The writing has been on the wall for some time now. First was the defeat in Iowa followed by New Hampshire. Then came the devastating show in the Nevada primary where “none of the candidates” — equivalent to India’s NOTA or none of the above — polled higher. In the Nevada caucuses of Thursday former President Donald Trump is expected to bag all 26 delegates. And if polls are to be believed, bigger shockers are in store in South Carolina and on Super Tuesday.

Still Nikki Haley with just 17 delegates to her credit of the 1,215 needed to secure the nomination in Milwaukee this July continues to chug along hoping that political fortunes will start turning her way. But political operatives and those savvy in the world of presidential campaigns make the point that Haley’s road from now on is only going to get rockier, not smoother, by any stretch of imagination. In fact, polls are showing that Haley’s hopes on the college educated, independents and newer Republicans are not holding up.

Her troubles will begin in South Carolina (February 24) where in spite of being a two time popular Governor, she trails her former President by at least thirty points. And Super Tuesday of March 5 where a clutch of states have their show including southern states seen as the bastion of the 45th President, Haley’s comeback is seen as a long-shot, if not a dream.

Down the line Haley will have to look at large states like California where Republican primary laws give away the state’s 169 delegates to a candidate that gets past 50 per cent of the vote. And there is Texas and Florida. In all of these large states, Trump is seen to have the edge. Arguing that her campaign always knew that Nevada was a “scam” that was “rigged” by Trump “from the very beginning” would cut little ice down the line.

One exclusive media report had it that the Republican National Committee (RNC) has urged Haley to move out of the way so that focus could be on fund raising for the November 5 showdown. With the former United Nations ambassador continuing to lean on donors and pulling in close to $17 million in January, the RNC is getting worried that Republican fat-cats and deep-pockets will start pulling away. And it is common knowledge that Trump’s campaign coffers are being drained by his legal bills.

Legal fees

As Haley put it, “He (Trump) has spent $50 million of campaign donations on legal fees. And he with his own mouth said he’s going to be in a courtroom more time than than he is going to be able to campaign.” But the former South Carolina governor forgets that Trump wants precisely this! Spending time addressing civil and criminal issues brings publicity free of cost; and the more time he spends in a courtroom, Trump’s popularity and approval rating seem to climb, a win-win proposition.

For now Haley is on a track that believes that somehow things will change between now and March 5. That brings up the question of what next should she fall short of the mark. Some would argue that she will stay as long as the cheque book allows. But with her steady donors already facing heat from Trump and his campaign, the days of exiting the race may not be too far away. At 51, Haley has many more Presidential bids in front of her is one refrain.

But there is a chance that Haley could still be left with hope and that comes by way of courts tying down the hands of Trump. Facing 91 indictments, the former President has already been dealt a major blow on immunity by the Appeals Court, a decision that the former President could appeal to a full 15 member Appeals Court or take it directly to the Supreme Court which is seen as stacked in his favour.

Soon to come is the apex court ruling on whether the state of Colorado could refuse to have Trump on its ballot. A verdict in favour of Colorado would be a trendsetter for others to follow. For Haley it is one of being there till the end and not lose by default by withdrawing. But for now it is a campaign on a wing with a lot of prayers.

The writer is a senior journalist who has reported from Washington DC on North America and United Nations