Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley
Nikki Haley said she plans to keep speaking out. But will that be in an elected office or as a pundit? Chris Carlson/AP

Can Nikki Haley Still Be a Part of the Republican Party?

She lost the race for the GOP nomination but vowed not to go away. In a Trumpified GOP, Nikki Haley must figure out where she fits.

Nikki Haley’s decision Wednesday to end her presidential campaign but forgo an endorsement of Donald Trump has pushed her political career to a crossroads: She can either stay in the GOP and fight for her increasingly marginalized vision of Republican governance or effectively leave the party to become a respected but ultimately powerless cable news pundit.

It’s a predicament that’s landed some in the Senate (see: Mitt Romney) and others on television (see: John Kasich). For Haley, who has won over billionaire donors and nearly a hundred delegates, the path she chooses in the coming months and years could define her future and the future of her corner of the modern Republican Party.

“She’s laid a blueprint for people who want to grow the GOP,” said Mark Harris, who ran a well-funded super PAC backing the former governor’s campaign. “And the polls show that in a general election, obviously, that’s not going to happen, but she had a chance to realign American politics in a generational way. But there is a pathway for someone to bring together and unite Americans, and that’s exciting.”

When asked if he thinks Haley will run again, Harris — like many of her supporters interviewed by NOTUS for this story — said she should keep her options open.

“I do think there is a need for a voice like hers on the public stage,” Harris said. “And we’ll see what the future holds.”

A Haley spokesperson said the former governor would “take some time” before figuring out her political future, adding that she “doesn’t have a plan yet.”

But the former candidate’s speech Wednesday appeared to sketch out what her post-campaign role could look like. Haley positioned herself as the leader of a wing of the GOP she insisted Trump would have to work to win over before November’s election. She didn’t hint at any future runs for office, but reiterated support for issues like supporting Ukraine and reducing the national debt — positions that help form a worldview she regularly compared to that of conservative icon and former President Ronald Reagan.

“I said I wanted Americans to have their voices heard,” Haley said. “I have done that. I have no regrets. And although I will no longer be a candidate, I will not stop using my voice for the things I believe in.”

How many voters in the GOP want to hear that message is unclear.

Haley finished a distant second place to Trump in the GOP primary, winning only two out of more than two dozen nominating contests while claiming less than 10% of total delegates awarded. In some major battlegrounds during the Super Tuesday primaries, Trump more than quadrupled her vote totals, and other postelection data indicate many of Haley’s supporters were more invested in voting against the former president than backing her campaign.

Even within the anti-Trump wing of the GOP, some strategists are skeptical that Haley has much of a future in the party, citing those results.

“It’s very tough for her to figure out how to maintain this relevance in a Republican Party that’s going to be full steam ahead on Trumpism,” a former Haley adviser said.

The source added: “You could have a national voice, but it’s different than elected leadership, and I think she still wants that.”

In recent months, some conservative leaders have questioned whether Haley and her entire Reagan-esque governing philosophy had lost support within the party. On social media, a cadre of former GOP bigwigs pushed out by the Trump movement struggled over what to make of Haley’s speech suspending her campaign. Was she one of them now? Or was she planning for some kind of path back into Trump’s good graces after trashing him for months?

“There should just be one big ceremony at noon tomorrow where all the remaining GOP establishment bends the knee in fealty to Trump,” tweeted Mike Madrid, a former top party strategist in California who now hosts a respected podcast analyzing the Latino vote.

Asked by NOTUS if he thinks Haley has a future in the Republican Party, Madrid texted, “I don’t see it.” Trump needs her support, he added, but he said he was skeptical that Trump would be interested in seeking it. “Not sure he’s comfortable needing someone,” he wrote, “especially a woman.”

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Former top RNC staffer and GOP presidential campaign strategist Liz Mair, who now operates a consulting firm out of Connecticut, told NOTUS she regretted that Haley had dropped out before her campaign reached the state. She plans to vote for Haley on her primary ballot anyway as a protest in a moment she said called for massive transfusions of new blood into American politics.

But as for Haley’s future specifically, Mair did not hold out much hope.

“I think by 2028, everyone who ran this cycle will be old news and/or dead,” she said.

Trump’s victory in the primary sets up a rematch with President Joe Biden in the general election — a race polls indicate Trump narrowly leads but that strategists on both sides expect to be closely contested until the end. Haley’s future in politics might depend on the outcome, party operatives say.

If Trump wins, she’s likely done in the party, the operatives said. But if he loses, the former governor has already positioned herself as the path not taken by Republican voters, one that would have seen them win in November.

“I don’t know what she’ll do. But I do think that the day after Election Day will determine a lot about that,” said Chip Felkel, a longtime South Carolina GOP strategist who has seen Haley ascend through the ranks of state and national politics. “If Biden wins the election, I hope she’ll take a big banner ad out that says, ‘I told you so!’ I expect her to do that.”

Felkel pointed to the Jeb Bush model; after losing Florida’s governor race in 1994, he joined think tanks and education platforms to keep himself relevant until it was time to run again.

Asked if she should endorse Trump, Felkel said, “It would be a big mistake because he’s not going to let anybody take credit” for helping him win.

“It’s better for her politically for him to lose, fall on his face.”

Alex Roarty, Evan McMorris-Santoro, Jasmine Wright and Oriana González are reporters at NOTUS.