Senate GOP’s remaining presidential primary fence-sitters not counting Haley out yet

Senate Republicans won’t get the free-for-all GOP presidential primary they predicted (or hoped for). Some still aren’t ready for it to be over.

As the primary boils down to former President Donald Trump against former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, some still-on-the-fence Republicans said Monday that Haley should keep going and give the party a choice against Trump. Haley has no official Senate endorsements while Trump has 27 — more than half the conference — but that doesn’t mean she lacks fans.

“She’s great … and I’m really proud of her. I think it’s good to have that discussion and highlight the different candidates. So, I’d love to see her stay in,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), the No. 4 GOP leader, who is officially neutral even after Trump won her state’s caucus.

Haley’s showing in New Hampshire’s Tuesday primary will cast a shadow the following weeks leading up to South Carolina, with one question on most Republican minds: Is there any appetite for a one-on-one primary battle with Trump, or is the whole thing over already? There are 22 unaffiliated GOP senators, ranging from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to rank-and-file members. If Haley is crushed, some of them will are likely to swing around to Trump quickly.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she hopes Haley will stay in the race, “but obviously it’s going to depend on what the margin is tomorrow … I hope she does very well.” Collins, who voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial, stayed neutral in the 2024 primary because she had many friends in the race at the outset.

“They’ve got to look at the data and look at the path and make the decision that’s right for her,” unaligned Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said of Haley. “Statistically, it’s a steep hill. I have tremendous respect for Nikki. She’d make a good president.”

A couple other senators, Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota and Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer simply said they needed to see what happens in New Hampshire before commenting. Another neutral senator said it’s pretty much over either way.

“The handwriting is on the wall,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who said he will support the eventual GOP nominee. “The sooner we can unify behind a single candidate the better our chances of beating President Biden, which I think is the ultimate objective.”

Even some of those who desperately want to beat Trump aren’t seeing much of a path. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said that Haley has “run a very effective campaign, but what was once a long shot has become a very long shot.”

And what about an endorsement from New Hampshire’s 2012 primary winner? “I’m not going to curse her with that pronouncement,” Romney said. “But I won’t be supporting President Trump.”