Sen. Scott’s exit leaves Haley as the only rational Trump alternative

Republican presidential candidate former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley on stage during a break in the NBC News Republican Presidential Primary Debate at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, in Miami. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/TNS)

Given Donald Trump’s stubborn standing atop polls of Republican voters, there may be no more meaningless exercise in futility right now than even talking about the rest of the GOP presidential field, let alone tentatively backing one candidate in that field.

Still, a lot could happen between now and the bulk of the primaries this spring: Trump could be criminally convicted, or his age and health could become an issue, or (perhaps least likely) his supporters could come to their senses. You never know.


So it’s worth noting that Sen. Tim Scott’s withdrawal from the primary contest, while disappointing in one way, is, in another, progress toward the urgent outcome of narrowing the field of Republican candidates not named Trump to just one serious opponent of the former president.

Of the remaining candidates, our preference would be Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and former U.N. ambassador — though virtually any of the others would be preferable to the nightmare scenario of another Trump presidential term.

Trump reminded the world of the stakes on Saturday, when he chose a Veterans Day speech to vow he would “root out” the “vermin” who oppose him politically. He added that “our threat is from within,” suggesting that the many Americans who don’t support him are more dangerous to the nation than Russia, China or North Korea.

As historians were quick to point out, that kind of inflammatory, dehumanizing rhetoric against swaths of one’s own fellow citizens is straight out of the playbooks of Hitler and Mussolini.

Not that anyone thinks Trump has enough of a grasp of history to specifically know what he’s mimicking — but that, in its way, is the point. Whether it’s calling for the suspension of the Constitution or plotting to use the military against domestic protesters or threatening to execute his political opponents, Trump instinctively speaks the language of tyrants. And as he demonstrated on Jan. 6, 2021, it isn’t empty talk.

Future historians (and perhaps psychologists) will wrestle with the question of why such a patently and dangerously unfit candidate has such a seemingly unshakable base of support among Republican voters.

But he does, with polling averages showing him with well above 50% support within the party and 40 points or more ahead of his nearest challengers.

Barring some unforeseen event that fundamentally alters that situation, Trump will be the 2024 GOP nominee.

His likeliest Democratic opponent in the general election is President Joe Biden, who, as we and others have warned, is viewed as too old for the job by so many Americans that issue alone poses a genuine danger of throwing the race to Trump.

So it is that the remaining Republican primary candidates challenging Trump — as irrelevant as they currently seem to be — are worth reviewing.

Scott announced Sunday he is suspending his campaign, after languishing in the single digits in polling with no apparent path forward. Scott had displayed a level of civility and positivity that was otherwise notably lacking in this largely nihilistic field.

But as with Mike Pence before him, Scott’s electoral math wasn’t working and wasn’t going to, so leaving the stage to allow voters to coalesce around someone with a better chance against Trump was the best option.

Of the remaining candidates, only Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are polling at more than a whisper. But both remain so far behind Trump that the breathless media speculation about whether Haley can depose DeSantis for second place sounds especially pointless.

Again, though, there’s no telling what might happen with a frontrunner who has been criminally indicted four times. In light of that, we hope the other also-rans will continue clearing the stage for Haley.

DeSantis’ slow-motion collapse in the polls is a gratifying development regarding the one candidate who has demonstrated a streak of cruelty that might approach Trumpian levels. No one should forget that DeSantis lured unsuspecting undocumented migrants from Texas (apparently, no human pawns were available in his own state) to be flown to Martha’s Vineyard as a putrid partisan stunt against a politically liberal enclave.

This is exactly the kind of man who, if it served his demagogic purposes, would cage children at the border — and, chillingly, he would probably be more efficient and competent about it than Trump was.

Haley shows none of that cruel streak. Like most Republicans today, she generally opposes abortion rights, but at least she appears to understand it’s too complex an issue to dismiss with unthinking inflexibility. Her support for continued aid to Ukraine against its Russian invaders shames so many in her party who so myopically oppose it, or who (like DeSantis) equivocate.

Unlike entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, Haley isn’t an annoying, pathetic political circus barker trying to pass off flash as substance.

Unlike former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Haley appears to be serious about seeking the presidency and isn’t merely on stage to redeem herself in history by performatively lashing at Trump.

That said, a little more lashing on Haley’s part would suit her well; her refusal to call out Trump’s various offenses against human decency (it’s not like there aren’t plenty to choose from) is maddening, if strategically understandable.

What criticism Haley has leveled at him has been about the Trump administration’s spending and other serious policy issues.

That doesn’t get at the more pressing reasons why Trump is unfit for office, but at least Haley doesn’t cower from his name as most of the other candidates do.

Most of the Editorial Board would disagree with Haley on most policy issues. But with Democrats apparently determined to stick with their risky bet on an incumbent who, despite a generally successful term, might well be unelectable now, the issue of who the Republicans nominate takes on arguably unprecedented importance.

The argument is ultimately this: The notion of Haley as president doesn’t spawn nightmares.

It’s a sad state of affairs when the bar for acceptability among presidential candidates of one of America’s two major parties is that low — but this is where we are in the Trump era.

— St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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