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Nikki Haley, hanging on through Super Tuesday, says Trump is weak because he’s not getting as many votes as he should − she’s wrong

Huchen Liu, University of Nebraska Omaha, The Conversation on

Published in News & Features

Nikki Haley has refused to drop out of the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination despite significant losses to Donald Trump in Iowa, New Hampshire and her home state of South Carolina. Haley has tried to cast the race in an especially favorable light: As essentially an incumbent, Trump should be near-unanimously supported, but he hasn’t been – so she should keep on fighting.

Haley has made several versions of this argument:

• After finishing third behind Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the Iowa caucuses, Haley saw enough hope to declare the contest a “two-person race” – to incredulous ears.

• After coming in 11 points behind Trump in New Hampshire, an unusually hospitable state to her in ideology and temperament, a Haley spokesperson characterized Trump’s win as “not exactly a ringing endorsement for a former president.”

• After getting just under 40% of the vote in her home state to Trump’s 60%, Haley again framed the result as more disappointing for Trump than for herself, stressing that “Trump as, technically, the Republican incumbent did not win 40% of the vote.”

I’m a political scientist, and I have studied Trump’s 2016 campaign and his administration as well as the Haley challenge. I don’t buy Haley’s rationale for holding on.

 

As the two candidates face Super Tuesday, the biggest day of primary voting across the nation, Trump is not the weak candidate Haley would like him to be.

Haley’s claim that Trump’s early victories reveal some type of weakness hinges on comparing Trump with real incumbents running for reelection, who are indeed usually unopposed within their party. Think the Biden reelection campaign and Trump’s own in 2020.

But this comparison is unreasonable: Trump’s not a real incumbent and should not be compared with one.

To see how well Trump’s doing, an appropriate comparison pits Trump against previous one-term presidents running for a nonconsecutive second term against the incumbents who defeated them – Gerald Ford in 1980 against President Jimmy Carter, Carter in 1984 against President Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush in 1996 against President Bill Clinton.

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