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Haley will vote for the Trump ‘chaos’ that she once decried


Analysis by Stephen Collinson, CNN

(CNN) — The political calculation has changed again for Nikki Haley.

Not long ago, the former South Carolina governor was arguing that Donald Trump was too old, too chaotic, too “unhinged” and too prone to temper tantrums to be president again and said he couldn’t beat President Joe Biden.

“I feel no need to kiss the ring,” Haley said in February before suspending her primary campaign. “My political future is of no concern.”

But on Wednesday, she delivered the implicit endorsement everyone knew was coming sooner or later. Haley said that while Trump had not been “perfect” on issues that matter to her, like foreign policy and the national debt, Biden had been a “catastrophe.”

“So, I will be voting for Trump,” said the former US ambassador to the United Nations, who served in the ex-president’s Cabinet.

After a friendly photo-op in front of the Oval Office fireplace, she left that job in 2018 before she could be tarnished by association with Trump’s mayhem. As 2024 loomed on the calendar, Haley said she would not run for president against her old boss — then did so anyway — to Trump’s lingering fury.

Before losing her home state’s primary to Trump earlier this year, Haley lashed out at Republicans who backed Trump despite privately despairing over him. “In politics, the herd mentality is enormously strong,” she said. “A lot of Republican politicians have surrendered to it. … Of course, many of the same politicians who now publicly embrace Trump privately dread him. They know what a disaster he’s been and will continue to be for our party. They’re just too afraid to say it out loud.”

Now Haley is saying out loud she’s voting for Trump. But she had little choice but to join the herd if she wants a future in a party dominated by its presumptive nominee. It’s the same decision reached by Ted Cruz, whose wife was once publicly humiliated by Trump but who has long since attached himself to the former president. On Wednesday night, the Harvard Law School graduate, who presently represents Texas in the US Senate, refused an invitation by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins to unconditionally accept the forthcoming results of the 2024 election.

“Look, if the Democrats win, I will accept the result. But I’m not going to ignore fraud regardless of what happens,” said Cruz, who then, in true Trump fashion, cited baseless claims that the 2020 contest was rife with fraud.

There’s not much of a path in the alternative: former Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a onetime rising GOP star, became an example of what happens to conservative foreign policy hawks who refuse to temper warnings that Trump is a danger to democracy.

Haley seeks to preserve her future

There is every sign that Haley wants to run again for president once Trump finally leaves the stage. So repudiating him now would serve no personal political purpose except to end her career on a point of principle. History might applaud her selflessness, but power would likely remain out of her reach.

Haley’s move will reinforce an impression that she always adopts the political course most advantageous to her ambitions. But if Biden wins in November, she can say she predicted Trump would lose. If a Trump second term is a disaster, she’s on the record predicting chaos. She could then be positioned to try to lead the GOP back to the pre-Trump positions on foreign policy and the economy that seem closest to her own beliefs, even if she often seemed in 2024 to be auditioning for the leadership of a party that doesn’t exist in any recognizable form.

Former Trump national security adviser John Bolton, who has said that Trump should not be let anywhere near the White House again, said he was disappointed by Haley’s decision. “I think she has obviously made a political calculation that it is in her interests to support Donald Trump,” Bolton told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Wednesday.

Haley – who won Vermont and Washington, DC – is not the only younger GOP presidential candidate with still-burning White House dreams to undergo such a transformation. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis lashed out at Trump when his own campaign faded in frigid Iowa in January, then endorsed him on the way out of the race far more quickly than Haley did.

During her campaign, Haley argued that both Biden, who is 81, and Trump who turns 78 next month, were both too old to be president and called for cognitive tests for candidates over 75. But her decision to focus only on Biden’s liabilities on Wednesday raises the questions of whether her voters will follow her in Trump’s direction.

Since she suspended her campaign, tens of thousands of voters in GOP primaries have continued to vote for her. This support is a living legacy of a campaign in which she set herself up as a vessel for Republicans who disdain Trump and wanted another candidate. Haley was especially strong in suburban areas where the ex-president struggles most. And the Biden campaign signaled that it would compete for this bloc of wavering GOP voters in November. “There’s always going to be a place for Haley voters in my campaign,” the president said during a fundraiser in the swing state of Georgia over the weekend.

However, many Haley voters confided at events in New Hampshire and Iowa earlier this year that though they preferred her, they’d probably stick with their party as loyal Republicans if Trump beat her to the nomination. In that sense, Haley’s decision – while dripping with political expedience – may be one that many of her supporters are also wrestling with.

The choice for Republicans who dislike Trump and are considering Biden is a more complex question in this election than the previous one. Now, Biden is the incumbent with a list of achievements and policies that directly contradict the core beliefs of many Republicans, including on foreign policy and economics. Memories of the chaos of the Trump administration have also diminished. Traditional national security Republicans may also perceive global war and chaos and Biden’s growing feud with a right-wing Israeli prime minister as a reason not to switch their vote. “A lot of Republicans are making the same calculation because the performance of the Biden administration has been so appalling,” Bolton said.

Political ambition behind Haley’s choice

Haley said she’d vote for Trump while speaking at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, during her first major political speech since suspending her Republican presidential campaign.

Her announcement during a Q&A seemed illogical. She had just delivered a hardline speech melding Ronald Reagan’s Cold War hawkishness with the neoconservative notes of the Bush administration yet was promising to vote for an ex-president who has eviscerated both GOP foreign policy codes with his “America First” strategy. Haley argued that she wanted to vote for a candidate who would have “the backs of our allies and hold our enemies to account and who would secure the border.” But during his first term, Trump often cozied up to US enemies like Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean tyrant Kim Jong Un and spent four years berating US allies in Europe and Asia for freeloading off the United States.

Biden, by contrast, has reinvigorated and expanded US alliances, especially NATO, which Trump despises. The Western alliance now has more direction than at any time since the end of the Cold War. And Trump might talk a good game on immigration, but he recently derailed the most conservative border bill in decades, apparently because he wanted to deprive Biden of an election-year win and preserve his narrative of a nation under siege.

The tepid nature of Haley’s support for Trump leaves some questions, including whether she will agree to campaign for him and whether she’ll urge her voters to back him. While saying she’d vote for the ex-president, Haley urged him to take steps to reach out to her voters. “Trump would be smart to reach out to the millions of people who voted for me and continue to support me, and not assume that they’re just going to be with him. And I genuinely hope he does that,” she said. Trump has made no effort to appeal to Haley voters during the march to the nomination despite his dire need to court suburban voters. And he was quick to knock down reports recently that the former South Carolina governor could be on his shortlist for the vice presidential nomination.

But any accommodation between the two political foes would be a reminder that it’s best not to take what happens in presidential primary campaigns too seriously. Haley, after all, went from one extreme to the other during her bid. She spent months offering only the mildest condemnations of Trump, who sought to overturn the 2020 election to stay in power. Like other GOP candidates, she was unable to solve the conundrum of how to run against the ex-president, who is still wildly popular with base voters, while avoiding alienating his supporters. When she did turn fully on Trump amid the snows of New Hampshire, it was as an act of last resort as it became clear she had no route to the nomination.

In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on February 1, Haley said Trump had experienced some “confused moments” in prior days and rebuked the ex-president for a “temper tantrum” on the night of his New Hampshire primary win when he tried to push her out of the race. During an appearance in Columbia, South Carolina, Haley asked an audience: “Do you really think he is going to win against Joe Biden when he is spending that much on legal fees? He is not.” On February 12, Haley told Tapper that Trump was “completely unhinged” and accused the former president of siding with Putin over NATO members.

“Rightly or wrongly, chaos follows (Trump),” Haley complained at almost every event. “We have too much division in this country, and too many threats around the world to be sitting in chaos once again.”

But that’s the “chaos” she’ll be voting for in November.

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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