Nikki Haley hailed for Iowa surge, but Trump still dominant

Haley has jumped to 16% in the new Des Moines Register survey, tying her with DeSantis

Nikki Haley’s positive press is on the rise, along with her polling numbers.

There had already been a spate of “Haley’s Moment” stories, but the gold-standard poll in Iowa is fueling another round.

The former U.N. ambassador has jumped to 16%, up from 6% in the new Des Moines Register survey, which ties her with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is down three points among likely caucus-goers and has already been the subject of premature political obits.

Haley has run a good campaign, performed well in both debates, and her international experience looms larger now that the Israel-Hamas war is dominating the headlines. Her boost in Iowa has come partially from independent and suburban voters.

Haley is “breaking through at the right moment,” veteran GOP operative Mike Murphy told Politico in a piece the day before the poll was published. “Everything else has been ridiculous preseason coverage, like baseball teams at summer training … I think it all starts now.”

And yet… Donald Trump is still dominating the campaign. The Register/NBC poll has the former president way ahead at 43%.

So never-Trumpers are now calling for every other Republican to drop out and get behind Haley, this in the wake of Mike Pence folding his tent, but that’s not going to happen.

Trailing the field are Tim Scott, who says it’s Iowa or bust, at 7%, and Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy, who are both at 4%.

Trump’s detractors are excited about one statistic: 37% of his voters say they’re keeping their options open before the January caucuses. That means they could switch, but peeling them away may be more difficult than it sounds.

Consider this: 47% of Trump supporters say they’re extremely enthusiastic about their man, more than twice as many say that about Haley and nearly twice the level of enthusiasm for DeSantis.

It’s not all bad news for DeSantis, though. Some 27% say he’s their second choice, and another 25% are actively considering him.

Although so much depends on who turns out for caucuses on a cold January night, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Haley is now more competitive in a race for second place.

For all of our collective obsession with polls, several caveats are in order. Past candidates have surged to victory in Iowa in the final weeks – Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee all won the caucuses after emerging from the pack. (All went on to get trounced in the campaign, for what it’s worth.)

What’s more, the caucuses, with their complicated rules and the importance of being a second choice, can be hard to predict.

At the Republican Jewish Conference over the weekend, Haley assailed Trump as “confused” for his remarks about Hezbollah being “very smart” and his past praise of the leaders of China and North Korea. Along with the Iranian ayatollah, “they’re the most evil dictators in the world.”

DeSantis waited a long time, probably too long, to directly criticize Trump. His attempt to market himself as Trump without the baggage didn’t work because most of those voters decided they’d rather have the real thing.

Haley is trying to assemble a new coalition.

“She’s digging in across demographics,” pollster J. Ann Selzer said of the former South Carolina governor.

What the press is calling Haley’s “breakout” may well prove to be real, especially in later primary states, but she’s still got a long way to go to catch up with the man who sent her to the United Nations.