Last woman standing: Nikki Haley for Potus

Last woman standing: Nikki Haley for Potus

'I refuse to quit. I feel no need to kiss the ring," said Nikki Haley defiantly.

She was talking about Donald Trump's ring, of course, because she is predicted to lose the Republican presidential primary vote today in South Carolina, the state where she was once governor, by a landslide (at least two-to-one against her).

Mr Trump's campaign spokesperson, Steven Cheung, promptly replied on X, formerly known as Twitter, that "She's going to drop down to kiss ass when she quits, like she always does."

Always a class act.

Just another day in Ms Haley's forlorn and seemingly quixotic campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Mr Trump's people keep demanding that she quit and accept his victory, but she just won't do it.

Ms Haley says she will stay in the 'race' that isn't really a race, at least until after "Super Tuesday" (March 5), when voters in sixteen states choose about a third of the total delegates for the presidential nomination.

She might even stay all the way to July when the Republican national convention finally chooses the party's candidate.

She still has the support of a number of rich donors. She raised US$16.5 million (595 million baht) last month when her primary challenge to Mr Trump was already clearly doomed, and they all knew it.

"Just know, I'm not going anywhere," she said at a campaign event on Wednesday. "I'm in this for the long haul. And this is going to be messy."

So what's her strategy? It is to be the obvious next-best choice for Republicans if and when Donald Trump is eliminated from the race by illness, scandal, or a criminal conviction. If that should happen between now and November -- and what are the odds on that? -- then the party will have nobody but Ms Haley to turn to.

With Mr Trump off the board and all the other presidential hopefuls long since dismissed, Ms Haley would be the only choice that the party could unite behind, even though she has been increasingly critical about the Orange Ego.

To stay in the race at all, she had to appeal to the substantial number of Republicans who feel that Mr Trump has hijacked their party.

She has warned that he is "more unstable and more unhinged" than he was during his first term in the White House. When Mr Trump implicitly urged Russia's President Vladimir Putin to attack any Nato member who fails to meet the 2% target for defence spending, she told him: "Don't take the side of a thug who kills his opponents."

And she knows that her defiance of Mr Trump will be secretly welcomed in many parts of the Republican Party: "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."

If Mr Trump is convicted of a criminal charge or becomes visibly incapacitated, many of his apparent supporters in the party would seize on that pretext to drop him from the ticket, partly because they loathe him but mainly because they think he will lose them the election.

They won't move against Mr Trump unless a viable alternative presidential candidate is available, however, and Ms Haley is that candidate.

That's why the money keeps flowing into her campaign, although in conventional terms, she hasn't got a prayer of winning.

When Joe Biden was asked recently whether he'd rather run against Ms Haley or Mr Trump this autumn, he replied "Oh, I don't care," but that is quite a long way from the truth. He would greatly prefer to face Mr Trump because he is and always has been confident of beating him.

Mr Trump is three and a half years younger than Mr Biden but a great deal less coherent and rapidly getting worse. His legal troubles are all-consuming. As Ms Haley said, "He's going to be in a courtroom all of March, April, May and June. How in the world do you win a general election when these cases keep going, and the judgments keep coming?"

Whereas Ms Haley might actually be able to beat Mr Biden.

Gwynne Dyer

Independent journalist

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries. His new book is 'Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work)'.

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