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Nikki Haley campaign pitches donors on 'fight for freedom' against Trump

Haley's campaign manager told a group of GOP megadonors that Trump would cost the party up and down the ballot if he's the nominee.
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Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley in Conway, S.C., on Sunday.Peter Zay / Anadolu via Getty Images file

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley's campaign manager told GOP donors Tuesday that her primary fight against former President Donald Trump is a battle for the future of the Republican Party and the country.

“This is a fight for freedom,” campaign manager Betsy Ankney said at a briefing with the American Opportunity Alliance, a consortium of GOP megadonors, according to a source familiar with the campaign’s presentation.

Ankney also warned that nominating Trump could cost the GOP not just the White House but control of Congress, as well.

It's as stark as any language yet from the Haley campaign to set the stakes of her battle against Trump, who won the party's first two presidential nominating contests, in Iowa and New Hampshire, and has shown no signs of slowing down.

Trump is set to pick up more delegates next week thanks to Nevada's split nominating contests, because he is the only major candidate competing in the state's caucuses. Haley and Trump will face off later this month in South Carolina, where Trump is the heavy favorite despite Haley's experience as governor in her home state.

Haley is looking to stockpile resources for a protracted state-by-state fight against Trump. It would require a massive amount of cash to spread resources across the country, and Haley has spent part of this week on a fundraising swing in New York.

Despite Trump’s strength within the party, Haley and her allies have stressed that they will have the resources to take him on. Haley touted her recent fundraising boosts after the New Hampshire primary. SFA Fund Inc., the main super PAC supporting her, announced it raised $50 million in the last six months of 2023. And it got a boost this month from billionaire Ken Griffin, who gave $5 million to the group, CNBC reported.

The American Opportunity Alliance, which includes some of the biggest names in the Republican donor world, heard from Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' campaigns late last year. Trump campaign co-chair Susie Wiles also met with the group of donors Tuesday, according to The Washington Post. The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ankney warned the Republican donors that Trump's nomination could be a drag on Republicans further down the ticket, noting serious GOP losses in each of the last three national elections since Trump became president in 2017. She said Republicans could lose control of the House if Trump is at the top of the ticket, noting that 18 Republicans represent districts President Joe Biden won in 2020.

Ankney also said it is key for the party to make gains in the Senate in 2024, because Republicans have less favorable Senate maps in 2026 and 2028.

Ankney's message also echoed some of Haley's recent criticisms of Trump on the campaign trail, arguing that he is an agent of chaos.

Ankney noted that Trump spent the week after the New Hampshire primary targeting Haley, telling the donors he is "throwing the kitchen sink at us." Haley has struck a similar tone on the campaign trail, as she has criticized Trump's "temper tantrum."

Those early results have prompted many powerful Republicans to declare the nominating fight over and anoint as Trump the winner.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said last week on Fox News that she didn't see a "path going forward" for Haley and that voters have sent a message that "we need to unite around our eventual nominee, which is going to be Donald Trump.”

The chairs of both the GOP Senate and House campaign arms have called Trump the party's "presumptive nominee" for president.

The Trump campaign has leaned into the idea of Trump's inevitability as the nominee, casting Haley's campaign as one with no chance of success.

In a memo released Monday, top Trump campaign aides argued that "Nikki is losing to Donald Trump by every metric used to measure political viability." And Trump and his allies have called for Republicans to rally around him, saying a protracted nominating fight would only delay the inevitable and cost Republicans time and resources that could be devoted to defeating Biden.

Publicly relishing the idea of a one-on-one fight against Trump, Haley's campaign responded to the Trump campaign memo with just an image from the movie "Mean Girls" paraphrasing the line "Why are you so obsessed with us?"

Haley's campaign has argued that she has a path forward to pick up significant numbers of delegates in the states that hold their contests on Super Tuesday in March. Several states holding contests that day, as well as South Carolina during its February primary, allow independent voters (and in some cases Democrats) to participate in GOP primaries.

But that path could prove narrow if Trump continues to finish ahead of her. And Haley herself said on NBC News' "Meet the Press" that she doesn't "have to win" South Carolina's primary as long as she shows "momentum," a result that would leave her winless in the race's first four contests.

"I have every intention of going to Super Tuesday," Haley said Sunday on "Meet the Press," adding later, "We’re going to keep on going and see where this gets us."