Lawmakers say Haley faces a tough road back to the GOP after facing off against Trump

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley compete in the fifth Republican presidential primary debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 10.

Republican lawmakers see a clear path to a return to Donald Trump’s Republican Party for one of his former primary foes — but perhaps a boycott for his only remaining rival.

Some Republicans said it was a wise move for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to end his presidential bid after finishing second to Trump in the Iowa caucuses. His exit and immediate endorsement of the former president meant a return to big-time GOP politics — and ultimately, Trump’s orbit was possible, lawmakers said.

But Republican lawmakers predicted a very different future for former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Trump’s former U.N. ambassador and still his only primary foe. She has opted to continue her primary campaign with a message that criticizes Trump’s age and mental state — and that she alone can defeat President Joe Biden in November.

Utah GOP Senator Mitt Romney, who is not seeking reelection after being one of Trump’s main critics within the party, recently said, “I don’t think it’s likely, but it’s possible” that Haley May again seek national office as a Republican. But, he said, it’s more likely that DeSantis could try again, perhaps in the 2028 election cycle.

“You may alienate some people who like your opponent. That’s the nature of negative campaign ads and messaging,” Romney said. “That’s how it works. And you make a calculation about what you think you’ll get the nomination for. That’s how it works.

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“So much happens in politics, you know you can’t predict what the factors will be. Let’s say Donald Trump is elected and is overwhelmingly successful. Then why, it will be really difficult for Haley,” he said.

Representative Nancy Mace, also a South Carolina Republican who is preparing for her tough re-election bid, suggested Haley should bow out so Republicans can rally around Trump.

“DeSantis has already endorsed Donald Trump, who is the leader of our party and the only person who can save our country. You know, he’s going to be the nominee. He will win spectacularly,” he said. “He’s crushing it in South Carolina, isn’t he? Frankly, he’s crushing it everywhere.

“The sooner we can unify our party, the sooner we can take on Joe Biden, and that’s what’s best for the party,” Mace said. “This is what is best for the country. “And the sooner people realize this, the better off we will be.”

Since finishing second to Trump in New Hampshire’s GOP nominating contest, Haley has been arguing that her 77-year-old former boss has mentally lost a step or two and is too young to be leader of the free world again. are more chaotic. , She is also claiming more forcefully that she is the only GOP figure who can defeat Biden.

“Trump has repeatedly said that I blocked security at the Capitol on January 6. I was nowhere near the Capitol. I wasn’t in the office,” Haley said, referring to Trump’s mistake at a campaign rally in Derry, N.H., late last month in which he mistook Haley for then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

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“The reality is that he was confused. “He was just as delusional as Joe Biden was going to start World War II,” she said. “He was just as confused as when he said he was running against President (Barack) Obama.”

Haley has not only alienated Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill, but she also appears to have angered some Republican voters. He suffered an embarrassing defeat in the Nevada GOP presidential preference primary last week — but not to Trump, who was not on the ballot because he was attending a party caucus.

Rather, more Nevadans participating in the primaries voted “for neither of these candidates” than for Haley. And it wasn’t close: “Nobody” received 62 percent, while 32 percent chose the former chief executive of the Palmetto State. Despite the setback, Haley has vowed to stay in the race.

The Nevada episode opened Haley up to criticism from her fellow Republicans, but Democrats were also eager to undermine her claims that she would be a strong candidate to take on Biden in the general election.

The Democratic National said, “Congratulations to Nikki Haley for becoming the second choice despite Nevadans’ ‘none’ vote and winning with zero delegates – and we apologize to Donald Trump, who carried the same numbers in Nevada this November. Will win electoral votes.” Alex Floyd, the committee’s rapid response director, said in a statement Wednesday.

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Such criticisms haven’t stopped Haley from bemoaning the idea of ​​nominating Trump. She’s using his age and mental mistakes as a weapon — and doing the same to attack Biden.

Earlier this month her campaign released a statement with the subject line “Nikki Haley vs. Two Grumpy Old Men,” a play on the 1993 film “Grumpy Old Men” starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

The campaign wrote, “While the country is being plunged into chaos by two angry old men, Nikki Haley is the only candidate who has the focus, stamina, and energy to make America normal again.”

Nevertheless, several Republican lawmakers interviewed for this article also expressed their assessments in line with the never-say-never principle of politics.

“But what if Trump gets elected and falls flat?” Romney said. “Government. Haley can say, ‘See, I told you so,’ and be a nominee next time.”

A Trump aide, who also hails from Haley’s home state, said the primary rivals have become allies before.

“They’re both very talented,” Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said of DeSantis and Haley. “And, you know, the primaries will be over soon and everyone will be together again.”

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