Guest Column
Will Nikki Haley’s comet continue to streak across Iowa next month? | Column
Donald Trump is far ahead of everyone. Can she keep up this momentum for six more weeks?
Chris Christie, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis take their places at their respective lecterns before the Fox Business Republican Candidate Debate held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in September. (© Brian Cahn/ZUMA Press Wire)
Chris Christie, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis take their places at their respective lecterns before the Fox Business Republican Candidate Debate held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in September. (© Brian Cahn/ZUMA Press Wire) [ BRIAN CAHN | ]
Published Dec. 1, 2023

Perhaps “Nikki-mentum” is too clumsy. And maybe “Haley’s comet” is too cute. But however you want to put it, there’s no denying Nikki Haley had a great November.

Despite a brief mid-month hiccup — where Haley offered up an ill-conceived and backlash-inviting social media ban on anonymity — the former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador seems to have fully recovered and is building serious momentum. This week, Americans for Prosperity, founded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, made a splashy announcement with a ringing endorsement of Haley and, presumably, a significant financial investment in her campaign.

Importantly, with less than two months to go before the Iowa caucuses, the backing gives Haley more campaign infrastructure and organization, helping with direct-mail operations, more field workers to knock on doors, TV advertising and additional staffing.

S.E. Cupp
S.E. Cupp [ JEREMY FREEMAN | Provided ]

Americans for Prosperity explained its endorsement with a direct swipe at the guy leading the GOP primary: “In sharp contrast to recent elections that were dominated by the negative baggage of Donald Trump and in which good candidates lost races that should have been won, Nikki Haley, at the top of the ticket, would boost candidates up and down the ballot.”

Furthermore, “The moment we face requires a tested leader with the governing judgment and policy experiences to pull our nation back from the brink. Nikki Haley is that leader.”

It’s a huge win for Haley from an influential and powerful group that’s already raised $70 million to help the Republican Party oust Trump.

Whether she — or anyone — can do that remains to be seen. Trump still leads GOP primary polls by double digits over Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. But unlike DeSantis, Haley’s star is on the rise.

Following an impressive Republican debate performance three weeks ago, the headlines were nearly unanimous:

“Haley walks away with third debate.” And that’s not just according to right-wing media outlets, but Time, The Washington Post, The Hill and the New York Times.

Then, Tim Scott abruptly dropped out of the race. Despite raising and spending millions, he never cracked above 4% in an average of polls, and his lackluster debate performances actually saw his favorability among Republican voters decline each time.

While he never appeared to be a serious challenger, his exit potentially frees up South Carolina endorsements, fundraising, staff and surrogates that he and Haley had presumably been splitting.

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Then, 72 influential Iowans endorsed Haley, including David Oman, a former gubernatorial chief of staff, former Des Moines City Council member Christine Hensley, current state Reps. Jane Bloomingdale and Brian Lohse, and a slew of other state officials.

This week, billionaire Home Depot founder Ken Langone told CNBC he plans to meet with Haley next week as he considers endorsing her, saying that she is “the only person I see who can give Trump a run for his money…”

And JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon told The New York Times, “Even if you’re a very liberal Democrat, I urge you, help Nikki Haley, too. Get a choice on the Republican side that might be better than Trump.”

Also this week, a group of political operatives, including Jonathan Bush, cousin of former President George W. Bush and billionaire CEO Frank Laukien, filed paperwork to launch a new Super PAC backing Haley, and specifically aiming to broaden her appeal among independent voters.

Haley’s been rising in the polls, too. In New Hampshire, she’s moved into second place behind Trump in a CNN poll. Importantly for Haley, that puts her ahead of Chris Christie, who’s made New Hampshire a must-win state.

And in a number of polls, she beats President Joe Biden in a hypothetical general election matchup — in one case by 10 points, well ahead of Trump’s margins.

And Trump has noticed her rise. After a strong debate performance in September, he attempted one of his signature, childish nicknames for her, calling her ”birdbrain.” Thus far, it hasn’t caught on.

He also responded to the Koch brothers’ endorsement by calling them a “corrupt network of globalist RINO donors,” and her a “puppet GOP candidate.”

Christie has also in recent TV interviews focused on Haley, and in debates DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy have made her a target, too.

So, what does all of this November momentum add up to? Maybe, ultimately, nothing — Trump is still leading the pack by double digits, even as he is facing 91 criminal charges and several different investigations.

But if the GOP field consolidates — polls show that if Christie quits, many of his voters would go to Haley — she could end up becoming the Trump alternative, something many independents, moderates and disenchanted Republicans have been hoping for.

The Iowa caucuses are Jan. 15. Can she keep up this momentum for six more weeks?

S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.

©2023 S.E. Cupp. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.