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Opinion: If Haley wants a political future, she needs to drop out

Opinion by W. James Antle III

(CNN) — It is the end of the road for Nikki Haley. The former South Carolina governor and US ambassador to the United Nations has been the last major GOP primary candidate standing against former President Donald Trump, but her defeat in her home state Saturday night makes clear who the Republicans’ 2024 presidential choice is.

Haley had steadfastly maintained that she wouldn’t budge if South Carolina Republicans opted for Trump over her. She is still raising money at a prodigious pace and buying advertising space in states that will vote in early March.

But Haley has won nowhere, including a Nevada primary she lost by 30 points to “none of these candidates.” Trump, who didn’t compete in that contest, won Nevada’s separate caucuses, which actually awarded delegates. She is not favored to win anywhere in the foreseeable future. Polling in Michigan and many of the Super Tuesday states suggests the results will get increasingly worse for Haley from here.

Republicans do have a history of rewarding past runners-up with the nomination in the future. This held true for Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney. And Trump’s unprecedented legal situation may require Republicans to have a backup plan.

But a protracted primary fight with Trump won’t set Haley up well for an attempt at securing the GOP nomination in 2028, or even as an “in case of emergency, break glass” option later this year.

Reagan and the others preceded their nominations by finishing second in genuinely competitive primary contests, which the 2024 race is not. At her current pace, Haley will not go to the 2024 Republican National Convention with many delegates. And given the deep commitment so many delegates have to Trump, Haley stretching out a long negative primary does not make her a likely Trump emergency replacement.

In the coming days, Haley will hear from many Republicans who don’t want the Republican primary to end any time soon. But past primaries have gone on longer because other candidates have kept winning; Haley has no wins on the horizon. Even 2004 Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, whose famous scream was filled with erroneous predictions of victory, won his home state.

If Haley keeps going, she is likely to lose by progressively bigger margins as the race simultaneously shifts to multiple states and media markets. She may also be blamed for delaying the party’s consolidation around and joint fundraising with Trump while Democrats are sparing President Joe Biden from an even semi-competitive primary.

It has been difficult for Republicans to run against Trump this year without being perceived as running against the GOP base. That is the position in which Haley now finds herself. If she plans to help Trump win in November or have a personal comeback in the future, she should heed her home state’s voters and pull the plug.

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