March 6, 2024 - 1:45pm

And then there was one. Nikki Haley has accepted the inevitable and withdrawn from the Republican presidential primary contest. Donald Trump’s sweeping victory on Super Tuesday was the final straw. What had been clear for weeks was last night all but confirmed, that there is no viable route left for Haley to secure the GOP nomination. The Trump train rolls on.

In truth, it is surprising that Haley’s campaign lasted this long. In a pre-2016 Republican Party the former South Carolina governor would have made an impressive candidate. A staunch conservative with an instinct for reaching out to independent voters, she might once have been a favourite of the GOP base. As the daughter of Punjabi Sikh immigrants, her personal backstory seemed tailor-made for a general election. But the old party has gone forever: it’s Trump’s dominion now, and if you’re not called Trump you’re not going to win.

The only viable strategy for anti-Trump Republicans — and this would have been a vanishingly narrow path at best — was to unite from the outset behind a single, credible candidate. Whether the chosen challenger was Haley, Ron DeSantis, or somebody else is almost immaterial: there needed to be just one, from the very start. Instead, much like in 2016, the anti-Trump vote fractured, allowing the former president to build unstoppable momentum. By the time Ron DeSantis suspended his campaign after Iowa, the game was up. Haley has won the anti-Trump primary, but nothing more. She is the Ted Cruz of 2024.

The key question is what happens next. In recent days Haley has hinted she may refuse to endorse Trump, despite previously pledging to back whoever becomes the GOP nominee. Some in Washington speculate she could even launch a third-party bid for the White House. There are certainly enough anti-Trump donors who’d be willing to fund it, as shown by Haley’s ability to raise $12 million in February, despite continued primary losses. In the end, she will likely realise that staying loyal to Trump is the only way to remain a viable candidate for the Republican nomination in 2028.

More interesting is whether Trump himself now reaches out to Haley. The wiser heads in his campaign may even be trying to persuade the former president to choose her as his running mate. Viewed purely through the prism of electoral politics, it’s a no-brainer. If Trump loses in November, it will be because of his unpopularity with suburban female voters. Whereas a recent poll found that Biden enjoys a 22-point lead over Trump among women, the gap drops to just five points if Haley is the Republican candidate. The former South Carolina governor has made appealing to independent and female voters a cornerstone of her campaign. These are the same people Trump must woo to win a second term.

Given the ages of the two likely candidates, there will be an unprecedented focus on each party’s vice-presidential nominee. Kamala Harris remains deeply unpopular with many voters, but were Trump to choose a MAGA sycophant, such as Marjorie Taylor-Greene or Kari Lake, he would only be undermining his own chances. As a former governor and ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley is better qualified than most to be president, and would broaden the appeal of the Republican ticket.

Nonetheless, in Trump’s mind Haley will have shown insufficient fealty to merit a place in his orbit. She will likely spend the general election campaign as a muted bystander — questioning what might have been and whether she still has a future in the modern Republican Party. In truth, Haley should have seen this coming. For as long as Trump is alive and kicking, no one else stands a chance.

James Hanson is an award-winning broadcaster and journalist, as heard on Times Radio.