Did Nikki Haley fall into a trap set by Donald Trump’s allies in Nevada?

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WASHINGTON – Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was the only prominent Republican presidential candidate running in Tuesday’s Nevada primary – and she still didn’t win.

Haley lost by more than 30 percentage points to “none of these candidates,” an option promoted by supporters of former President Donald Trump after he opted to skip the primary in favor of Thursday’s Nevada caucuses.

Haley’s “loss” in the Silver State exposed her to mockery from Trump and his allies, who promptly ratcheted up the pressure on the former South Carolina governor to drop out of the race.

“A bad night for Nikki Haley,” Trump said on his Truth Social platform. “Losing by (30 points) in Nevada to ‘None of These Candidates.’ Watch, she’ll soon claim Victory!”

In hindsight, it looks like Haley walked into a trap set by the former president’s allies in Nevada. Here’s how she saw a bizarre defeat on Tuesday, and how she moves forward in the 2024 race for the White House.

A Republican primary loophole

The Nevada GOP decided that candidates who entered the Republican primary in the state couldn’t participate in the caucuses, a decision that excluded Haley from the latter.

But Republicans who voted “none of these candidates” on Tuesday can still join Thursday’s caucuses, a loophole exploited by Trump backers.

When he endorsed the former president last month, Nevada Gov. Steve Lombardo said he would vote in the primary for “none of the other candidates” and suggested others do the same. Lombardo told the Nevada Independent that for “all practical purposes … the race is over.”

Lt. Gov. Stavros Anthony, a Republican who also endorsed Trump, said last month he would choose the none of the above option in the primary. He shared in a post on X, “I encourage all voters to do the same and take the next step to returning our great country to stability and prosperity.”

Other Republican leaders in the state encouraged residents to vote against Haley on Tuesday instead of simply not participating.

As it turned out, “None of These Candidates” received more than 63% of the vote, while Haley received less than 31%. Meanwhile, Trump is the overwhelming favorite in Thursday’s caucuses.

In the wake of Tuesday’s results, political observers said that, no matter how irrelevant, the Nevada primary underscored what party members already know: Most Republicans want Trump to be their nominee.

Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist and CNN commentator, said Haley is drawing support from independents, moderates, and “Never Trump” voters who have left or are leaving the GOP.

“It is apparent that Republican voters – the people who vote in primaries – do not want her to be the nominee,” Jennings said. “What more do you need to see?”

Haley will keep attacking Trump

A day after the Nevada debacle, Haley sought to shake off the results, noting that she didn’t campaign there and alleging the state’s system was fixed for Trump.

“Republicans keep doing the same thing and getting the same result: chaos,” Haley said Wednesday on the X. “That’s the definition of insanity.”

Haley also cited Trump’s influence in a string of embarrassing Republican setbacks, including the imminent shakeup of leadership at the Republican National Committee, failure of the House GOP to “pass ANYTHING” and the ex-president’s criminal indictments.

Her criticism of the former president comes as she also has to build support in the next set of crucial 2024 primaries. Haley spent Nevada primary night in California fundraising ahead of that state’s contest on March 5. The Trump challenger has another rally scheduled in Los Angeles on Wednesday night.

Even as Haley faced a bizarre loss in Nevada, she vowed to move ahead, especially to her home state primary in South Carolina on Feb. 24, although she trails Trump badly in the polls.

Trump will keep attacking Haley

Trump, meanwhile, is planning to be in Nevada on caucus night Thursday, and has campaign appearances in the days afterward.

On Friday, Trump speaks with members of the National Rifle Association at a meeting in Pennsylvania. On Saturday, Trump plans to continue his South Carolina campaign with a rally at Coastal Carolina University.

Trump is expected to apply more pressure on Haley to exit stage right at these events.

Allies of Trump say Haley’s decision to keep running is forcing him to spend money he could use in a general election battle against President Joe Biden, prompting further fury against his one-time United Nations ambassador. He’s also anxious to nail down the nomination as soon as possible, defeating Haley, so he can pay more attention to his burgeoning legal issues.

Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller said Haley is “getting some bad advice” and “should have dropped out after New Hampshire. It’s only going to get more humiliating.”

‘Last woman standing?’

So how does Haley move forward after trailing a none of the above option in Nevada? Haley has given every indication of staying the in race long-term, as demonstrated by her fundraising trip to California.

Experts say the former governor is trying to pick up momentum in the next few weeks as she hopes for an upset in South Carolina. At the very least, she would probably “suspend” her campaign in the hope that the party might somehow turn against Trump if he is convicted on the dozens of criminal counts he faces.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is already doing something similar. Since suspending his campaign last month, DeSantis continues to speak out on public issues and act like he’s still in the 2024 race.

“I think (Haley) has decided that – even if she’s the very weak last woman standing – she’s going to play that role in case somehow Trump is incapacitated, incarcerated, or in his grave by the time we get to Election Day” on Nov. 5, said Republican political strategist Liz Mair.

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