Nov 30, 2023

Nikki Haley gets Koch brothers endorsement.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley received a major endorsement. Image: Gage Skidmore
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley received a major endorsement. Image: Gage Skidmore

Plus, a question about that NYT-Siena College poll.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

Nikki Haley gets a big endorsement. Plus, a reader question about that NYT-Siena College poll.

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  • Tomorrow, I'm publishing a Friday edition titled "I changed my mind about voter ID." It was a difficult and fun piece to write, and if you are a Tangle member it’ll arrive in your inbox tomorrow at 12 pm ET. This is one of the Friday editions that is for Tangle members only.
  • I'm giving a talk at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, today about media bias and the loss of trust in the news. Info on the event can be found here. It starts at 6pm ET in the Strickland Auditorium and is free and open to the public. If you are in the Lexington area, I encourage you to come out and join us for the talk!

Quick hits.

  1. Henry Kissinger, the celebrated and reviled former secretary of state, died at the age of 100. (The death
  2. Federal prosecutors alleged that an Indian government employee directed a plot to assassinate an American citizen in New York City. A similar accusation was made against the Indian government by the Canadian government earlier this year. (The accusation
  3. Life expectancy in the United States rose by more than a year in 2022, the first increase since the pandemic began. (The data
  4. Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is expected to step down from Congress in the coming weeks, according to multiple GOP lawmakers. (The speculation
  5. Israel and Hamas extended a temporary ceasefire for an additional day. Hamas also claimed responsibility for a shooting that killed three people in Jerusalem a day after two Palestinian boys were killed during a raid in the West Bank. (The latest)

Today's topic.

Nikki Haley. On Tuesday, Americans for Prosperity Action (AFPA), the political network founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, endorsed Nikki Haley in the Republican primary. The decision bolsters Haley's campaign at a time when her stock is rising as one of the primary challengers to Trump in the race for the Republican nomination.

The endorsement is a major blow to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has tried to position himself as the main challenger to Trump. FiveThirtyEight's polling average shows Trump winning 58.7% of the Republican primary vote, while DeSantis gets 13% and Haley gets 9.9%.

Emily Seidel, a senior adviser to Americans for Prosperity Action, said Haley could bring in key independent and moderate voters who have abandoned Trump, and said having Haley at the top of the ticket would "boost candidates up and down the ballot."

While DeSantis's poll numbers have fallen since April, Haley's have been steadily rising over the last two months as she's become a favorite of Republican donors and opinion makers. The Koch endorsement will give her campaign access to field workers, a direct mail operation, and phone banking in Iowa, The New York Times reported. Americans for Prosperity Action has already exceeded $9 million in anti-Trump expenditures.

Trump spokesman Steven Cheung derided the endorsement.

“Americans for Prosperity — the political arm of the China First, America Last movement — has chosen to endorse a pro-China, open borders, and globalist candidate in Nikki ‘Birdbrain’ Haley,” he said, adding that no amount of money will stop Trump from winning the nomination.

Interestingly, many of Haley's foreign policy views — including her hawkishness on Russia and her stance that the U.S. should not have withdrawn from Afghanistan — run counter to the Koch network's views. Despite spending millions to advance foreign policy positions that contrast with Haley's in recent years, the group still decided to endorse her campaign for president as an alternative to Trump.

The fourth Republican primary debate is set for December 6th. Meanwhile, DeSantis is set to debate California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) tonight, and the Iowa caucuses are now 47 days away.

Today, we are going to take a look at some arguments from the right and left about this endorsement, then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • The right mostly thinks Haley’s momentum in the primary is legitimate and the Koch network’s support will make her even more competitive against Trump. 
  • Some say the GOP should go all in on Haley as its preferred 2024 nominee. 
  • Others bash Haley’s recent comments on the campaign trail and suggest she has no shot at winning the nomination. 

In The New York Post, Isaac Schorr wrote about why “the powerful Koch network’s Nikki Haley endorsement matters.”

The effect of Americans for Prosperity Action’s Haley endorsement “will be significant, though not decisive,” Schorr said. “What does it say that the Koch network is supporting someone so out-of-step with its own outlook on such momentous issues? Haley’s free-market bona fides surely played a role, but the other major contender in the primary, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, is no slouch in this area and hews much closer to the Koch view of foreign policy. The answer, then, is AFP Action and its backers — who are putting millions on the line — have determined Haley is much better suited than DeSantis to take on Trump.

“It’s a conclusion that’s not without merit. For months now, Haley has been climbing in the polls on the back of several strong debate performances,” Schorr added. “All this is indicative not just of some amorphous ‘momentum’ but a proven ability to move voters into her column that inspires confidence in both the candidate and her campaign… That the pacifist Koch network just endorsed the field’s most hawkish candidate shows there’s been a serious shift in thinking among the donor and strategist class.”

In The Boston Globe, Jennifer Nassour argued that the “GOP should dump Trump and rally around Nikki Haley.”

“We harken back to Ronald Reagan often, pointing to him as the defining leader of the Republican Party who united much of the nation and set us on the path to prosperity. It’s that principled leadership that defined a generation and there are a number of alternative candidates to Trump who embody what it is that made Reagan so successful. I and many others in our party are rallying behind Haley, a fearless leader with executive, legislative, and international experience,” Nassour wrote. 

“If we as Republicans are serious about winning in 2024, it begins with nominating the person best suited to not only beat Biden in November, but rebuild the respect for Republican principles that have been lost over the last eight years. We need a leader who can build majorities in Congress, get our spending back under control, and give Americans hope for the future of the nation. I believe that person is Nikki Haley, but I know for certain that it isn’t Donald Trump.”

In American Greatness, Paul Ingrassia criticized Haley’s campaign positions and said she “wants to destroy the First Amendment.”

Haley said she wants “to use government power to effectively dox every anonymous account on private social media companies,” and her “ravenous desire to create government lists of people she deems enemies of the state is something out of the Biden regime’s playbook. It is already well known how the intelligence agencies and DOJ are already doing this with Trump supporters who peacefully demonstrated at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, as well as for legions of other law-abiding Americans who protested woke indoctrination and the teaching of critical race theory at their children’s schools, or who so much as questioned the integrity of the 2020 election results,” Ingrassia wrote. “Even though we are going to likely dodge a bullet as a country and never, thankfully, be forced to suffer through a ‘Haley administration,’ arguably the damage has been already done. 

“The fact that a Republican presidential candidate, the last party with any shot at preserving the First Amendment, can go on national television and mouth the same anti-free speech bromides as the Left, sounding like Antifa in its most radical mood, without significant condemnation is alarming,” Ingrassia said. “In a proper country, the political climate would be such that no major party candidate — unless he was an insane crackpot — would even think to mouth something as grotesquely anti-American as Haley did.”

What the left is saying.

  • The left is mixed on Haley’s prospects in the Republican primary but largely considers her a preferable alternative to Trump. 
  • Some say her odds of beating Trump are slim, though, and GOP donors are wasting their money supporting her. 
  • Others suggest there are still a number of scenarios where Haley could end up the Republican nominee.

In Vox, Zack Beauchamp said “Nikki Haley has no shot. Why can’t the GOP billionaire class see that?”

“The only shot for Haley or anyone else to win the nomination is if Trump drops out — or drops dead. So why are all of these very rich people making such a terrible investment? To answer that question, we need to move out of the realm of electoral politics and into the domains of ideology and psychology. The quest to find a Don Quixote to tilt at a Trump-shaped windmill is less about Republican politics as they are than Republican politics as a certain class of people want them to be,” Beauchamp wrote. “Confronted with two options they don’t like, the billionaire class is doing what many people do: insist that there’s a third option, no matter how fantastical it might be.”

“Trump is not some kind of aberration, a flash in the pan akin to candidates like Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann in previous cycles. He and — crucially — his worldview are so popular among Republican primary voters that they can’t be beaten by throwing money at someone like Nikki Haley. That means the 2024 election is not a competition between an ordinary Democrat and an ordinary Republican,” Beauchamp said. “Instead of acknowledging this reality, AFPA has simply chosen to live in a fantasy land where the GOP is still the party of limited government libertarianism — and where Democrats are, implausibly, Trumpism’s mirror image threat to American democracy.”

In MSNBC, Zeeshan Aleem argued “the battle for second place in the GOP presidential race is far from meaningless.”

The Koch network endorsement “matters both materially and symbolically. AFP Action has deep pockets, and it has already spent a significant amount of money on the race. It has spent $4 million on ads so far in the election cycle and raised more than $70 million in the first half of the year,” Aleem wrote. “More broadly, AFP Action’s decision is a signal that in the ‘invisible primary’ — during which powerful donors, activists and party elites try to pick candidates before the actual primaries begin — Haley is moving ahead of DeSantis.”

“Haley’s rise in popularity also strengthens her case for being picked as the vice presidential candidate. Haley’s assets are exactly Trump’s weaknesses: She has the polish of a conventional general election candidate and codes as a (relative) moderate, and she has the capacity to engender trust from the kinds of MAGA-skeptical suburban Republicans who fled the GOP during the Trump era. This is still an unlikely scenario, given that Trump would have plenty of options, and it’s hard to imagine him channeling the humility required to partner with a rival. But her growing popularity makes her an increasingly defensible pick.”

In The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Lynn Schmidt wrote “it's not too late for the GOP to dump Trump and pick Nikki.”

“Haley remains the clearest opponent to the former president, especially when it comes to matters of foreign policy, national security, and military defense. She is knowledgeable and articulate on the threats facing the United States and democracies around the world,” Schmidt said. “Haley has consistently denounced Russia. In her first speech before the UN Security Council in 2017, Haley criticized Russia for invading Ukraine and the annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014. Haley was one of the Trump administration’s fiercest critics of Russia… [and] has been a strong defender of Israel.”

“Haley needs to take that big stick while wearing her self-reported five inch heels on the road and keep explaining to Republican voters in particular why isolationism is bad, why policy over personality will keep America safer, and that she is a winner in the general election. Haley’s path to beating Trump will be challenging. It will likely take Independents and Democrats voting in open Republican primaries, like the primary elections we have in Missouri, to even get her close to the former president. If you believe in peace through strength, then pick Nikki.”

My take.

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  • It doesn’t matter — Trump’s lead is insurmountable.
  • Still, it does tell us about the candidates who appeal to the donor class, and who they’re backing going forward.
  • Maybe Haley will be VP, and maybe Trump won’t be on the ballot, but I just don’t see either of those things happening.

It isn't going to change much.

I've been saying for a few months now that Trump is going to win the nomination and nothing I've seen since then has made me second guess that. It doesn't take a genius political prognosticator: He is dominating all of the challengers in the polls, and no politician has ever blown the lead he has in a primary race in modern politics.

Still, there are a few things that are fascinating about AFPA’s decision. First is that major political donors like them continue to pick Haley over DeSantis. Despite DeSantis still polling better, it is clear many of them view Haley as the superior politician. And, frankly, I think they're right. She's performed better in the debates, she feels more relatable and polished, and her domestic political views are a lot more appealing to moderates and independents than DeSantis’s.

Second is that they are spending this money at all. I've been saying since early August that the GOP primary is over, even as we’ve reported on some damning indictments of Trump. Which makes you wonder why all these donors are spending so much money to try to fight the inevitable. I think there are two worthy theories: One is that they are preparing for a world where Trump can't run — either because of his legal troubles or a health issue (don't forget, Trump is pretty old, too!). Second is that they are simply preparing the 2028 batch of GOP candidates — if Trump has it locked up now, you might as well see what Haley is made of down the stretch.

Finally, I'm struck by the optimism coming from the never-Trump corners of the political establishment. A consistent emphasis in their reporting and opinion pieces about this endorsement is that Haley also just got a much-needed network of volunteers to join her campaign — in other words, the kind of campaign infrastructure a lot of critics have said she was missing. But still, for those never-Trumpers to believe that an endorsement is going to change the course of this race in a way that is meaningful, without Haley appealing to the conservative base the way Trump does, is just wishful thinking.

And while I’m not convinced of this, there is always the possibility we are really witnessing a race for vice president. I'm skeptical that Haley would attach her political future to Trump the way Pence did, but I also wouldn't be surprised if the opportunity to be one step away from the Oval office was too alluring for her to pass up. For Trump, Haley as a running mate would actually make a lot of sense (and probably help him in the general election), though everything we've seen from his 2024 campaign seems to indicate he is only interested in partnering with diehard loyalists, not folks like Haley who are willing to challenge him on the national stage.

For now, the Koch brothers’ endorsement is only notable because of what it says about the GOP donor class, Ron DeSantis, and Haley's future beyond 2024. Unless Trump goes down in legal flames, I don't see any way it has much of an impact in the actual race to be the Republican nominee.

New video!

A couple weeks ago we published an interview with Chloé Valdary that was behind a paywall. Today, we released that video on YouTube for everyone. In the conversation, Chloé and I discuss DEI programs, racial animosity in the U.S., and a project she is running that's tied to these issues.

Your questions, answered.

Q: I’m curious whether folks (anyone from normal dudes like me, to savvy political consultants like David Axelrod) may be taking [the NYT/Sienna] poll a bit too seriously? It seems to be an outlier.

— Alex from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

Tangle: It's certainly too early to be drawing wide conclusions, but I think with his sinking poll numbers there's good reason for Biden and his supporters to at least be concerned. And it’s more than just one poll — Biden’s net favorability is lower than Trump’s, and several other polls show Trump ahead

That said, by and large, I think you’re right to imply that the NYT/Siena poll has generated an outsized portion of headlines. National polls tend to show Biden ahead of Trump by about two percentage points, but the NYT/Siena poll was just buzzier. I think there are three reasons for that: 1) They focused on swing states, which is really what matters. 2) The poll showed Biden’s support weakening among key demographics like black voters, Hispanic voters, and young voters. 3) There’s something compelling about The New York Times forecasting doom for Biden. 

All that aside, the fact remains that it is still just one poll. For instance, a new Morning Consult poll showing Biden had gained four points got very little attention this week. 

Then of course there are still several elephants in the room. The largest among them is the timing: The election is still a year away. So much is going to happen between now and then that people probably won’t even remember this poll in the final runup to the election. Polls like this, a year out, have a notoriously hard time capturing how people actually make their decisions when they’re in the voting booth.

And there is still a parade of pachyderms left in the parlor. First of all, I honestly think the best indicator we have of the next election is the one we just had — this year — in which millions of people turned out when abortion was on the ballot. 

Which is elephant number two: Americans are still getting off the couch and getting in the polling booth in higher-than-expected numbers to say they want protections for abortion access. One of the big takeaways we had from the last Republican debate was that GOP leaders are moderating their messaging on abortion now, in real time. And that means the message Trump (or a different nominee) goes into next November with is still largely unknown.

That brings me to elephant number three, and as James Carville famously said, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Aside from his age, which isn’t going to make any surprise turns, this is what’s dragging Biden down in the polls. It’s what has the biggest impact on the largest number of voters. It’s what’s on top of the mind of every critic of every incumbent going back to the 19th century, and one NYT/Siena poll in November 2023 is going to mean precisely zero if and when the economy starts to sway in one direction or another.

And there are a lot of other major things that are still up in the air. What legislation will Congress enact in the next year? What new benchmark decisions will the Supreme Court issue? How will Biden and Trump both appear in the debates and how will the voters respond to them?

None of those questions are going to be answered by one poll in 2023.

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Under the radar.

Dogs could hold the key to longer and healthier human lives. Increasingly, scientists are studying dogs, which are genetically more similar to humans than other common subjects of aging research like mice, to explore treatments for age-related diseases, such as cancer and osteoarthritis. Initiatives like the Dog Aging Project at the University of Washington and Texas A&M are studying how physical activity in dogs relates to cognitive function over time, while a number of biotech startups are developing treatments to extend the lifespan of dogs that could also have applications for humans. The Wall Street Journal has the latest on where this research is headed (paywall).


  • 31.0%. The percentage of Americans who have a favorable view of Nikki Haley as of November 21, 2023, according to 538. 
  • 31.8%. The percentage of Americans who have an unfavorable view of Nikki Haley as of November 21, 2023.
  • 9.9%. Nikki Haley’s polling average in the Republican primary as of November 29, 2023.
  • 8.0%. Nikki Haley’s polling average in the Republican primary on October 29, 2023.
  • 44.7%. Donald Trump’s polling average in Iowa as of November 21, 2023.
  • 15.3%. Nikki Haley’s polling average in Iowa as of November 21, 2023.
  • 68%. The percentage of Republican voters who say they would support Trump in a head-to-head matchup with Haley, according to a Yahoo News/YouGov poll. 
  • 20%. The percentage of Republican voters who say they would support Haley in a head-to-head matchup with Trump. 

The extras.

  • One year ago today we wrote about the Indian Child Welfare Act.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter was the gallery of winners from the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.
  • The Voters' Right to Act: 607 Tangle readers responded to our poll asking about the Eighth Circuit Court's recent decision that only the Attorney General can bring challenges under the Voting Rights Act with 83% saying they strongly oppose the decision. 9% said they mostly oppose the decision, 3% mostly support the decision, 2% strongly support the decision, and 4% were unsure or had no opinion. "The title of the act is 'voting rights act.' We the people are the voters and as such should be able to sue when we are deprived of this right," one respondent said.
  • Nothing to do with politics: Tour the grandest gas stations in the country.
  • Take the poll. Who would you vote for in a 1:1 matchup between Nikki Haley and Joe Biden? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

When Ravi Bhalla was elected mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey, in 2017, one of his first priorities was making the city’s roads safer. Between 2014 and 2018, there were 4,500 crashes and three deaths on Hoboken streets, including an 89-year-old woman who was killed while attempting to cross the city’s main corridor. Once in office, Bhalla signed an executive order that committed Hoboken to Vision Zero, a global campaign to end traffic deaths entirely in localities around the world. Bhalla also set a goal to eliminate fatalities and injuries in Hoboken by 2030. The city’s efforts are already making an impact, with changes such as lowering the citywide speed limit, painting and repaving crosswalks, adding curb extensions, and creating new bike lanes. Now, Hoboken hasn’t reported a single traffic death since January 2017 and injuries from traffic accidents have dropped 41%. Bloomberg CityLab interviewed Bhalla about how the city has made it happen.

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