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GOP Civil War Explodes As Donors Back Haley Over Trump

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The 2024 GOP presidential race is entering a high stakes phase. Donald Trump remains the dominant frontrunner, but an eleventh hour challenge is emerging to his re-nomination.

Nikki Haley has gained late momentum, supported by wealthy GOP donors uneasy with Trump’s vision. Can she channel this support into an implausible primary victory?

With Trump eyeing a swift nomination, Haley aims to squeeze through a narrow window and offer Republicans a fresh direction. But the clock is ticking.

The Republican Party’s identity crisis will play out in the coming weeks. As Trump pushes for a decisive win, major GOP establishments have placed their chips on Haley.

Haley is banking on Republicans feeling uneasy about their current path. But can she convince them to actually change course? 

The race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination is heating up as the primaries draw near. Former president Donald Trump remains the frontrunner, but dissatisfaction with his divisive persona has led some major GOP donors to look for an alternative. 

The latest sign of this came on Tuesday when Americans for Prosperity Action or AFP Action, the influential conservative political network founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, endorsed Nikki Haley’s bid for the Republican nomination.

The endorsement marks a break from AFP Action’s usual practice of not getting involved in presidential primaries and instead focusing on congressional or local races. But the organization believes it is time for a change given the current state of American politics. 

Their endorsement follows previous big money pushes by organizations like the Club for Growth and the Lincoln Project that spent millions trying to weaken Trump’s standing among conservative voters. 

But those past attempts fell short, and now the GOP establishment is looking to AFP Action’s expansive resources and mobilizing infrastructure to finally boost a challenger capable of defeating the former president. It remains the ultimate test of strength for the factions wrestling to control the Republican Party’s direction – can this network of wealthy donors and activists succeed where so many others have been brushed aside?

As AFP senior advisor Emily Seidel wrote in the endorsement message, “American politics are in a downward spiral, with both parties reinforcing the bad behavior of the other. Republicans have been nominating bad candidates who are going against America’s core principles. And voters are rejecting them. Democrats see this as an opportunity and are responding with extreme policies that also cut against core American principles.”

In Seidel’s analysis, “Donald Trump and Joe Biden will only further perpetuate the country’s downward spiral in politics.” Therefore, AFP Action concluded after extensive polling and analysis that Nikki Haley “offers America the opportunity to turn the page on the current political era, to win the Republican primary and defeat Joe Biden next November.”

The endorsement from the Koch network is significant for Haley’s underdog campaign. With far less name recognition and campaign infrastructure compared to Trump or fellow challenger Ron DeSantis, Haley needs influential backers to help boost her profile. 

AFP Action’s grassroots organization, with thousands of activists in every state, provides crucial mobilizing power. The group plans to launch mail, digital, and TV campaigns urging Republican primary voters to support Haley in the coming weeks as the first nominating contests approach.

Other major GOP donors have also lined up behind Haley recently as doubts grow about DeSantis’ viability. Billionaire investor Stanley Druckenmiller, philanthropist Andy Sabin, and South Carolina businessman Chad Walldorf are among those now backing Haley. Mitt Romney fundraiser Spencer Zwick and billionaire Ken Griffin are also considering donations to her campaign.

This influx of donor support comes as DeSantis, once seen as Trump’s strongest challenger, has struggled badly. His polling numbers have steadily declined over the past year from nearly rivaling Trump to now sitting at just 12.9% support in the latest FiveThirtyEight average of Republican primary surveys. Haley has surpassed him at 10% support, having gradually gained ground thanks to strong debate performances.

But Trump still dominates with 59.8%, and AFP Action acknowledges Haley faces an uphill battle for the nomination. However, their internal polls find that Republican voters see Haley as by far the best equipped to defeat not just Trump but, more importantly, Joe Biden in the November general election.

“Our internal polling consistently shows that Nikki Haley is by far the strongest candidate Republicans could put up against Joe Biden in a general election – winning every key battleground state and up nationally by nearly 10 points,” Seidel stated. “While our polling shows Donald Trump loses to Joe Biden, Nikki Haley outperforms Trump by 8 to 14 points in the key Presidential battleground states.”

Biden currently has very low approval ratings, which presents an opportunity for Republicans to win back the presidency in 2024.

However, Biden’s best hopes for reelection rely on anti-Trump sentiment driving Democratic turnout. If Trump is the nominee again, Democrats can focus on animosity toward him to boost their own base’s motivation to vote against him specifically.

Groups like AFP Action see this dynamic making Trump an extremely risky Republican nominee. His unpopularity with moderates and independents could keep them from voting Republican even with Biden unpopular himself.

They believe nominating Nikki Haley instead would expand GOP appeal to the political center. Haley doesn’t provoke as visceral a reaction, so more independents or moderates may be willing to vote Republican with her heading the ticket against the unpopular Biden.

“Nikki Haley, at the top of the ticket, would boost candidates up and down the ballot, winning the key independent and moderate voters that Trump has no chance to win,” said Seidel. 

AFP Action’s data analytics operation has been in contact with six million voters since February to model different nomination scenarios. Their conclusion is unambiguous – Haley gives Republicans their best shot at victory.

For her part, Haley celebrated the endorsement, saying in a statement, “AFP Action’s members know that there is too much at stake in this election to sit on the sidelines. This is a choice between freedom and socialism, individual liberty and big government, fiscal responsibility and spiraling debt. We have a country to save, and I’m grateful to have AFP Action by our side.”

Nikki Haley faces dual challenges in her quest to wrest the Republican nomination away from Donald Trump. First, she must fundamentally reshape the populist, nationalist coalition that has fueled Trump’s rise and still dominates the GOP base. Or at minimum, she needs to neuter its loyalty to the former president. Neither will be easy given how firmly Trump has remade the party in his image the past few years.

Secondly, Haley is almost certain to endure vicious attacks from Trump himself, who views her as profoundly disloyal. As a former member of his administration now challenging him, Trump’s spokesperson has already branded Haley as aligning with “pro-China, open borders and globalism” forces seeking to undermine Trump’s political agenda. 

Meanwhile, the DeSantis campaign reacted angrily to being passed over for Koch network support. Spokesman Andrew Romeo dismissed Haley as a “moderate who has no mathematical pathway of defeating the former president.” He alleged the AFP Action endorsement amounted to “an in-kind to the Trump campaign” and said “No one has a stronger record of beating the establishment than Ron DeSantis.”

On the other hand, Haley’s campaign pitch of restoring fiscal conservatism and traditional Republican hawkishness on foreign policy faces substantial obstacles. 

The Republican base has formed an emotional bond with Trump rooted in shared grievances, not ideological purity. The former president’s rule-breaking persona is central to his appeal. This emotional connection presents difficulties for Haley’s more conventional policy-focused strategy.

Moreover, GOP strategists closely attuned to the base’s preferences see little daylight currently for any Trump alternative. Sarah Longwell, who regularly speaks with Republican voters, contends the overwhelming majority still eagerly back Trump’s re-nomination. This grassroots enthusiasm leaves Haley navigating an extraordinarily narrow path to victory. 

While Republican elites may desire a more traditional candidate like Haley, the republicans unwilling to abandon Trump may seal her fate regardless. Overcoming both the base’s lingering passion for Trump as well as her own stylistic contrasts with him is perhaps Haley’s greatest obstacle.

The stage is now set for a fierce Republican nomination battle between Donald Trump’s movement and the GOP establishment forces rallying behind Nikki Haley. But nothing is guaranteed for the insurgent Haley campaign. 

Trump maintains a dominant position, and Republican voters have defied expectations about abandoning him before. Yet Haley’s latest momentum injects some intrigue into what previously looked like a straightforward Trump coronation. 

As the Koch network’s war chest and political machine join the fight, Haley aims to turn uneasy Republican elites into genuine grassroots support. The coming weeks will determine whether she can achieve the implausible. 

Either way, the Republican Party’s path forward remains murky. Voters now have an unexpected choice to make between continuity or change. The GOP’s soul hangs in the balance, and the people will soon have their say at the ballot box.

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