There is Donald Trump, his suitors, and then Nikki Haley. The only female candidate for the Republican nomination for the White House is gaining momentum toward second place, showing that there is another way to attract the spotlight than stirring up Trump-style controversy.
The former president enters the Republican primaries reinvigorated with a comfortable lead in the polls, but if his campaign marred by scandals and lawsuits implodes, then observers are increasingly inclined to place Nikki Haley in the lead to take his place.
The 51-year-old former governor shone with her good performances during televised debates and has already raised significant funds.
She “established herself in various ways which propelled her to the head of the pack” among all the other Republican candidates “who are not called Trump”, explains to AFP David Barker, director of the Center for Studies on conference and presidency at American University.
Recent polls show her neck and neck, even slightly ahead in several key states over Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, in the race for second place behind the former president.
According to the RealClearPolitics polling average, nationally Donald Trump would garner 59% of the vote, while Ron DeSantis rose to 14%, Nikki Haley to 11% and Vivek Ramaswamy to 5%.
If Donald Trump remains the overwhelming favorite of the Republicans, the businessman faces numerous accusations, including that of having tried to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
But for Alan Abramowitz, professor emeritus of political science at Emory University, in the event of an implosion of Donald Trump’s candidacy (in particular due to “what is happening with these trials”) and good results from Nikki Haley in the first states to vote in the primaries, the former ambassador would then be “well placed”.
Such a path for Nikki Haley is “possible”, but remains “fairly unlikely”, believes David Barker for his part.
The former governor of South Carolina can draw on a rich political career, having held the post of UN ambassador for almost two years.
She also put herself forward by relying on the attacks of her opponents, particularly on gender.
During a debate in November, when entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy called her “Dick Cheney in heels” — an allusion to the former vice president of George Bush Jr. — Nikki Haley responded: “I wear heels , but it’s not a question of fashion, it’s a political weapon.
Seduce centrist voters
Nikki Haley, the child of Indian immigrants, adopts a different posture from that of Donald Trump and tries to seduce more centrist voters by attempting a softer approach on issues such as abortion.
However, her hesitations have left political observers wondering what she really believes. During the third Republican debate in November, she said she wanted to “find consensus” between those who are for abortion and those who are against it.
But last week, when asked if she would sign the controversial six-week abortion ban if she were still governor, she told a gathering of conservative Christians in Iowa: “Yes. Whatever the people decide.”
His camp will meet in Alabama for the fourth debate of the Republican primaries, marked once again by the absence of Donald Trump who refuses any participation in these debates.
Although she criticized the billionaire’s unfounded claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him, she says she is proud to have served in the Trump administration and shares his dislike of the United Nations.
She also aligned with the former president on numerous foreign policy decisions, including withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord.