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VICTOR JOECKS: Will Haley try to beat Trump or help him?

Losing may be Nikki Haley’s best chance at winning the presidency one day.

The worst-kept secret in the political world is that former U.N. Ambassador Haley is running for president. She’s scheduled to formally announce her candidacy on Wednesday. Axios shared her launch video on Tuesday. It laid out Haley’s biography and accomplishments.

The best part was her direct defense of America’s founding principles. In making that case, she referenced growing up as a child of immigrants.

She’s the first well-known challenger to Donald Trump, who announced his candidacy in November. Her introduction video makes only a veiled reference to the former president, calling for “a new generation of leadership.” Trump will be 78 years old in 2024.

At least until Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announces, Trump is likely to be the dominant player in the Republican primary. He’s the two-time nominee and leads DeSantis in many polls. Haley is generally under 5 percent. Her announcement might be the high-water mark of her run.

But her candidacy is interesting for two reasons. The first is that Trump wasn’t able to scare rivals away from pursuing the nomination. The point of Trump’s early announcement was to do just that. With Haley breaking the glass ceiling, it didn’t happen. Several other Republican candidates are almost certain to announce in the coming months. That group includes DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Expect several hopefuls from this group to run as well: South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

For Trump, clearing the field would have been ideal. A crowded field, though, is good alternative. Trump’s great strength as a candidate is the fierce loyalty he inspires among about a third of Republican primary voters. In 2016, he faced a crowded field. That solid base of support allowed him to win many early states by plurality. He racked up delegates and created unstoppable momentum.

In a head-to-head matchup with DeSantis, Trump would struggle mightily. In a crowded field, Trump doesn’t have to expand his appeal. He just has to make sure one rival — likely DeSantis — can’t consolidate support.

Haley is unlikely to win the 2024 nomination. She would need both Trump and DeSantis to fall dramatically, while emerging from the field of second-tier candidates. That’s a tall task.

That leads to the other thing worth watching. It’s much easier to chart a path for Haley to become vice president by using her presidential campaign to ingratiate herself to Trump by attacking DeSantis. It would be a lot easier for Trump to forgive Haley’s disloyalty in running against him if she helped take down his biggest rival. If DeSantis builds a commanding lead early, the reverse could happen as well, with Haley going after Trump. There’s less to be gained for Haley in that course of action. DeSantis doesn’t need the appeal of a female running mate the way Trump does.

Haley may say she’s running for president, but don’t be surprised if she ends up angling for the second slot this cycle. That could set her up to lead the ticket in 2028.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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