Republican Presidential Candidates To Gather in Florida for ‘Exercise in Futility’

Ambassador Haley tells the other candidates to drop out of the race.

AP/Charles Krupa, file
Ambassador Nikki Haley on May 24, 2023, at Bedford, New Hampshire. AP/Charles Krupa, file

Republican presidential hopefuls will be gathering in Florida on Wednesday for the third GOP presidential debate, even as the field winnows and consolidates behind President Trump.

The debate, hosted by NBC News, will air Wednesday at 8 p.m. Eastern at Miami and will feature at least one fewer candidate than the second debate, with Vice President Pence having dropped out of the presidential race.

Mr. Trump, whose enduring popularity among Republicans looms large over the GOP primary, will also be absent from the debate. He is holding a competing event at Hialeah, Florida, which is also at Miami-Dade County.

With a winnowing field and an absent frontrunner, the candidates will be fighting to see who can be the chosen alternative to Mr. Trump in the upcoming primaries.

So far, five candidates have qualified for the debate: Governor Christie, Governor DeSantis, Senator Scott, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, and Ambassador Nikki Haley. With the field beginning to narrow, Ms. Haley is pushing for other candidates, namely Mr. DeSantis, to drop out, arguing in a November 5 memo obtained by Politico that she is the “ONLY viable alternative to Trump.”

“The Iowa Caucuses are in just over two months. The New Hampshire primary is just 8 days after that. And Nikki Haley is the only candidate who is positioned to do well in both,” the memo reads.

It goes on: “EVEN IF DeSantis were to do well in Iowa, which is a big ‘if’ given his current decline, he is in such a weak position in New Hampshire and South Carolina that it doesn’t matter.”

In circulating the memo, Ms. Haley’s campaign appears to be pushing for something Republican opponents of Mr. Trump have suggested will be necessary to defeat the former president since the beginning of the race — consolidating behind one candidate.

As it stands, though, it’s not clear that consolidating will bring whatever anti-Trump coalition still exists within the GOP any closer to a victory in the primary. According to FiveThirtyEight’s average of polling, Mr. Trump enjoys 58.3 percent support in the primary nationally.

While this support is softer in early-voting states — Mr. Trump has 47.7 percent support in Iowa and 45.3 percent on average in New Hampshire — it’s not clear there’s a path to victory for any non-Trump GOP candidates in the primary.

The associate editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, Miles Coleman, tells the Sun that “oftentimes the whole Republican primary feels like an exercise in futility.” 

In Mr. Coleman’s assessment, Mr. Trump is the likely nominee pending some ground-shaking development in one of Mr. Trump’s legal battles, like a criminal conviction. “That’s probably why the field is so big, and that’s why people are reluctant to drop out,” he says.

Candidates who are running in the hopes of being the next in line to take up Mr. Trump’s MAGA mantle have an incentive to stay in the race as long as possible. If they dropped out before a hypothetical conviction, they wouldn’t be well-positioned to step up to the plate.

Ms. Haley does not appear to be one of the candidates running to be next in line to Mr. Trump, at least based on her memo, which reads, “Defeating Donald Trump and Joe Biden requires a talented candidate, a smart operation, and a pathway that extends beyond the first contest in Iowa.”

Mr. Coleman says that there are a few things going for Ms. Haley, like her experience as both a governor and an ambassador, as well as her identity as a woman of color, which could draw a sharp contrast against President Biden in the general election.

“It’s something that national Republicans and national Republican donors like to keep in mind,” Mr. Coleman says. “If you look at how they recruit for Congress, for example, they put an emphasis on recruiting women and minorities because they don’t want to be seen as a party of white men.”

Mr. Coleman also added that Ms. Haley “can sometimes get really animated,” which is an asset in a year when Republicans seem to be “looking for a fighter.”

The New York Sun

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