Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley just keeps winning. She’s become such a strong candidate, she forced Donald Trump to get on a plane to attend the Clemson-USC football game.
Haley’s Tigers beat the Gamecocks. And not too long after that game, she got more good news, that for the remainder of the Republican primary she’ll have a war chest that could match anything Trump cobbles together. An extremely-influential conservative billionaire family has begun to see what I’ve long seen: Haley is the real threat to Trump, not Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
If you are a lover of this democracy of ours, that’s a welcome development even if you aren’t a Haley fan and don’t want her in the White House (I’m not and I don’t). Trump should never be president again. He is the clear-and-present danger to this country, more than any other candidate, Democrat, Republican or third-party.
Not too long after Trump demonstrated the ultimate sign of weakness — his farce of a halftime sketchy political rally at midfield during the state’s most important football game — Americans for Prosperity, the political arm of the Koch network, announced it was backing Haley in the Republican primary, not DeSantis, who had been hoping to land the group’s backing.
“AFP Action is proud to throw our full support behind Nikki Haley, who offers America the opportunity to turn the page on the current political era, to win the Republican primary and defeat Joe Biden next November,” AFP president and CEO Emily Seidel announced.
Haley “has what it takes to lead a policy agenda to take on our nation’s biggest challenges and help ensure our country’s best days are ahead,” Seidel wrote.
The Associated Press describes the Koch network as “may be the most powerful conservative grassroots organization in the nation” that had already communicated with 6 million primary voters.
“With the grassroots and data capability we bring to bear in this race, no other organization is better equipped to help her do it,” Seidel bragged in the announcement.
That’s no small thing. It now means a group with essentially unlimited funds will be boosting Haley, continuing to attack Trump, and maybe finishing off what’s left of what was supposed to be a promising DeSantis campaign. That’s probably why the Florida governor’s camp sounded like a scorned teenager watching in agony as his preferred date takes someone else to the prom.
“Like clockwork, the pro-open borders, pro-jail break bill establishment is lining up behind a moderate who has no mathematical pathway of defeating the former president,” a DeSantis spokesman wrote on X, the network still better known as Twitter.
The Kochs are not Trump fans. They didn’t back him against Joe Biden in 2020 because they don’t believe he’s conservative enough, among other reasons. Trump has been able to maintain a stranglehold on the Republican Party, anyway, and remains poised to win the party’s nomination for a third consecutive time, according to just about every primary poll.
That’s why the task for Haley remains daunting and should not be underestimated by Republicans who want someone other than Trump.
Neither should they underestimate Haley. I can’t stress enough the enormous political talent it took for a dark-skin woman whose family has a non-Christian background to become governor of the first state to secede from the Union during the Civil War. To become the GOP’s presidential nominee, she’ll have to overcome overwhelming odds, which is precisely what she did in South Carolina to become governor of a state that had only elected white men to that position.
Democrats might be heartened by this development, even if just to have a good chuckle at Trump’s expense. But it would be foolish for them to underestimate Haley, either. If she defeats Trump in the short term, she can beat Joe Biden next November.
Issac Bailey is a McClatchy Opinion writer in North and South Carolina.