Home News Haley Is Still Struggling to Deal With Trump’s Grip on Their Party

Haley Is Still Struggling to Deal With Trump’s Grip on Their Party

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Haley Is Still Struggling to Deal With Trump’s Grip on Their Party

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Nikki Haley lately has been making the case that former President Donald J. Trump has transformed the Republican Party into his personal “playpen.” In media appearances and at rallies as she crisscrosses the country leading up to Super Tuesday this week, she has argued that Mr. Trump has installed loyalists in key party positions and pushed for changes in primary rules to serve himself.

Ms. Haley has suggested that the Republican National Committee is at risk of becoming his “legal slush fund” for the four criminal cases he is facing. She has sounded the alarm over losses Republicans have incurred up and down the ballot, with candidates championed by Mr. Trump. And she has even hedged her responses on whether she would endorse the Republican nominee if he wins.

“We are in a ship with a hole in it — that hole is Donald Trump,” she declared Wednesday to loud cheers at a performing arts theater near Salt Lake City. This new approach is a sharp turn from the more calibrated tone she employed for most of the Republican nominating contest.

When she jumped into the race last year, becoming the first major challenger to Mr. Trump, Ms. Haley, who served as his United Nations ambassador, took only vague swipes at her former boss, promising to “move beyond the stale ideas and faded names of the past.” She tended to mention him only when asked, mixing criticism with praise, a tack that made her a reluctant messenger for the small but not insignificant portion of Republicans seeking an alternative to the former president.

Now, after a streak of losses to Mr. Trump (and a small victory in Washington, D.C.’s primary), she is grappling with his endurance among her party’s base. The discomfort with her position — neither all in, nor entirely against — is not a new one for Ms. Haley or other Republicans, but it reflects the existential question they face.

It’s also one that she struggled with even before she joined his administration. According to one of her memoirs, Ms. Haley canceled an appearance on NBC’s “Today Show” the morning after the 2016 presidential election because she was unprepared to discuss the topic of the day: what Mr. Trump’s unexpected victory could mean for the future of the Republican Party.

Nearly eight years later, after a stint in his administration, she seems finally ready to speak out — but possibly too late to change the state of her race against him.

Ms. Haley is still running on a platform that suggests returning to traditional conservative values, forward-looking policy and a mostly positive message of generational change. But in the end, she has not been able to escape a bitter slugfest over the direction of the Republican Party.

“I know all of you want to change the direction of our country, and we can want that all day, but that is not going to happen, if we can’t win,” Ms. Haley warned Republicans last month in a northern Detroit suburb. “We are talking about the heart and soul of our country.”

Ms. Haley’s campaign has largely been defined by Mr. Trump, though not by her choice. She has long sought to cobble together a coalition of Republicans who like his policies but not his character, and the smaller contingent of Republicans who reject him entirely.

But in Iowa and New Hampshire, Mr. Trump’s devotees tended to view her with skepticism or worse. Some recalled she had initially claimed that she would not run against him. Others described her as a traitor, a flip-flopper or not Republican enough. Her measured tone toward him did not always win her much enthusiasm among independents either.

Many voters open to other candidates wanted to hear a more forceful rebuke of Mr. Trump’s actions, which Ms. Haley appeared reluctant to provide.

“I think she should have been tougher on him the whole time,” said Chuck Hill, 76, a Republican business owner who heard her speak this month in Camden, S.C.

Ms. Haley has brushed away claims that she should have gone harder on the former president sooner. “If I’d done that in the beginning, I would’ve been a Chris Christie,” she said after she cast her ballot in Kiawah Island, S.C., referring to the former New Jersey governor who dropped out of the race in January. “My goal was to make sure that we took it one person at a time, one competitor at time.”

At a round-table discussion with reporters on Friday in Washington, Ms. Haley said her turning point was when Mr. Trump threatened her donors, saying they would be “permanently barred from the MAGA camp.” She blamed the media for his dominance, suggesting a Trump victory had long been treated as a foregone conclusion. And despite devoting much time to her new approach, she argued her candidacy was not centered on Mr. Trump.

“Everybody pretty much assumes that this is an anti-Trump movement, and it is actually not,” she said, describing herself as “pro-America” instead. “This is a movement where people want to be heard.”

Yet, Ms. Haley, who has said she will stay in the race as along as she is competitive, has dialed up her attacks leading into Super Tuesday, when 15 states and one territory will vote. She is lagging far behind Mr. Trump in every state with available polling data, including Massachusetts, where she has the most favorable terrain. But her digs against Mr. Trump, along with her pledges to return a sense of normalcy to American politics, have been resonating with the stubborn hopefuls who see her as taking a critical stand for democracy and believe she can deliver stability at home and abroad.

Her recent events in Michigan and Super Tuesday states, mostly held in diverse suburbs home to the moderate and college-educated voters who form crucial parts of her base, have been energetic and packed with hundreds of people, though she has had little to no campaign infrastructure in many of these places.

Some attendees were coming to see her for the first time. Many were Republicans or independents who had once been Republicans and now see themselves as politically homeless and adrift.

In a college performing arts center in Orem, outside Salt Lake City, Dave and Cathy Opthof, both Republicans, wore Haley campaign shirts that read “Permanently Barred.” They had believed Ms. Haley was the best candidate to take on Mr. Trump since her breakout performance during the first national debate, even if she has been slow to come out strongly against him, they said.

“We’ve been anti-Trump since he started,” Mr. Opthof said. “Trump scares me to death. We do not want a dictator. We will lose our democracy — that’s very clear.”

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