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Why Wall Street Is Betting On Nikki Haley

She can beat Biden, but first she has to neutralize Trump.

Photo by Gage Skidmore under CC BY-SA 2.0

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She can beat Biden, but first she has to neutralize Trump.

You have to hand it to the GOP, even with former president Donald Trump dominating the polls, they know how to get a back-up ready, just in case. Which is more than one can say for the Democrats, who have done little to nothing to queue anyone up other than President Biden, who, at 81, is the oldest president in the history of the United States.

So far, the best-positioned runner-up to Trump appears to be former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who has attracted deep-pocketed donors across Wall Street, while emerging as one of Trump’s strongest challengers amid a series of well-turned televised presidential debates.

The list of billionaires openly throwing their support behind Haley is growing – and she has not shied away from assiduously courting them.

This rarefied cohort has included former George Soros protégé and billionaire philanthropist, Stanley Druckenmiller, chief executive of the Duquesne Family Office, as well as Paul Singer, founder and co-chief executive of Elliott Investment Management (if Singer’s name sounds slightly familiar to you, he was one of the billionaire investors who got tangled up in the Supreme Court gifts-giving scandal earlier this year).

If anyone was in doubt about the non-Trump Republican vote coalescing behind Haley, this week’s endorsement by the octopussian donor network of industrialist billionaires Charles and David Koch (also pivotal players in that Supreme Court fiasco) put that to rest.

The Koch’s libertarian conservative political advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity Action, announced from the outset that it would not be supporting Trump, but vowed to back a single candidate in the Republican presidential primary for the first time ever. On Tuesday, it said that candidate would be Haley, kicking off a multimillion-dollar ad campaign in a bid to propel her into the Oval Office.

Calling Haley the “candidate who can turn the page on our political dysfunction and win,” Americans for Prosperity Action’s chief executive Emily Seidel said the Koch group had the resources necessary to bolster Haley’s candidacy, based on “years of investment.” She added, “We can’t keep looking to the politicians of the past to fix the problems of today. Nikki Haley represents a new generation of leadership and offers a bold, positive vision for our future.”

One reason why Wall Street and the Kochs may have a preference for Haley is because, in addition to performing well at the debates against the other non-Trump candidates, she’s happy to heap on the tax cuts, although the U.S. currently collects less revenue as a percentage of gross domestic product than virtually any other advanced economy.

Critics of Haley contend that she will have trouble balancing the nation’s budget, which she says she wishes to do, if she’s also bent on slashing more taxes. Summarizing her platform in a recent column, economist Paul Krugman cast her as a candidate willing to cater to the priorities of the wealthy and elite, noting, “On social issues and the fate of democracy, she appears to be a pure weather vane, turning with the political winds. On fiscal and economic policy, she’s a hard-right advocate of tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the working class. If calling someone a populist has any meaning these days, she’s the exact opposite.”

In accepting the Koch endorsement, Haley framed the upcoming presidential election as “a choice between freedom and socialism, individual liberty and big government, fiscal responsibility and spiraling debt,” proclaiming, “we have a country to save, and I’m grateful to have [Americans for Prosperity Action] by our side.”

November has been a banner month for Haley, starting with polling that not only showed her beating Biden in a head-to-head matchup, but also outperforming Trump in key swing states of Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada and Arizona. But before she can prove her mettle against Biden, she will have to steal the GOP nomination from Trump – who leads the polls – and time is running out to do that.

Earlier this month, Haley attracted boldface names to meet-and-greet events in New York, which drew attendees like BlackRock chief executive Larry Fink. Former Goldman Sachs president and chief operating officer Gary Cohn also co-hosted a private fundraising event for Haley. The two share a connection to Trump and each other, as once upon a time (actually, just five years ago) Cohn served under Trump as the director of the National Economic Council and Haley as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Haley’s endorsements come at a perilous time for Biden, whose performance in the national polls has suffered versus Trump, while putting the GOP in the politically expedient position of supporting the first woman of color for president of the United States. (And also?: Haley, at 51, is much younger than both Biden and Trump, who is 77.)

Haley has tried to be diplomatic about running against Trump, her former boss, not in the least because she will need to successfully woo his supporters away from him to clinch the Republican nomination. But if the polls can be believed, it may be a lot easier for her to beat Biden than Trump.

At a recent town hall gathering, she walked a fine line, telling GOP voters Trump was the “right president at the right time,” but also attracted chaos, “rightly or wrongly,” adding: “When we’ve got an economy out of control and we’ve got wars around the world, we can’t afford any more chaos.”