Friday, February 12, 2021

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- Nikki Haley and 2024

To say that Tim Alberta's pulling back of the curtain on a possible (probable?) Nikki Haley run for the Republican nomination in 2024 is thorough is an understatement. It is a great, if not opening salvo, then continuation of the filling out of her profile as the invisible primary trundles onward. 

Much is there to unpack, but FHQ will tease out a couple of things. 

First, Haley is checking the typical boxes of a prospective 2024 candidate. There is a book. The fundraising infrastructure is taking shape. But importantly, Alberta's profile also reveals that a loose campaign team is already coming into focus. Both Nick Ayers, formerly of Pawlenty's 2012 presidential bid, the Republican Governors Association and Vice President Pence's office, as well as pollster Jon Lerner seem to be in the Haley 2024 orbit. Both serve as an early marker in the staff primary that will come to define the emerging campaigns in 2022 and 2023. 

But the more interesting piece of the Haley 2024 puzzle is Alberta's narrative in general, painting the former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador as straddling the with or against Trump fence. He poses a series of questions that get at the heart of what may confront Haley as a bid comes more into focus:
"First, Nikki Haley is going to run for president in 2024. Second, she doesn’t know which Nikki Haley will be on the ballot. Will it be the Haley who has proven so adaptive and so canny that she might accommodate herself to the dark realities of a Trump-dominated party? Will it be the Haley who is combative and confrontational and had a history of giving no quarter to xenophobes? Or will it be the Haley who refuses to choose between these characters, believing she can be everything to everyone?"
It is that last question that is evocative of past presidential runs. The split the difference and appeal to a wide swath of primary voters approach. It can work, but depending on how the rest of the field fills out and where the battle lines are drawn can also leave a candidate without a home. Not to jump back into "lanes," but that last option is awfully reminiscent of where Kamala Harris's 2020 run ended up. Trying to be just right -- and not too progressive or too moderate -- did not end up splitting the difference. It ended up leaving her in the middle of a primary electorate with what was perceived as an ill-defined message that instead of appealing to a wide swath only ended up reaching a small sliver of the 2020 Democratic primary electorate (before the voting actually began).

In any event, Haley looks like a go for a 2024 run. But how she navigates these questions will determine whether she is actually running in 2024.

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