Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Haley to continue longshot presidential bid without conservative Koch donor network

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

One of Nikki Haley's funders is out. A political action committee aligned with the billionaire Koch brothers says there's nothing more they can do. Haley lost South Carolina's Republican primary against Donald Trump. She told this program last week that regardless of that result, she was going to stay in the race at least through Super Tuesday, just over a week from now, when many states vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIKKI HALEY: Between South Carolina Super Tuesday, another 20 states have voted. And that's more of the representation we want, is to let people's voices be heard. I think what's really important is to know that the majority of Americans dislike Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

INSKEEP: Jonah Goldberg is watching all this. He is editor-in-chief of The Dispatch, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and a periodic guest here. Welcome back, sir.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Hey. It's always great to be here.

INSKEEP: I'll just remind people, years ago, your wife worked for Nikki Haley. You've met her. You've known her. I think you don't talk very much, if at all, now. But what's the value of a candidate staying in the race if they think they have little chance?

GOLDBERG: The way I think about this is there's very little - barring some deus ex machina, some, you know, calamity on the campaign trail for Donald Trump or some legal jeopardy that takes him out of the race, he's the nominee. That's just the fact.

But normally, in party politics, on both sides, the way it works is there are factions within the party. The faction that loses the race for the nomination is set up for the next time to say, your guys had your chance. Now it's our turn. And that should've happened in 2020, but Donald Trump refused to admit that he lost, which completely ruined the sociology of that argument.

And so one of the things that Nikki Haley is doing, whether it's for her or simply for the non-Trumpian wing of the Republican Party, is setting up a permission structure that says, you can be a Republican, but you don't have to drink the Kool-Aid. And I think that alone is a very valuable thing for the GOP and for the country.

INSKEEP: You know, when I think about her candidacy, I sometimes thought way back to 1992, when Pat Buchanan ran against a sitting Republican president, George H.W. Bush. And if memory serves, he lost every single primary. He never had a chance, but he stayed in throughout the entire race, got millions of votes and made his point.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. And recall that when Pat Buchanan got 30% of the vote - I think it was - in New Hampshire in 1992, people lost their minds about what that said about the weakness of George H.W. Bush's incumbency of his presidency.

We keep going back-and-forth talking about how Trump is running as a quasi-incumbent or a de facto incumbent. An incumbent who loses 40% of the vote in a highly military, very conservative state like South Carolina in the primary is a profoundly weak incumbent. And that's one of the things that Nikki Haley is exposing - is that somewhere between a quarter and, you know, 40% of the Republican Party is just not that into Donald Trump. And I think that's another reason this is hugely - or could be hugely important. It could all amount to nothing if Nikki gives a full-throated endorsement and says Donald Trump's the guy. That...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

GOLDBERG: ...Would break my heart, but, you know, it could happen. We know that if Trump wins, he's not going to appoint a cabinet of people who keep him in line. He's not going to appoint John Kellys and John Boltons and William Barrs and people like that who will say no to him. He's going to appoint yes men and yes women down the line. And so creating a political climate where voters at least hold other Republicans accountable who are doormats for him is a useful thing. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but it's worth trying.

INSKEEP: I want to acknowledge there are a lot of independent voters or more moderate Republican voters who have shown their distaste for Trump who voted for Haley. And yet, I want to ask, in the few seconds we have here, if this is really going to hold up. Forty percent or so of the Republican electorate may be voting against Donald Trump at this point. But doesn't history show that over time, over the next few months, the vast majority of them are going to get in line behind their party's nominee, and they're going to vote for Trump?

GOLDBERG: For sure. You know, Nikki Haley's very similar to Bernie Sanders in 2016 and even 2020. She is - you know, those voters eventually came home for the Democratic nominee. A lot of these people are going to come home for the Republican nominee if it's Donald Trump.

But if you reduce - if that 40% turns out to just be 15%, that is a very, very difficult thing for Donald Trump to overcome. Traditionally, you need about 90% of your own party in the tank to win a general election, and then you try to win over independents. Independents split more favorably for Joe Biden. So, look, I don't think it's going to be a two-way race, but if it were a two-way race, I think it's very hard to see how Joe Biden doesn't win, in part because of what Nikki Haley is exposing.

INSKEEP: Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief of The Dispatch. Pleasure to hear from you.

GOLDBERG: It's great to be here. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.