Opinion: Nikki Haley is still the strongest VP pick

Rich Lowry

As far as we know, Nikki Haley isn’t on the short list, nor on the long list.

There’s no indication that she’s being considered as Trump’s VP pick, and Trump forcefully smacked down a report in Axios that the campaign was looking at her.

She’d still probably be the choice who, more than any other possible pick, would help Trump win in November.

By conventional rules, the former South Carolina governor’s getting the nod would be so obvious as to be completely unremarkable — she’s the runner-up in the nomination fight; she represents a different faction of the party; she provides demographic balance; she has executive and foreign-policy experience; and she’s ready, to the extent this can be judged by résumé and experience, to be president.

Paint-by-number politics would make her a top contender, if not a shoo-in.

If, that is, she hadn’t criticized Trump in harsh and personal terms during her primary campaign. It’s one thing to criticize another candidate’s tax plan; another to say he’s “diminished,” “unhinged,” “saying things that don’t make sense,” and “not qualified” to be president.

Any nominee would have a hard time swallowing those types of gibes, and Donald Trump is, shall we say, more sensitive to slights than most.

Trump gave as good as he got, turning what should have been a celebratory event the night he won the New Hampshire primary into an anti-Haley revival meeting.

All of this, though, is why her selection would be a shock and a potentially galvanizing moment in the campaign — it would show Trump to be willing to forgive and forget and put aside his personal feelings in the cause of saving the country from a second Biden term.

It would be an extraordinary grace note from someone the public doesn’t expect that from (although Trump does fairly often bury the hatchet with former critics).

Both Haley and Trump would have explaining to do, Haley more than Trump. He could just say that campaigning is a tough business, and, sure, she said lots of tough things about him, but beating Biden is more important than dwelling on the past. Haley would be forced by the media to do word-by-word exegeses of all her Trump attacks. Her out would be explaining that, whatever she said about Trump, Biden is worse.

Picking Haley would be an olive branch to a small group of Republican-inclined voters who aren’t ready to support Trump. It’s possible to exaggerate the import of the “zombie” Haley vote in the GOP primaries, given that the zombie dynamic is a common one in primaries and a significant element of her support is coming from 2020 Biden voters. But she definitely has appeal to college-educated and suburban voters with whom Trump is weak, and anything that helps at the margins could be decisive in a narrow race.

Going with Haley would open up some wallets. She has her own base within the donor class that would be enthused about her pick and newly determined to do whatever it takes to see the ticket prevail.

A downside is that she has become a hate figure for the MAGA base. Let’s not forget, though, that Trump, although he’s wary of crossing his base, is ultimately the most important influence on what his supporters think. If he says that Haley is the best pick politically, they will go along.

Relatedly, there’s the question of whether Trump could trust in such a sensitive position an emphatically pre-MAGA Republican who hasn’t bent the knee. That’d be an issue. But Haley would have every incentive to be loyal unless the wheels come off during the campaign or a second term — and if the wheels come off, Haley’s posture would be the least of Trump’s troubles.

I don’t say any of this as part of a scheme to try to slip Haley into the Naval Observatory in a second Trump administration, and see her sweep all before her in 2028 and return the GOP to its former state.

These are all imponderables, but if Trump wins again and finishes strong in 2028, there’d certainly be a market for a more MAGA candidate in 2028 than Nikki Haley, and if Trump crashes and burns in a second term, it’d be hard for Vice President Haley to escape the wreckage.

Maybe it’d be a shortsighted pick for Trump’s governing purposes, but if it helps him prevail in November, how much does that matter? The Trump approach to life is to get through one obstacle before worrying about the next, and dealing with a vice president he’s not enamored of when he’s back in the White House would be a good problem to have.

— Rich Lowry is the editor in chief of National Review and a syndciated columnist for King Features.


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