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Nikki Haley's 2016 Endorsement Dilemma




S.C. governor Nikki Haley has a dilemma …

After badly miscalculating the mood of her own party during her broadly-panned response to Barack Obama‘s final State of the Union address, the second-term South Carolina governor (and erstwhile Tea Party diva) must now decide how to exert her influence in advance of this month’s “First in the South” presidential primary election.

Will she endorse a presidential candidate?  And if so, who?

And most importantly given the advancing calendar … “when?”

Four years ago, Haley endorsed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney – which proved to be a “kiss of death” to the establishment politician’s South Carolina candidacy.  At the time she backed Romney, Haley was at her nadir – polling at just over 52 percent among “Republican” voters.  She has since rehabilitated her standing with the GOP electorate – although in a cruel twist of fate all of the status quo candidates she’s rumored to be considering are struggling in national and early-state polling.

Why are they struggling?  Because people are no longer buying what Haley and the “Republican” establishment are selling.  In fact Haley acknowledged as much when she tried to walk things back in the aftermath of her speech … but her vacillation only made things worse (for her).

The most likely “Republican” to receive Haley’s support?  U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.  In fact it was widely believed Haley’s selection by the GOP “leadership” in Washington, D.C. to give the State of the Union response was a quid pro quo for her eventual support of Rubio’s establishment candidacy.

Of course the latest polls show Rubio slipping in New Hampshire – and he was pummeled by New Jersey governor Chris Christie during a recent debate.  Rubio is currently in a four-way fight for second place in the Granite State – along with Iowa caucus winner Ted Cruz, former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Ohio governor John Kasich.

“First in the South” polling has him running a distant third behind Cruz and frontrunner Donald Trump – who is poised to receive a big South Carolina bump assuming he wins New Hampshire.

What happens if Haley endorses Rubio – and it fails to move the needle?

Also, wouldn’t endorsing Rubio put Haley on the hook for his crony capitalism, his conflicted views on amnesty, his contempt for liberty, his support for energy tax hikes, his mindless imperialism and his casting of the deciding vote for Barack Obama‘s trade bill, for starters.

Oh … and what if one of the many Rubio rumors blows up immediately after Haley endorses him?

Ideological and political calculations aside, there’s also a lot of drama between Haley and some of Rubio’s top operatives.  Of course it is worth noting that Haley’s top political strategist – former Mark Sanford advisor Jon Lerner – is working for the political action committee that’s backing Rubio’s candidacy.

And Lerner has tremendous sway with Haley …

Practically speaking, Haley’s options are also limited.  And the clock is ticking.

“Haley really has nowhere else to go,” we wrote last month.  “None of the other status quo ‘Republican’ candidates are even remotely viable in South Carolina – making Rubio the equivalent of the last guy standing at the dance.”