Nikki Haley takes on Trump in House primary turf war
Haley’s entry into the primary represents a political gamble: throwing her political power behind Mace – a candidate derided by Trump as « nasty, disloyal and bad for the Republican Party » – and risking defeat in her home country. , Haley is taking steps to distinguish herself from a former president she served and who, like her, is weighing a 2024 candidacy.
Those in Trump’s orbit admit that Haley is likely to win, with public polls showing Mace in the lead. As Haley storms the Charleston-area district for his nominee during the final days of the contest as a show of confidence, Trump opted out of an 11-hour trip to Arrington.
“Nikki doesn’t shy away from fighting. She never did,” said Katon Dawson, former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. « She’s calculating the fights, and I think Nikki wanted to make sure Nancy got re-elected, and I think there’s a good chance that will happen. »
People familiar with the race say Haley’s opposition to Trump in the primary is more circumstantial than intentional. Haley also supported Mace’s 2020 campaign, and the congresswoman represents the former governor’s home district. They also note that Haley has endorsed the same candidates as Trump in a host of other races, and they insist they were unaware that Trump was planning to come in behind Arrington. Haley endorsed Mace the day before Arrington entered the race and two days before Trump endorsed Arrington.
But Haley’s assistance to Mace was especially important. The former ambassador recounted a whole commercial for Mace, in which she described the congresswoman as « tough as nails. » In March, Haley held a fundraiser in Charleston for the candidate which raised more than $300,000. Haley is also expected to help efforts to get the vote, and her team has helped collect small donations.
Some of Haley’s biggest donors have turned to the congresswoman, and a POLITICO review of federal campaign finance records shows at least 335 donors to Mace’s campaign who have previously given to Haley’s PAC. Those contributors include New York hedge fund manager Paul Singer, Chicago investor Ken Griffin and Dallas real estate developer Harlan Crow — and their support has helped Mace raise more than five times as much as Arrington.
« Nikki has certainly delivered on her promise to help Nancy in a way that you don’t always see politicians endorsing other candidates, » said Rob Godfrey, a former top adviser to Haley.
Team Trump’s involvement in the race began early last year, after Mace said Trump’s « legacy was shattered » by the Capitol siege. (Mace, however, voted against impeaching Trump and earlier this year recorded a video in front of Trump Tower where she showered him with praise.)
Eric Bolling, a former Fox News personality and Trump ally, began talking with people in Trump’s sphere about issuing a main challenge to Mace, though he ultimately decided against it. The former president’s lieutenants also raised the possibility of former lieutenant governor André Bauer as a candidate, but he ultimately did not take the plunge either.
The Trump team ultimately settled on Arrington, who ousted former Trump critic Mark Sanford in a 2018 primary before losing the general election to a Democrat. Trump gave Arrington an endorsement on the same day as the primary that year, helping propel her over Sanford.
This year, Trump cut a video in which he calls on donors to support Arrington, invited her to the stage during a March visit to the state and hosted a Tuesday night tele-rally for the candidate. His political operation helped fund anti-Mace TV ads aired by a super PAC, Our American Century, according to a person familiar with the movement.
But Trump refrained from visiting the Mace district lest his candidate lose, say those familiar with the deliberations.
Trump advisers are more confident in their chances of ousting Rep. Tom Rice, another South Carolina Republican who, unlike Mace, voted to impeach the ex-president. While Mace has the advantage of racing in an increasingly urban and upscale neighborhood that tends to be more subdued, Rice has the burden of competing in the more conservative northeast corner of the state. While Trump won Mace’s district by just 6 points in the 2020 election, he won Rice’s by 18 points.
« It’s a race that Nancy is going to win, » said Sanford, who preceded Haley as governor. “While Trump still has a very strong grip on rural America and staunchly Republican areas, Mace District “is not that.”
Haley’s involvement in the primary adds another wrinkle to her already complicated relationship with the ex-president. Although he endorsed Florida Senator Marco Rubio in the 2016 GOP nominating contest, Trump later chose her to be UN ambassador. She left the administration after just two years, a move that upset some Trump advisers who believed she was rushing to position herself for a future presidential bid.
After lambasting Trump following the Capitol riot, she has since softened her stance towards the former president. She said she wouldn’t run in 2024 if Trump did.
Still, some in Trump’s inner circle don’t see Haley as an ally. She contacted Trump to ask to meet him at his estate in Mar-a-Lago, South Florida, shortly after Jan. 6, but was turned down.
Sanford said he views Haley’s entry into the Mace primary as a « well-calculated political decision, with no downsides. »
« When you’re out of Trump’s fold, you’re out of Trump’s fold, » Sanford said. « She’s outside the fold, so there’s no downside to being on the opposite side of him in something. »
The race also represents a political opportunity for the former governor. If Mace won, she would be beholden to Haley, giving the former ambassador a congressional ally in a very important primary state.
« Nancy Mace is a Republican who can be a big help to Nikki in a first state primary, » Godfrey said, « should there be anything the former governor wants to do in the future. »