It's a quick read and doesn't take itself too seriously. Get on it.