What’s Next for Nikki Haley?

Losing is never easy.

That can be forgotten in the rush of a presidential campaign — the speeches, attacks, television advertisements, endorsements and the ups-and-downs of polls. But the candidates are, in the end, ambitious men and women who have invested their egos and reputations in an enterprise that can define their political lives.

Having to quit can be painful, an act of minor humiliation carried out on a public stage. Conversations about what comes next — whether to slog it out in a race or think about next adventures — are difficult. So it is that candidates who have spent months running for president often need a few days to realize their campaigns are over.

Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador and former South Carolina governor, is facing her own decision this morning after losing to former President Donald J. Trump in the New Hampshire primary. This was the race that she wanted — a two-person face-off in a state where independents are a key bloc and Republicans are more moderate than in Iowa. It is hard to put a good spin on it.

But Ms. Haley is only 52 years old and there are still five months until Republicans gather in Milwaukee to nominate a presidential candidate. Here are a few things she might decide to do in the days ahead:

The next contested state on the Republican primary calendar is Ms. Haley’s back yard — “my sweet home state,” she said in Concord on Tuesday night, after New Hampshire was called for Mr. Trump.

Ms. Haley said the race was “far from over” as she pledged to stay in it on Tuesday. She has invested considerable time and advertising money in the state where she was born and won two terms as governor. But South Carolina has become Trump territory since she stepped down from that job to join his administration, and most polls show her heading for what would be a third decisive loss. (While she campaigns in South Carolina, Mr. Trump is likely to continue consolidating his party’s support. In early February, he’s expected to win the Nevada caucuses, a contest Ms. Haley is skipping.)

That makes South Carolina risky.

A defeat there would be both embarrassing and damaging to any hopes she has for a future campaign for the White House.

On the other hand, if she were to win there, she would be able to present it as a come-from-behind upset of Mr. Trump, and position her to fight in — well, perhaps it’s better we defer here to a memo sent out by her campaign manager, Betsy Ankeny, on Tuesday.

“Despite the media narrative, there is significant fertile ground for Nikki,” she wrote. Among the states mentioned: Virginia, Texas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota — well, you get the idea.

Ms. Haley has vowed to stay in, but after a night of talking to her advisers and supporters, she could reassess.

Candidates do reconsider. The morning brings the final election result, which can be sobering. Donors stop writing checks. Loyal supporters begin to edge toward the exits.

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida also said he was staying in the race after h finished second in Iowa, trailing Mr. Trump by nearly 30 points. That lasted six days.

There are many strong arguments for Ms. Haley to join Mr. DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Chris Christie, to name a few, who have suspended their campaigns. That starts with the math of the caucuses: With all due respect to the memo Ms. Ankeny wrote before the results were known, it’s hard to see any states on the horizon where Ms. Haley could do what she has not yet done in 2024: Win.

Although Ms. Haley has stepped up her attacks on Mr. Trump over these past months — most notably skewering his age and mental acuity — stepping out now could spare her from earning the longtime enmity of Trump supporters, or at least Republicans who want to rally behind Mr. Trump and turn to the general election.

It also could set her up to run again in 2028. She would have time to rebuild and launch Haley 2.0.

“If I were working for her, I would go out and get rich, go away for a while, and then in four years show up with the greatest 18-minute advertisement you have ever seen and light up the party,” said Mike Murphy, a longtime Republican strategist.

The big question: Would Ms. Haley join Mr. DeSantis in endorsing the man she has spent weeks criticizing?

Ms. Haley could commit to staying in the race for the long haul, regardless of what happens in South Carolina, in the hopes that for some reason, by the time the Republican National Committee gathers in Milwaukee in July, Mr. Trump, who is 77 years old and charged with 91 felonies, somehow ends up not being the nominee.

Ms. Haley would be the only declared candidate left in the race.

Sticking around would not earn her many friends in her party, if it seems as if she is rooting for circumstances, be they Mr. Trump’s health or the courts, to force Mr. Trump off the ticket.

It would also mean — if Tuesday night was any indication — that she would be out there, continuing to make the case against Mr. Trump and, arguably, helping President Biden in the process.

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