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Nikki Haley faces a dark path forward and an important decision about whether to support Trump

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Nikki Haley is perhaps the most prominent Republican in the country who has refused to fall in line and endorse Donald Trump’s presidential bid.

It is unclear how long that could take.

Some allies believe she may be forced to back him before the November election to avoid permanently alienating the Republican Party’s base. Some even suspect that Haley will reappear on Trump’s short list of vice presidential candidates in the coming months, despite Trump’s recent statement to the contrary.

But if Haley submits to Trump, as so many of his Republican critics have done, she also risks destroying her own coalition of independents, moderates and anti-Trump Republicans, who are still showing up to support her in low-key primaries from deep in the ears. -red Indiana to deep blue Maryland.

Her decision will be closely watched in the coming months, not only by her supporters, but also by allies of Trump and the president Joe Biden. What she decides to do — and whether her coalition follows — could have a profound impact on this year’s general election and her future as a top-level Republican whose brand appeals to many outside her party.

“Nikki Haley could be the person who unites us,” said Thalia Floras, a 62-year-old retail manager from Nashua, New Hampshire, who was a lifelong Democrat before voting for Haley in her state’s primaries.

But Floras also has a warning: “Nikki Haley now has a good place with me. But if she goes with Trump, I’m done.”

People close to Haley, a 52-year-old former governor and U.N. ambassador, say it is unclear what she will do.

HALEY VOTERS WHO COULD TURN FOR GRAY, BUT ONLY BIDEN IS TRYING

Haley and Trump haven’t spoken in months. That includes the period after she withdrew from the Republican Party’s primary campaign in early March, according to a person with direct knowledge of Haley’s private conversations and who was not authorized to speak publicly about them.

And while some Republicans who supported Haley will certainly organically drift back to Trump, the Biden campaign is working to win over its supporters, whom they view as true swing voters.

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Biden’s team is quietly organizing a Republicans for Biden group, which will eventually include dedicated staff and focus on the hundreds of thousands of Haley voters in each battleground state, according to people familiar with the plans but not authorized to publicly reveal them discuss.

The Democratic president has not kept his intentions secret.

Biden issued a statement thanking Haley for her courage to challenge Trump just minutes after she withdrew from the primaries in March.

“Donald Trump has made it clear that he does not want Nikki Haley’s supporters. I want to be clear: there is a place for them in my campaign,” Biden said at the time.

Trump, meanwhile, said in late January that Haley donors would be permanently excluded from his “Make America Great Again” camp. While he has refrained from attacking her since she left the race, Trump also has not made public statements of goodwill, as he has done for other vanquished rivals such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

As part of Biden’s continued support of Haley’s coalition, his campaign late last month released a digital ad highlighting Trump’s often personal attacks on Haley, including his primary nickname of her as “birdbrain” and the suggestion that “she is not presidential wood’.

Asked about Trump’s lack of outreach to Haley and her supporters, senior adviser Jason Miller avoided any mention of her and instead cast doubt on the strength of Biden’s coalition of Black Americans, Latinos and young voters.

“The reality is that the Republican Party is united behind President Trump, while the Democratic Party is fractured over Joe Biden’s disastrous policies on issues like inflation and the border,” Miller said.

Few expect Haley to outright support the Democratic president. Such a decision would make it difficult, if not impossible, for her to win a future Republican Party presidential primary if she decides to run again.

Instead, Biden’s allies are hopeful that Haley, along with other high-profile Republican Trump critics, will either remain silent or offer a statement of support that focuses on the election’s commitment to democracy rather than direct praise for Biden.

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If and when Biden’s team is able to recruit key Republican supporters, they will likely wait several more weeks to unveil them to help maximize their impact when voters pay close attention to the November election.

A PRO-BIDEN REPUBLICAN SPEAKS

Former Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Republican who had endorsed Haley in the Republican Party primaries, formally endorsed Biden earlier this month. In an interview, he said he made the decision before speaking to Biden’s campaign, although Biden personally called him to thank him after Duncan announced his decision.

Duncan did not rule out taking a prominent role in the Republicans for Biden group or even speaking at the Democratic National Convention this summer, just as former Ohio Governor John Kasich did four years ago.

Duncan hopes Haley will not ultimately support Trump, as many of Trump’s high-profile Republican critics have done.

“I feel like in the short term this would be a sugar high just to curry favor within the Republican Party,” Duncan said of a possible Haley endorsement of Trump. “She has the right to do what she wants to do. It is clear that everyone is playing the political analysis. But where do we draw the line at a certain point?”

The list of high-profile Republicans willing to oppose Trump in 2024 is exceedingly small.

Even those who described Trump as a dangerous threat to democracy, such as New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, ultimately supported him. Sununu, who was among Haley’s top national surrogates during the campaign, declined repeated requests to comment on her political future. And DeSantis, once Trump’s main rival and also a potential early 2028 candidate, is now planning to raise money for Trump’s general election campaign.

HALEY IS BACK IN THE PUBLIC SPOTLIGHT

Haley has only just begun to emerge from a post-campaign period of isolation, during which she took time to reconnect with her family, especially her husband, a serviceman who recently returned from a nearly yearlong tour abroad.

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She plans to give a foreign policy speech later this week — her first public speech since ending her 2024 campaign — at the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based conservative think tank where she has signed on as Walter P. Stern- chair.

And last week, Haley sat behind closed doors in South Carolina with dozens of donors and allies, thanking her coalition while largely ignoring Trump. She did not encourage attendees to support his campaign.

Simone Levinson, a Haley bundler who attended the private meeting, said there is still a need among Republicans for a next-generation figure who can communicate well and build consensus.

“There is very strong evidence that she struck a chord that still resonates with millions of Americans,” said Levinson, who lives in Florida.

HER COALITION SENDS A MESSAGE

Without any formal organization, advertising or even private encouragement, Haley voters continue to show up in low-key presidential primaries, which will last until the end of June, even though Trump is the only candidate left in the race.

Haley won more than 21 percent of the vote in Maryland’s presidential election last week. That’s after posting similar numbers the week before in Indiana and Arizona, just weeks after leaving the race.

“She is articulate and intelligent, and those are things that Trump is not,” said retired school psychologist Kathy Showen, an independent voter from Cross Lanes, West Virginia, who voted for Haley for the first time last week.

Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, Floras said she will reluctantly vote for Biden this fall because she can’t stomach Trump. But she is hopeful that Haley will compete again in 2028.

However, her feelings could change if Haley relents and supports Trump before the fall elections.

“I’d be really disappointed if she didn’t stand up to him,” Floras said. “That would destroy her.”

___

Nations reported from New York. Beaumont reported from Des Moines, Iowa. Associated Press writer John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia, contributed to this report.

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