Haley’s narrow path runs through DeSantis’ 2028 ambitions
DES MOINES, Iowa – I enjoyed every bit of West Virginia University’s huge victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels in Duke’s recent May Bowl. I looked forward to the festive mayonnaise dump and everything. Gross, but strangely satisfying.
It held out for close losses to the University of Houston and Oklahoma State University. I held my breath for the onside kicks and Hail Mary passes.
But no 39 points defeat Who are the Oklahoma Sooners in November? Click. Two quarters was too much for me.
As expectedThe Iowa Republican caucuses had their lowest voter turnout since the contest in 2000. For a sense of proportion, the previous President Donald TrumpThe 56,260 votes (as of this writing) represent 51 percent of the total. The same number would have earned him just 30 percent eight years ago.
The cold weather certainly had an impact, as did the decision to hold the evening event on the third day of the weekend. But there was something else that brought the numbers down to their lowest level in 24 years: a crushing effect.
In 2016, the race was close, with three or four candidates competing. This time, it was a very clear race for second place. Now, when an unpopular candidate enjoys a massive polling advantage — such as Hillary Clinton’s failure in the 2016 general election — there is a risk that unmotivated voters will ignore their responsibilities. When you love your candidateHowever, expecting a lopsided win can actually be a temptation. There is low emotional risk and high opportunity for reward.
But the difference between a landslide and a landslide is what happens on the other side. The losing team must know it’s over and give up. We see it in the tsunami of famous presidential general elections, including the 1984 Challenger defeat Walter Mondale I approached from time to time, but never drove. After certain defeat, Democrats in states they were supposed to win, such as Rhode Island and West Virginia, stayed home rather than be part of the losing effort. Democrats lost 49 states and the damage from down ballots was enormous.
Primaries differ in several respects, but in particular partisans may want to “send a message” on the losing vote, especially if there is a salient ideological or political consideration. But that’s not what was happening in Iowa.
Both Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a former key aide to the MAGA doctrine, and a former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who served in Trump’s Cabinet, agree that Trump has had a successful presidency and that he has generally been right in his policies. Rather, they claim, the problem is that Trump has not accomplished more than he promised. They assert that Trump must be replaced at the head of the party because he is no longer the stable genius he once was, and that he is likely to lose again in the general election.
They play off Trump’s main weaknesses — his signature flaws, corruption, his failed 2021 coup attempt — but fundamentally they believe that choosing one of their own over Trump is a wiser calculation. Electability is not a terrible argument in primaries. But not if you are sure of losing.
There is a significant minority in the Republican Party willing to fight for a lost cause in order to send a message, but that message would admit defeat and alienate the party’s majority. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney have won many admirers and some loyal supporters, but most Republicans — including many who know Christie and Cheney — are right that Trump will never forgive them for airing the party’s dirty laundry. This is a sacrifice very few in politics are willing to make.
Haley still hopes to qualify, and win the support of an enthusiastic minority, while remaining acceptable to most members of her party. It is not an unreasonable idea. Voters often choose more realistic means of protest, even if there is a modest chance of success. That’s why Haley’s bronze medal in Iowa could be so painful. If victory is the trade-off for purity, then defeat will not be tolerated.
But she’s still in it. A win in New Hampshire could strengthen her standing as a candidate for both “No Trump” candidates and real-life partisans. It depends on how high the asking price she has to pay to resist Trump. If Christie strongly backs Haley and doesn’t ask for any public concessions in return, she might get back on track and race at least next month.
DeSantis, on the other hand, has a different challenge to face.
There are losing candidates in the history of the Republican Party, such as George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney, who brilliantly turned second place finishes into future nominations. Then there are those contestants like Pat Buchanan and Rick Santorum who continue their rivalries to pressure the eventual winner on political matters and prove the strength of their faction.
Healey and DeSantis have the organization and notoriety to carry on in the race like McCain, but not for a cause like Pitchfork Pat.
But if DeSantis can make it through Super Tuesday and make it to Florida on March 19, he could gather enough delegates to end up in second place. If he withdraws then, endorsing Trump, DeSantis could be well positioned as a contender for 2028. Spend the last of the cash you pay your employees, keep the name recognition and, most importantly, outlast Haley, and 2024 could be the start of the next chapter.
For that reason, there’s little incentive for DeSantis to step aside now, despite the implausible strategy of taking third place in South Carolina 38 days from now to get back into contention. Yes, getting out now might be good for Haley’s chances of winning, although a lot of DeSantis voters will go back to Trump before they go for her. But it will also help Haley in 2028, something DeSantis seems unlikely to do.
In fact, it looks like the path DeSantis is taking Which he was all along: Ted Cruz’s 2016 dud. As Cruz discovered, it’s very difficult to convince people to expect a big loss. Along the way, you neither endear yourself to the loyal opposition nor win the admiration of the majority.
This is worse than that Than putting mayonnaise on your head.