But jockeying ahead of next year’s Republican primary race will intensify over the coming weeks and months, with likely contenders including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former vice-president Mike Pence, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununo and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott.
By coming out early, Haley can get head start on fundraising, which will help strengthen her chances of outdoing a potentially crowded field of more popular Republican candidates.
But she has also made herself an easy target for Trump, particularly after claiming in 2021 that she wouldn’t challenge him if he ended up seeking another term in office.
When the former UN ambassador signalled earlier this month that she was planning to announce her candidacy, Trump posted a video of her making her 2021 remarks, with the taunt that she had to “follow her heart, not her honour.”
She is also likely to be painted as a political chameleon. In addition to flip-flopping on a presidential run, Haley backed some of Trump’s rivals in the 2016 Republican primaries only to end up working for him as UN Ambassador. She was also critical of Trump after the January 6 Capitol attack, then softened her stance.
Shortly after her announcement, Taylor Budowich, the head of Trump’s Make America Great Again super PAC, said: “Nikki Haley is just another career politician. She started out as a Never Trumper before resigning to serve in the Trump admin. She then resigned early to go rake in money on corporate boards. Now, she’s telling us she represents a ‘new generation.’ Sure just looks like more of the same, a career politician whose only fulfilled commitment is to herself.”
A reluctance to be an early target of Trump’s well-known wrath may be why some Republicans are yet to enter the race. Others may also be waiting to see if prosecutors help clear the path by charging him with any of the potential crimes for which he is under investigation.
These include meddling in the 2020 election, giving hush-money payments to a porn star and mishandling classified documents.
But while the former president is seen as a widely diminished figure after many of the extremist candidates he endorsed at last year’s mid-term elections failed to win seats, he still has enough support to win a multi-candidate primary race if Republicans aren’t able to coalesce around an alternative.
This is what happened in 2016 when a cluttered field and the party’s “winner takes all” voting system allowed Trump to pick off his opponents – such as senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and former governor Jeb Bush – and succeed in several contests with roughly 25 per cent of support.
One survey of 1000 likely Republican primary and caucus voters released this month also found 28 per cent of the party’s primary voters were still so loyal to Trump they would back him even if he ran for the White House as an independent against the Republican and Democratic nominees.
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