How Nikki Haley Plans to Take Her Longshot Campaign National

Gun Rights

Welcome to Trail Mix, your 2024 election sanity guide. See something interesting on the trail? Email me at jake.lahut@thedailybeast.com.

This week, we take an inside look at Nikki Haley’s plans for the crucial window between South Carolina and Super Tuesday. Plus, the Trump campaign celebrates one of their best days of the cycle so far.

HALEY’S LAST STAND

Nikki Haley became Donald Trump’s final remaining challenger by fighting him in a series of pitched battles in small states.

If she survives the Feb. 24 contest in her home state of South Carolina, Haley will have only 10 days to prepare for a multi-front clash that could break her campaign.

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Sixteen fronts, in fact.

On March 5, Republicans vote in primary elections in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and the territory of American Samoa.

After a third-place finish in Iowa, a clear second place in New Hampshire, and a confusing but embarrassing loss to “none of these candidates” in Nevada, Haley is still raising money to sustain her longshot campaign against Trump.

But the 16 contests on Super Tuesday represent Haley’s last chance to win enough delegates to keep the primary alive. If she fails, Trump could have the GOP nomination mathematically locked up.

Scaling up Haley’s insurgent campaign into a nationwide effort will be her toughest strategic challenge yet. Almost by default, Trump retains a clear advantage in the Super Tuesday states, a firewall that GOP operatives acknowledged before voting commenced in Iowa last month.

But Haley’s campaign has indicated their plan is to take the fight to Trump almost across the board—not focus their firepower on a few states in hopes of notching an upset.

“Keep in mind we have a week and a half before Super Tuesday, so even if you’re focusing on one place, there’s only so much time you can spend there,” a Haley campaign adviser told The Daily Beast.

Indeed, Haley’s time is the most precious resource her campaign has. In the Super Tuesday states—and Michigan, which votes on Feb. 27—her campaign says there will be fewer small-scale retail stops, more rallies, and plenty of appearances on more mainstream TV programs. State-level Women For Nikki chapters—now in all 50 states—will kick into high gear.

“So we’re starting to branch out,” the Haley adviser said. “Obviously our focus right now is South Carolina, but we’ve been doing things early to get ready in these states… We were always thinking about the long game.”

A key part of the Haley campaign’s strategy to scale up is tapping into a network of allies in the Super Tuesday states.

“That means we have people on the ground in these states reaching out to business leaders, to community leaders, putting together a coalition looking to help Nikki in those states,” the Haley adviser said.

Out of all the contests on March 5, though, there are two the Haley campaign can’t afford to ignore—and they’re the ones with the most delegates up for grabs in the entire primary process.

Nikki Haley

Nikki Haley speaks during a rally at an American Legion post in Los Angeles on Feb. 7.

Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

“California and Texas are the big ones,” the Haley adviser said.

Haley’s first recent event outside of South Carolina was, tellingly, in southern California on Wednesday. The state has 169 delegates at play. If she can keep Trump below 50 percent of the vote there, Haley will be able to pick up a proportional share of the delegates. If she doesn’t, the state’s delegate jackpot is all Trump’s.

Throw in the 161 delegates available in Texas, most of which are allocated by congressional district, and Trump would be on his way to mathematically locking up the nomination thanks to the front-loaded calendar pushed by his campaign. Haley has stops in Dallas, San Antonio and Houston planned for next week.

Some contests offering few delegates may not be worth the trip, though: it’s “unlikely we’ll hold a rally in Alaska, or Arkansas or American Samoa,” the Haley campaign adviser admitted.

Super Tuesday is shaping up to be the ultimate judgment day, not just for Haley’s patient strategy, but for the overall GOP effort to move past Trump.

Although Haley has closed the gap against Trump in South Carolina in some polls, he continues to hold a big lead, so an outright win in her home state remains a remote possibility. In the big Super Tuesday states, her polling is grim: she trails Trump by an average of almost 60 points in California, nearly 70 points in Texas, and just over 50 points in North Carolina, the state with the next highest delegate count.

Perhaps most concerningly, her favorability ratings keep ticking down among Republicans nationally, and her supporters have to keep reminding everyone there’s still a primary going on.

“We’re gonna make sure we’re doing everything possible to remind voters this is still a two-person race,” an official at the pro-Haley PAC Stand For America (SFA) told The Daily Beast. The PAC will be looking to hit the airwaves depicting Haley as a military spouse with broad appeal, “a woman who can relate to other women,” and someone who’s actually focused on the election.

The Haley PAC will also be ready to grab video clips from her earned media appearances, such as her recent cameo on Saturday Night Live.

“Any time you have the opportunity and share your message with the media or whoever and have that reach a large audience, that’s incredibly important,” the PAC official said. “It’s something that has worked incredibly well for Nikki.”

The newest part of Haley’s strategy may be too little too late.

Although Haley largely avoided making an issue out of Trump’s legal woes over the past year, that’s begun to change. Last week, Haley said it was “unconscionable to me that a candidate would spend $50 million in legal fees”during a CNN interview. “It explains why he’s not doing many rallies. He doesn’t have the money to do it.”

The PAC is ready to keep reinforcing a similar message they hope will change some minds, despite how stagnant this primary has been.

“He’s focused on paying his attorneys and figuring out his legal costs,” the SFA official said of Trump. “When you’re looking at what the priority is, if you take the adage ‘put your money where your mouth is,’ one’s focused on beating Joe Biden, the other is focused on their legal costs.”

Not everyone is convinced that reminding voters about Trump’s prolific legal spending will work.

“I’m not sure any of it addresses a simple notion: Republicans like Trump,” a former Trump administration official who considered supporting Haley told The Daily Beast. “He has what it takes to win the nomination. She has what it takes to win the general. It’s unclear if either can get the other’s voters.”

A Marquette University poll on Wednesday captured the conundrum. While Trump only led President Joe Biden by one point, Haley led him by 15 in the crucial battleground state.

The struggle for the Haley campaign, now that it’s a one-on-one race, fundamentally comes down to winning over registered Republicans who don’t hate Trump, or who are at least open to the idea of not having a nominee with four criminal indictments and 91 felony charges against him.

Haley will need to lock up close to the entirety of any remaining undecided voters, in addition to convincing what Republican campaign operatives often refer to as the “soft Trump” electorate—voters who have tuned out most of the campaign and could live with Trump, but wouldn’t mind moving on from him.

The Haley campaign adviser pointed to Washington, Alaska, Massachusetts, and Idaho—all of which vote on Super Tuesday—as the next states that will get their own leadership teams working to win votes for Haley.

Despite the ominous polling margins in the biggest Super Tuesday states, those in the Haley orbit are just happy to have made it this far.

“We’re really excited,” the SFA official said. “We’ve had a lot of luck just, frankly, playing it state-by-state. We just took it a state at a time.”

MAGA’S BIG THURSDAY

By around the 50-minute mark of Thursday’s oral arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court over whether Trump can remain on the primary ballot in Colorado, a collective sigh of relief might have been heard around Trumpworld.

Even the liberal justices were asking pointed questions about why Colorado’s Supreme Court should decide whether Trump is eligible for public office under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution and its insurrection clause.

The media response was even more encouraging to MAGA operatives who pay close attention to cable news and other coverage.

“This case is a stinker,” a Trump operative told The Daily Beast as the arguments wrapped up. “Just turn on MSNBC, even they are saying Trump will win. This case unites the entire right from the Wall Street Journal to Steve Bannon behind Trump. It’s an overreach that’s easy for us to fight against.”

A senior Trump adviser told The Daily Beast that although there’s still no final ruling yet, and the campaign is “reading tea leaves” from the oral arguments, morale is still high.

“It reinforces from the Trump perspective that there are those in Washington hellbent to do everything they can to keep Trump off the ballot,” the senior adviser said. “It validates the message.”

Trump took a victory lap in a press conference from Mar-a-Lago following the court’s proceedings.

“I hope that democracy in this country will continue,” Trump said, “because right now we have a very tough situation with all of the radical left ideas with the weaponization of politics. They weaponize it like it’s never been weaponized before.”

But hours later, the very same Justice Department Trump continues to claim is being “weaponized” against him dealt Biden his biggest setback of the 2024 campaign so far.

In his long-awaited report on Biden’s handling of classified documents, Special Counsel Robert Hur confirmed that he would face no criminal charges, but issued a damning judgment on the president’s capabilities that could haunt him for the rest of the campaign.

Hur’s report described Biden as a “sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory,” so much so that a jury might find it “difficult” to convict him.

The report also included details about Biden not being able to remember his son Beau’s death in 2015 “even within several years,” along with instances when he was confused over when, exactly, he was serving as vice president.

Biden’s legal team quickly pushed back against the report following its release, saying in a statement, “We do not believe that the report’s treatment of President Biden’s memory is accurate or appropriate.”

As for Trump, he’s getting ready to take his victory lap on the road.

After flying into Nevada for the state’s uncontested caucus Thursday night—in which he is slated to pick up all of the state’s delegates—Trump will head to Pennsylvania on Friday to deliver a speech at the National Rifle Association’s “Great American Outdoor Show” in Harrisburg.

Trump

Trump addresses a press conference at Mar-a-Lago on Feb. 8.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Then he has a rally in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on Saturday, where the senior Trump adviser predicted he will be in a good mood.

“There’s gonna be a heightened level of activity, whether it be a rally, travel to different places, fundraising,” the senior Trump adviser said of the campaign’s plans for the next month. “It’s obviously a very busy time.”

Now, there’s a feeling of momentum building around the Trump campaign as they turn more of their attention to Biden. There was no shortage of hype around the oral arguments, with one Trump-aligned GOP strategist saying the justices “dropped the hammer,” and “if Trump wins this case, it continues to drive his narrative that the left is targeting him.”

Trump also seized on Hur’s special counsel report, taking particular issue with the lack of criminal charges. He also shared more than a dozen posts on his Truth Social platform from fellow Republicans blasting Biden’s mental acuity.

On the Democratic side, there’s still plenty of resolve around holding Trump accountable for his actions on Jan. 6, even if the oral arguments didn’t go Colorado’s way.

“We can’t drop our constitutional commitments against insurrection because of the possibility of more insurrection and lawlessness,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a former member of the House panel investigating Jan. 6, told The Daily Beast on Thursday afternoon.

“At that point,” Raskin continued, “you’ve just given the game away.”

—with reporting from Riley Rogerson

POLLING STATION

Though Trump is breezing through the Nevada GOP caucus, he’ll have a tougher fight on his hands in the state come November.

It’s the swing state with the largest Latino population—accounting for 30 percent of the electorate—which may not be entirely good news for Biden.

In 2020, the president won Nevada by just over two points as Trump improved on his 2016 performance with Latino voters.

Ahead of 2024, polling on Latino voters has not been encouraging for Biden. His approval rating among them nationally sat at 35 percent in a recent NBC News poll, which also showed Trump ahead by one point, 42 percent to 41 percent, in a head-to-head matchup.

Yet a little noticed poll from last fall could help the Biden campaign find a way to bring enough of these voters back into the fold by November, according to the group Climate Now.

The youth-led group, which focuses on improving messaging around climate change, commissioned a poll in October 2023 which found 80 percent of Latino voters want the United States to use more clean energy sources, and 74 percent said it’s important that the country reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

“In each case, women and voters under age 50 are especially likely to tout the importance of clean energy,” the firm Hart Research Associates wrote in the summary of the survey.

The poll also included an unusual component: the 329 respondents looked at mock debate questions without partisan labels attached. The researchers found voters tend to prefer Democratic policy proposals around climate change by a roughly 30 point margin.

A candidate denying climate change as a real threat, along with increased subsidies for the oil and gas industry—both staples of Trump’s “drill baby drill” 2024 bid—were particularly unpopular, drawing only 23 percent support on climate denial and 21 percent on tax cuts for oil and gas producers.

The pollsters also recommended Democrats lean into messaging around climate change based on voters’ own experiences. A full 77 percent of the Latino voters surveyed said extreme weather events are increasing in frequency, and 71 percent said it’s due to climate change.

Notably, July of 2023 was the hottest July ever recorded in Las Vegas, which is roughly one-third Latino.

OFF THE BEATEN PATH

A ‘most effective weapon.’ The 2024 race in a swing congressional district in Maine is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in the country—and it could be decided on the issue of guns.

After an October mass shooting in the town of Lewiston, in which a gunman killed 18 people and injured 13 more, the district’s incumbent congressman, Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME), dropped his opposition to banning AR-15 weapons.

In new audio obtained by The Daily Beast, his Republican challenger, Mike Soboleski, said he planned to put Golden’s stance at the center of his campaign against him.

“I’m policy driven and I think taking the issues to him, he’s going to have a very, very tough time answering some of the questions that I’m prepared to ask him about assault rifles, the ARs, which he just recently came out and said he’s going to work on banning ARs in our state,” Soboleski said, in a previously unpublished portion of an interview with a conservative news outlet.

The Republican went on to call assault rifles “our most effective weapon that we have here to defend ourselves, our family and our property.”

“And he wants to ban them,” Soboleski said of Golden. “Those are things that are going to play very heavy in this campaign and they’re going to play heavy in the debates. Issues I’m strong on, [the] Second Amendment. I’m an NRA [member] with a perfect rating. So he’s going to have a real challenge getting by me.”

Golden, a former Marine and a conservative Democrat, has spoken extensively about his ownership of an AR-15 and how he viewed the weapon differently after the mass shooting in his backyard.

“I have opposed efforts to ban deadly weapons of war, like the assault rifle used to carry out this crime,” Golden said in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

“The time has now come for me to take responsibility for this failure,” he added. “Which is why I now call on the United States Congress to ban assault rifles like the one used by the sick perpetrator of this mass killing in my hometown of Lewiston, Maine.”

The Soboleski campaign did not return a request for comment.

CAMPAIGN LIT

Burning a hole. A quirk in New York State law is about to stick Trump in a massive cash crunch, just in time for Super Tuesday, Jose Pagliery reports.

MAGA’s new cheesehead. Alex Bruesewitz, a bombastic Trump-aligned operative who loves to troll any and all MAGA enemies, is considering a challenge to Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) after he voted against impeaching Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, Reese Gorman reports.

Nikki and the “fellas.” Jake Lahut dove into a previously unreported chapter in Nikki Haley’s career, detailing her fraught relations with the new power brokers in her home state.

Inhumane resources. Reese also had exclusive reporting on Rep. Nancy Mace’s (R-SC) impressive feat: 100 percent turnover in her office since November.

A tale of two PACs. Roger Sollenberger broke down how the pro-Trump and pro-Haley PACs have been spending their money. The difference is night and day.

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