Nikki Haley’s Last Ditch

William of Orange was chief magistrate of the Dutch Republic when, during a seemingly hopeless defense against English and French attackers in 1672, he was offered terms he shouldn’t have been able to refuse: to capitulate in exchange for becoming its sovereign prince.

“He rejected it with the utmost Indignation,” wrote Daniel Defoe, “and when One of them ask’d him what Remedy he could think of for the Ruin of his Affairs, answer’d, He knew of One effectual Remedy, viz. to lie in the last Ditch; intimating, that he would dispute every Inch of Ground with the Enemy, and at last would die defending the Liberties of his Country.”

And that’s how it seems we got the phrase “the last ditch.”

Nikki Haley, too, is in her last ditch. As I write, it looks like Donald Trump will trounce her in the G.O.P.’s Michigan primary by an even wider margin than in his South Carolina victory on Saturday. The Koch network has withdrawn its financial support for her. Super Tuesday is next week, and chances are strong that Trump will sweep all 15 states in play, along with those he’s already won.

So why carry on?

Haley says she’s “doing what I believe 70 percent of Americans want me to do,” in reference to polls showing that most people don’t want a rematch between Trump and Joe Biden. Too bad only 27 percent of voters bother to participate in party primaries on average, according to a 2022 analysis, ceding the field to the most motivated partisans.

But there are better reasons for Haley to hang on.

The first is that Trump’s coronation procession may be heading for its own ditch in the form of one or more felony convictions. A conviction would not prevent Trump from running: Eugene V. Debs won nearly one million votes as a presidential candidate while serving a prison sentence for sedition in 1920. But it could make Trump unelectable in a general election.

Even in South Carolina, nearly one-third of Republican primary voters would not vote for Trump if he’s convicted, according to a Saturday exit poll from Edison Research. In swing states, the numbers for Trump are even more daunting: Fully 53 percent of voters in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin would not vote for Trump if convicted, according to a Bloomberg/Morning Consult poll from January.

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