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Haley best to vie vs. Trump — and Biden

WASHINGTON — Nikki Haley is the dark horse in the Republican presidential race that Democrats should watch closely as she gains ground by the day, hair flying with the wind.

Brace for a “Hail Nikki” surge while former President Donald Trump’s troubles with the law mount and his grip on reality loosens and leads to more demagogic rants. Many fear for the future of the country, but I have more faith. Trump lost the popular vote twice and his violence against democracy failed. I was there Jan. 6.

The telegenic former South Carolina governor could pose the most potent threat to two old men: Trump and President Joe Biden. She just picked up a huge vote of confidence and cash from the arch-conservative Koch network, which will give her run millions of dollars.

Calling Haley “birdbrain,” street-smart Trump shows his nerves.

Haley may soon outpace Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, another Southerner, as second to Trump going into 2024. It’s clear as sky that she’s a better speaker on the stump — and in (yesterday’s) debate — than the sour DeSantis, master of the nasal monotone.

“DeSantis, on the other hand, has done surprisingly little to appeal to the voters who dislike Mr. Trump,” The New York Times observed.

Expect more relentless attacks on Vice President Kamala Harris if Haley emerges as a front-runner. And they will hurt.

Each is a woman of color in her 50s, of Indian heritage, which means Harris can’t respond on grounds of racism or sexism when Haley zeroes in on her. “Anybody is better than President Kamala Harris” doubles as a reminder of Biden’s vulnerable age, 81.

Haley reaches people well, concealing her harsh abortion views by saying she “respects” the other side of reproductive rights. A savvy statement, given the body blow that the Supreme Court dealt the Republican party by striking down those rights for women and girls.

Don’t forget, Haley worked for Trump as ambassador to the United Nations. She made no friends and mended no fences representing his xenophobic foreign policy. She threatened she’d be “taking names” of nations who voted against moving the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a serious shift in Mideast diplomacy and a break in U.S. policy.

Bragging about being an “accountant” coming after Medicare, Social Security and government experts, Haley is first in class when it comes to aggressive Republican women. (Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene just got kicked out of class.)

Cutting social programs is no small deal, especially by Haley’s plan to raise the retirement age. Cutting taxes for the wealthy also colors her vision when at least a thousand billionaires pay no income tax at all.

In short, she’s barely different from the rest of the field. We want a president with a lion heart like Biden, not a mean-spirited number cruncher. Awesome American presidents appeal to our best selves.

Never give Haley that. We know who she is.

This is a governor who let the Confederate flag fly over the statehouse until nine Black churchgoers were murdered in a mass shooting in Charleston. Nine victims of a white supremacist fell in a historic Black Church in 2015.

That’s what it took for Haley to finally take the hateful symbol down. She was praised for doing it. That was just a surrender to common decency.

Out on the campaign trail, DeSantis has concentrated on Iowa, with a fair chance of winning the first contest. Then comes the New Hampshire primary, a test of strength on Jan. 23.

“The idea that Ms. Haley might win New Hampshire might seem far-fetched but, historically, much crazier things have happened,” says Nate Cohn, polling expert for The New York Times.

New Hampshire voters are proud of their rugged independence in knowing presidential timber. Haley, a woman of sass and spirit, is up their alley.

If Trump loses the first two engagements while facing four criminal trials, that’s ugly. Also, Hillary Clinton cleared some mind space for accepting a woman as a major party nominee.

Paging Steve Schmidt, George Conway, Peter Wehner and The Bulwark writers:

If these avowed “Never Trumpers” who cling to saving the Republican ship are smart — and they are — then their strategic move is to back Haley.

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The author may be reached at JamieStiehm.com To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit Creators.com.

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