Is Nikki Haley's Koch network endorsement the shake-up the GOP primary has been waiting for?

By throwing its weight behind the insurgent former UN ambassador, the conservative PAC hopes to tilt the scales against Trump

GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley and billionaire Charles Koch
The influential Americans for Prosperity Action group has thrown its significant political heft behind Haley's surging campaign
(Image credit: Illustrated / Getty Images)

For months now, the basic dynamic of the 2024 Republican presidential primary race has been largely the same; Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, and "anti-woke" entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy all grappling for second place atop a crowded (but narrowing) field of dark horse aspirants as former President Donald Trump enjoys such a commanding lead overall that he can skip every debate so far without it making a dent in his standing. In so much as there's been a race at all, it's been as much a question of abstract hypotheticals as it has any sort of competition for a nomination that is, as of now, largely out of reach for any candidate without the name "Trump."  

On Tuesday, that dynamic was given a major jolt by the influential Americans for Prosperity Action group, which threw its significant political heft behind Haley's surging campaign, calling her a candidate who can "turn the page and win" in a memo outlining its support. 

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Founded by the brothers David and Charles Koch to be what Politico described as their "main political arm," AFP — while independent from the Koch Industries empire itself — has been a juggernaut in right-wing politics for years, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on races to become one of the most influential hubs of American political power in a generation. Now, by backing Haley, the group officially enters the already contentious 2024 presidential fray with an unmistakable signal to voters and donors alike that this is the candidate around whom the nebulous never-Trump movement should coalesce.

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Still, for all its political clout and financial influence, is the Koch network's endorsement the seismic shakeup needed to topple Trump from his primary perch? 

What the commentators said

The AFP endorsement gives Haley's campaign "organizational muscle and financial heft" against Trump, but more immediately against DeSantis in the pair's battle for second place, according to The New York Times. To date, her campaign has not had the "organizational strength" of DeSantis', thanks to the Never Back Down super PAC which supports him. Now, however, Haley will have access to "a direct-mail operation, field workers to knock on doors and people making phone calls to prospective voters in Iowa and beyond." 

AFP's announcement is one of the "further signs of Nikki-mentum," The Dispatch reported, highlighting recent polls showing that the former South Carolina governor "outperforms both Trump and DeSantis in national and swing-state head-to-head polls against Biden." But, the outlet noted, Haley and AFP are somewhat of an "odd match" given her hawkish foreign policy positions, and the Kochs' more restrained stance. Ultimately, however, the group wasn't hoping for an "ideological soul mate," so much as a candidate it felt could beat Trump (and ultimately Biden) in the coming months. 

While the endorsement has "created an opening" for Haley, it's hardly a "game ender," CNN cautioned. The institutional support it brings doesn't "necessarily translate to raw voter support in any election" much less one with the frontrunner so significantly far ahead of his nearest rivals. GOP strategist Cam Savage told the network he "wouldn't really look at it as an endorsement" and instead sees the announcement as "the next step in terms of a coalescing" support for her campaign.

In particular, the endorsement "marks another blow" to DeSantis, who has "lost to Haley his grip on claims of being the top alternative to Trump," according to The Wall Street Journal. A DeSantis spokesperson responded to the endorsement by telling the paper that every AFP donation to Haley should be "reported as an in-kind to the Trump campaign."

What next?

Preempting any potential rift in the broader conservative tapestry, AFP's endorsement of Haley included a message of "thanks and appreciation to Governor DeSantis," acknowledging that some of his supporters "will be disappointed in our decision." But, the group stressed, "we are entering a time period that demands choices."

For his part, Trump responded to the endorsement on Wednesday with typical bombast, offering a preview of any future attacks on Haley, calling her "a very weak and ineffective Birdbrain" on his Truth Social platform. "She's down 50 Points," he added. "She better start running FAST!" before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 15. 

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