From the day she came in third in Iowa to her 20-point loss to Donald Trump on Saturday in South Carolina, Nikki Haley and her aims have been the subject of intense speculation. Clearly, in the absence of a lightning bolt from the blue that strikes Donald Trump while he just happens to be standing in a pool of water holding a highly conductive metal pole, she will not be the GOP nominee for president. She won’t win a single state. What is she doing? Some say she’s just staying in to see what happens. Others, in the Trump camp, think she’s angling to be the candidate on some other line, like No Labels. Nobody knows, so here’s my theory.

Haley is running in case Trump loses. She will have been the last Republican standing, and since Iowa she has honed her message to a fine point, which is this: Trump is not a winner. He’s a loser. Her argument:

Yes, he won in 2016 (while losing the popular vote). But his chaotic presidency cost the GOP the House in a landslide in 2018. His mishandling of COVID and other things cost him the presidency in 2020, no matter what balderdash he proffers to suggest he won. Then he all but told Georgians to stay home for the two Senate runoffs in January 2021, the GOP vote cratered by more than 100,000, and Democrats took both seats and control of the upper chamber. And then, in 2022, the drooling-lunatic candidates he favored helped Democrats avoid the colossal midterm defeat in the House everyone expected—and allowed them to retain the Senate.

All in all, then, Trump won one election in 2016 and was totally or partially responsible for the loss on four subsquent election days—2018, November 2020 and January 2021, and November 2022. And if he loses in November 2024, it will be five straight elections in which the country blew him a giant raspberry.

Because of the lunacy he engendered in GOP ranks with his cock-and-bull argle-bargle about stuffed ballots and fixed machines and mean media and blah blah blah, party regulars found themselves unable to make the case that Trump’s path is a path to nowhere. Republican voters didn’t want to hear it and accused people who said it of being evil RINO monster Democrat-in-sheep-clothing media-whoring girly simps—and voted out anyone who said Trump had engendered an insurrection on American soil on January 6.

But what will Republicans have to say if he goes down to defeat on November 5, 2024? Will they buy his sore-loser conspiracy theory #2 that the election was stolen from him? Or will they finally say they’ve had enough of the winning—which is to say, the losing?

And if enough of them do—and right now, judging from the three early primary contests, somewhere between nearly 4 out of 10 Republicans believe this already—won’t they finally, finally, finally have to admit that, if they don’t want Democrats running everything for all time, they will have to give up on the standard-bearer who, like the substitute baton-holder from the Delta House ranks in front of the Faber College Marching Band during the parade at the end of National Lampoon’s Animal House, has four times running led the world’s oldest political party down a blind alley into a brick wall?

The person who can say “I told you so” in that case, and simultaneously offer a new path to the future, will be Nikki Haley. Maybe she can’t be the nominee in 2028. Maybe the GOP base will decide she’s just a raven-headed Liz Cheney and demonize her and drive her out. Could happen. But if Trump is not president on January 20, 2025, the party will be in pieces and Haley will be the most famous Republican to have delivered the warning. So my theory is that this is what she’s running to be.

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