Republicans Weigh in on What’s Next for Nikki Haley

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When Nikki Haley campaigned at the Iowa State Fair last summer, she sported a navy T-shirt emblazoned with a bold warning to her Republican opponents.

"Underestimate me—that'll be fun," the shirt proclaimed in all caps.

The former South Carolina governor had hoped to send a message that she was prepared to defy expectations and emerge as a formidable contender in the Republican presidential race against former President Donald Trump and other challengers.

But on Wednesday, as her path to the nomination appeared all but impossible, she announced her withdrawal from the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race, ending her long-shot bid to challenge Trump's hold on the party. “It is now up to Donald Trump to earn the votes of those in our party and beyond it, who did not support him, and I hope he does that,” Haley said in an address from Charleston, S.C. “At its best, politics is about bringing people into your cause, not turning them away. And our conservative cause badly needs more people.”

Questions now linger about Haley's future in Republican politics. At 52, she represents a traditional strain of Republicanism that advocates for hawkish foreign policy, fiscal discipline, and limited government. But her recent clashes with Trump may hinder her ability to navigate the party's dynamics moving forward.

“She never had a place,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican who has appeared on the campaign trail with Trump, told TIME after Haley suspended her campaign. “I’m excited for President Trump.”

Read More:Never Means Never’: A ‘Never Trump’ Republican on Where the Movement Goes Next

Haley’s departure from the presidential race comes after a string of disappointing results in primary contests, only winning in Vermont and Washington, D.C. Earlier polls had suggested her potential to appeal to key demographics crucial in general elections, such as suburban women and independents. But her campaign ultimately failed to gain sufficient traction, hampered in part by Trump's enduring popularity among GOP voters.

Haley chose not to immediately endorse Trump on Wednesday, though she pledged earlier in the campaign to endorse the party’s eventual nominee. In recent months, she has escalated her criticism of his leadership style and character, often saying that he had transformed the Republican Party into his personal “playpen” and that she would not “kiss the ring” in an attempt to appeal to a broader base of GOP voters. Election analysts say the increased intensity of her critiques may have complicated her prospects within a party still firmly under Trump's influence, highlighting the challenges faced by Republicans attempting to navigate the post-Trump era while maintaining their political viability.

“She’s definitely not getting a position in Trump's Administration,” says Miles Coleman, the associate editor of the election forecaster ‘Sabato’s Crystal Ball’ at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. But he says that by staying in the primary race so long, Haley may be setting herself up for another presidential run in 2028. “The best case scenario for her is that Trump crashes and burns and loses the general election in a decisive way. If she runs again, she would have an easy ‘I told you so’ that could play well for her.”

Read More: Nikki Haley’s Slow Burn Was No Accident

Haley's decision to suspend her campaign technically leaves open the possibility of re-entering the field later this year, although she has firmly rejected speculation about a third-party bid, affirming her commitment to the GOP. Rep. Byron Donalds, a Florida Republican on Trump’s short-list for potential running mates, tells TIME that Haley can still play a role in shaping the party despite her attacks against Trump. “Listen, our party—we have a lot of disagreements,” he says, “but the number one thing that matters is that it's time to unite. That's all we need to be worried about doing right now. Donald Trump is the nominee, we’ll be united behind him and then do what needs to be done to save this country.”

Haley was a sharp critic of Trump during his first campaign in 2016, choosing to endorse two other candidates before eventually saying she would vote for Trump. Weeks later, she accepted a position in his Cabinet as ambassador to the United Nations.

South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman, the only House Republican to endorse Haley for president, said he would now endorse Trump and called on Haley to do the same. “What’s the other option?” he asked reporters.

But some of Haley's former supporters who were disillusioned by Trump may now find themselves gravitating towards Biden in the general election, which is on pace to be only the sixth presidential rematch ever and the first since the 1950s. Biden on Wednesday attempted to woo Haley’s supporters, claiming “there is a place for them in my campaign.” 

Asked if Republicans should be worried that some of Haley’s supporters will back Biden over Trump in the presidential election, Greene pushed back: “I don’t think they will. Voters don’t like wide open-borders, inflation, and the Ukraine war machine. I’m not worried about it.”

Donalds agrees. “When you get to brass tacks, I think Republican voters, independent voters, and even some Democrat voters all want the same things,” he says. “A lot of times it comes down to style and that kind of thing. And I think the job going forward is to make sure that everybody understands what our solutions are and being focused.”

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