Donald Trump won the GOP nomination in 2016 not because he was the choice of most Republican primary voters; he was not. He won because, in a crowded field, he got more votes than any of his rivals in South Carolina, and then in later-voting states.
Much has changed since then: If the primaries were held today, and if the same narrow sliver of Republican-leaning voters participated as usual, he would win a majority.
But much has not changed: He still is deeply unpopular among independents and a large chunk of Republicans, and although his poll numbers have risen steadily as voters have tuned in to the primary battle, that’s not because he has become more likeable. It’s because the other candidates are drowning each other out, making it impossible for a single alternative to emerge.
The result, if the field remains crowded, is that Mr. Trump will again win the nomination.
From a Republican perspective, this scenario is disastrous, because Mr. Trump is the least likely candidate to defeat President Joe Biden. It’s also disastrous from the perspective of Democrats and independents — and many Republicans, and the rest of the world — because there’s no guarantee that Mr. Biden would win a rematch.
That means a Trump nomination could lead to another Trump presidency. Which is a chilling prospect for countless reasons. That prospect prompted former Texas congressman Will Hurd to drop his bid for the nomination earlier this month and call on all but one of his non-Trump opponents to do likewise. It prompted one of the nation’s most thoughtful conservatives, Washington Post columnist George Will, to call on the field to coalesce around that same candidate: former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley.
We join those calls.
We’ve long known we would reach a point when it became necessary for the GOP field to winnow itself; we just didn’t think it would be this soon. Nor did we realize that Ms. Haley would be our choice to remain.
But as Mr. Will explained, and as Mr. Hurd and others who have been calling for an early winnowing have understood, a compressed start to the primary season means it will be nearly impossible for one candidate to consolidate the vote after the voting has started; that takes time and money and organization that a challenger needs to be putting into place right now. Even starting now, the odds remain against victory for a serious, qualified Republican.
But Ms. Haley is the one Republican who is clearly ascending — in the polls, in fundraising, in her willingness to challenge the former president. And the Hamas attack on Israel should convince all but the most Trumpian of Republicans that international matters matter.
Many presidential candidates have had more impressive foreign policy credentials than Ms. Haley. But the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations leaves the rest of this year’s GOP field in the dust. And she combines experience with a hawkishness that our nation needs: one that will stand up to Hamas — and to Russia and China and all the other nations and players that are coalescing into an axis of totalitarianism and anti-Americanism.
Unfortunately, we can’t count on Mr. Trump for any of that. Indeed, one of the keys to Mr. Will’s call to clear the field for Ms. Haley is the former president’s promise to end the war in Ukraine in 24 hours — which could only be accomplished by handing Ukraine over to Vladimir Putin, leading to “the unraveling of collective security, from Europe to the Far East.”
Another Washington Post columnist, Henry Olsen, noted Tuesday that the candidates Mr. Trump pushed in the 2022 Georgia GOP primaries for governor and secretary of state got creamed because voter turnout nearly doubled from the previous gubernatorial election — a result of independents participating in the primary. It’s a hopeful sign, he argued, for Ms. Haley.
Although Ms. Haley should never be confused with a moderate, she could easily be next year’s choice of independents and traditional Republicans. But that requires the other candidates getting out of the way.
They need to do so now. While it can still make a difference.