Nikki Haley knows all about hard choices, how politics can create strange bedfellows, and how elections teach you all about your real friends. She’s lived this life many, many times! In 2016, for instance, her mentor Jeb Bush arrived in South Carolina with an ailing presidential campaign and the hope that Haley, then the state’s popular governor, might throw him a bone and offer her endorsement. Instead, Haley went with Marco Rubio, a more promising non-Trump candidate, despite the nurturing she received from Bush throughout her career. In the end, of course, none of it meant anything. Like most others in the party, Haley eventually sidled up to Trump, who made her U.N. ambassador, and whom she harshly criticized after Jan. 6 (before semi-reversing herself, again and again).
Now, as she eyes a putative presidential run of her own in 2024, Haley has another personal political pickle to navigate. A decade ago, after Jim DeMint left his Senate seat for the higher calling of the Heritage Foundation, then-governor Haley waited nine long days to fill the popular vacancy, eventually landing on Tim Scott, an obscure, barely two-term rank-and-file congressman. It was a historic decision. Scott was the first Black Senator from the post-Reconstruction South, and he has since become a darling of the party, a featured speaker at the 2020 Republican convention, and now a favored sleeper entrant in the 2024 election. It’s possible that Haley foresaw the future potential collision course back in 2012, as Tim Alberta wrote in his Politico masterpiece. Anyway, here it is.
Now 10 years later, as Haley builds her national political operation, she will not only have to differentiate herself from the other non-Trump candidates but also the man whose career she catapulted, whom she calls a friend, and who is a stylistic and ideological semi-clone with overlapping demographic appeal in a G.O.P. eager to win back minorities. Is there room for both in the Republican primary?