A long shot: Nikki Haley in Wisconsin

With Donald Trump enjoying huge leads in polling of Republican voters, will Wisconsin voters have a chance to make a difference in who the party’s presidential nominee will be?

Nikki Haley is a long shot, but the political pundits are giving her an outside chance of knocking out Donald Trump over the next four months. The Wisconsin primary is Tuesday, April 2, and Haley’s increasing momentum raises the possibility that Trump could be embarrassed here. Some big donors, like the Koch brothers, are getting behind her campaign on that slim chance.

Haley, a former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations, has drawn roughly even with Ron DeSantis, Florida governor, in some polls. If he loses to her in Iowa, he could be done for. The Iowa caucuses are Jan. 15, less than two months away.

They are quickly followed by the New Hampshire primary, the first in the nation on Jan. 23. Voters in New Hampshire can be contrarian, so Haley could take another step forward there if she finishes 2nd in Iowa.

The biggest showdown is on Super Tuesday, March 5, when 16 states go to the polls. Trump strategists will try to use the GOP winner-take-all methods state-by-state to cinch the nomination.

On April 2 Wisconsin voices will finally be heard. The outcomes in this state are always a little tricky to project, because we have an “open” primary, in which voters in one party can cross over to vote in the primary election in another party. Would Democrats, who despise Trump, cross over to vote against him or for him as easier to beat in the general election in November? History tells us not many will, but some may, especially women who now know that a judge has found him culpable of rape.

Independents are always the X factor. They number about one-sixth of the electorate in this state, and which way they tilt will have big leverage on the Wisconsin primary outcome.

The number of leading GOP candidates has been narrowed to four for the fourth Republican presidential debate on December 6. Trump has already declined. His increasing number of public rants and gaffes, such as repeatedly mixing up former President Obama and current President Biden, could be why he and his handlers are avoiding that stage in Tuscaloosa.

The other three candidates DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy and Haley, have avoided direct criticism of the former president.

Haley has weaved through the gauntlet of Trump issues, saying that she would support him if he received the Republican nomination, even if he is convicted of criminal charges in on-going court cases. But she has also said the American people would not vote for a convicted criminal and had expressed anger when Trump took no action to protect Vice President Pence during the January 2021 assault on the Capitol.

Before the 2016 election that Trump won narrowly in Wisconsin, she said, “I will not stop until we fight a man who chooses not to disallow the KKK. That is not part of our party. That’s not who we want as president. We will not allow that in our country.”

Her complicated and sometimes conflictual relationship with Trump will turn off some Republicans, but may attract independents, and cross-over Democrats and Republicans who don’t like Trump.

Her love-hate relationship with Trump was on the love side when she accepted a position in his cabinet in 2017 as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She started that position right after Trump took office and resigned less than two years later. Her reasons for departure are unknown, but she was clearly uncomfortable with his leadership.

Distancing herself from Trump, while not moving completely away from him, will present a puzzle for Wisconsin Republicans.

Also, there is a clear contrast in Haley’s area of expertise, foreign policy, the hottest issues of the day. She is a hawk on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, pro-Israel, and favors rebuilding our military capabilities. Trump waffles, especially when he praises Vladimir Putin as a strong man. Putin is truly a war criminal.

A knuckle ball in this whole picture is four on-going trials against Trump. A negative verdict in one or more of them has to swing Republican voters, who don’t want a convict in the Oval Office.

Wisconsin voters will have a lot of sifting and winnowing before submitting their ballots in four months. Trump could score a knockout before the Wisconsin primary. But if Haley is still around and DeSantis has pulled out, Wisconsin voters could be in a pivotal position to decide if Trump becomes the GOP nominee.



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