As latest GOP debate hits, Haley has momentum, but Trump still tough to topple

As the Republican presidential primary’s fourth debate approaches, Nikki Haley looks like she’s winning the battle to become the main challenger to front-runner Donald Trump, but that could be as far as she gets.

“She’s the one with all of the momentum right now,” said Melissa Miller, a professor of political science at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, noting that the Koch network’s endorsement last week is a big help on the funding front.

However, Haley’s headaches include the fact that the 2024 primary debates don’t count as “must-see TV” because Trump continues to skip them, according to Miller.

“I don’t see the debate, without Donald Trump himself on the stage, really creating an environment in which any candidate can have a clear breakaway moment that really catapults them up to being head-to-head in the polls against Trump,” the professor said.

Analysts at Beacon Policy Advisors also are offering praise for the former South Carolina governor and ex-ambassador to the U.N. along with some skepticism.

“Haley’s had a great month to be sure. But it’ll take a few more of those before she can be considered a serious threat to Trump’s position as chief of the Republican Party,” the analysts said in a note.

She has attracted some buy-in from big Wall Street names in recent days. JPMorgan Chase

CEO Jamie Dimon last week called for “help” for her and suggested she “might be better than Trump,” while Ray Dalio, founder of giant hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, said he’s not endorsing her but she’s “very smart, very practical, has a great moral compass, and can work well across party lines.”

Haley’s chances of becoming president have been improving, with betting markets tracked by RealClearPolitics putting them at around 9%, up from 5% or 6% a month ago. That’s well behind Trump at about 35% and President Joe Biden at 29%.

She’s the distant No. 2 behind Trump in polls for the key GOP primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina, getting support of 19% in each case vs. his 46% and 49%, respectively, according to averages of surveys from RCP.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who previously looked like Trump’s main GOP challenger, still has an edge over Haley in Iowa, with 17% support vs. 14% for her and 47% for Trump. Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses are scheduled for Jan. 15.

The polls for the early-voting states are what “you want to be looking at” for the GOP primary, as the national polls are “definitely not a good indicator of anything,” Miller said. “What I’ve seen in those state-by-state polls of the early states is that still Donald Trump has a commanding lead, so I think the polls certainly provide an indicator that it’s not going to be easy for somebody else to win.”

The fourth debate is slated to take place at 8 p.m. Eastern Wednesday at the University of Alabama. It’s due to air on cable channel NewsNation and video-sharing site Rumble.

Besides DeSantis and Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy is expected to participate. It’s not yet clear if former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has qualified this time, as the Republican National Committee has ramped up its requirements. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina won’t be there, having dropped out of the race shortly after the third debate.

Haley’s best-case scenario would involve having the other non-Trump candidates “leave the race quickly to allow her to make the primary a head-to-head,” Beacon’s analysts said. Then she would emphasize “her relatively moderate position, experience, Trump’s age, but most importantly the baggage surrounding him,” and the 77-year-old former president could “face some disqualifying event,” such as a health crisis or legal setback, “so she doesn’t have to take him in a fair fight.”

“This may be Haley’s best case, but it shouldn’t be your base case,” the analysts added. “Despite the denial rampant among some GOP donors, Trump is the dominant frontrunner likely to walk away with the Republican nomination.”

Haley’s proposals include one for Social Security that calls for raising the retirement age but only for younger people just entering the system. She also has said she wants to eliminate the federal tax on gasoline

to get more money in Americans’ pockets, reduce federal spending and increase drilling for oil

and gas
In addition, she has made an effort to counter how Democrats have seized on abortion rights as a campaign issue by saying “no Republican president will have the ability to ban abortion nationwide.”

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