What’s next for Nikki Haley?

Losing is never easy.

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

Giving up can be painful, an act of minor humiliation performed on a public stage. Conversations about what’s next—whether to race or think about next adventures—are tough. So candidates who have spent months running for president often take days to realize their campaigns are over.

Nikki Haley, former ambassador to the United Nations and former governor of South Carolina, is facing a decision of her own this morning after losing to former President Donald J. Trump in the New Hampshire primary. This was the race she wanted — a showdown in a state where independents are a bloc of independents and Republicans are more moderate than in Iowa. It’s 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 calendar is Ms. Haley’s backyard — “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 vowed to stay in it on Tuesday. She invested a lot of time and money in advertising the state of her birth and won two terms as governor. But South Carolina has become Trump territory since she left 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 to consolidate his party’s support. In early February, he is expected to win the Nevada caucus, a contest that Ms. Haley is skipping.)

That makes South Carolina risky.

A defeat there would be both embarrassing and damaging to any hope she has of a future White House campaign.

On the other hand, if she were to win there, she could present it as an upset of Mr. Trump’s back, and position her to fight — well, maybe we’d better save the memo her campaign manager Betsy Ankeny sent out here on Tuesday.

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

Ms. Haley has vowed to stay, but after a night of talks with her advisers and supporters, she may reconsider.

Candidates are reviewed. The morning brings the final election result, which can be sobering. Donors stop writing checks. Loyal supporters begin to approach the exits.

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida also said he was staying in the race after finishing second in Iowa, trailing Mr. Trump by nearly 30 points. This lasted for 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 caucus math: 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 hasn’t already done in 2024: Win.

Although Ms. Haley has stepped up her attacks on Mr. Trump in the past few months — primarily because of his age and mental acuity — the current outing could spare her from earning the longstanding enmity of Trump supporters, or at least Republicans who want to rally behind Mr. Trump and turn with general elections.

It could also set her up to reboot in 2028. She’ll have time to rebuild and launch Haley 2.0.

“If I worked for her, I’d go out and get rich, go away for a while, and then in four years she’d come out with the biggest 18-minute ad you’ve ever seen and set the party on fire,” said Mike Murphy, a longtime Republican strategist.

The big question: Would Ms. Haley join Mr. DeSantis in supporting the man she has criticized for weeks?

Ms. Haley could commit to staying in the race for the long haul regardless of what happens in South Carolina, hoping that somehow, by the time the Republican National Committee meets in Milwaukee in July, Mr. Trump, who is 77 years old and has been charged with 91 felonies, somehow ended up not being nominated.

Ms. Haley would be the only declared candidate to remain in the race.

A holdover would not win her many friends in her own party, if she appears to be rooting for circumstances, whether Mr. Trump’s health or the courts, to force him to abandon the ticket.

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

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