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Nikki Haley gets Koch endorsement to beat Trump


The political network of the billionaire Charles Koch is throwing its support behind former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley in an effort to beat former President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is close to hitting a major milestone on the ground in Iowa ahead of those January caucuses. Here to talk us through the latest from the 2024 presidential campaign is NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Hi there.


SUMMERS: Domenico, let's start with Nikki Haley and this big endorsement. Tell us, how big is it? Or is it too little, too late?

MONTANARO: Yeah, well, it's a pretty big deal. I mean, Haley, you know, will take what she can get. I mean, it's a major coup for her to get the backing of Americans for Prosperity's political arm, AFP Action. Any of the other GOP candidates would have wanted their deep pockets and on-the-ground infrastructure helping them out. It's especially important now because Haley's locked in this battle with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for who can consolidate that anti-Trump vote just weeks ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

SUMMERS: And what did the group have to say about why they are jumping in and backing Haley?

MONTANARO: Well, AFP Action put out a memo saying that it likes Haley's vision and noted it believes that she has the best chance to beat Trump and Biden and win over crucial moderates and independents. The group also went up right away with an ad supporting her. Here's some of what it outlines.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR #1: A true fiscal conservative, a positive vision for the future, Nikki Haley's plan - drive down our debt. Take on reckless spending from both parties. Unleash America's energy economy. She'll turn our country around and bring back opportunity and optimism.

MONTANARO: And you hear that emphasis there on cutting debt and increasing energy production. It's notable that Haley is one of the few candidates out there who's explicitly talked about cutting Social Security and Medicare to try to reduce the country's debt, which is now $31 trillion. You know, it's pretty unpopular, though, to try and cut those entitlement programs, as we know, and it's a big difference, by the way, with former President Trump. He said he doesn't want further cuts to the programs.

As far as energy production, remember, Koch Industries is heavily involved in oil refining and pipelines. But largely, this sounds like it was a political decision rather than really a policy one. You know, the group outlined a lot of polling in its memo that they say shows Haley is the strongest candidate who can win in the general election and help Republican candidates up and down the ballot.

SUMMERS: OK. And what about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis? Where does he fit into this, and do you think this endorsement is going to hurt him?

MONTANARO: Well, it doesn't help. You know, I mean, he really could have used this endorsement - not just the money, but the stamp of approval it would have provided. You know, DeSantis' campaign has really been struggling. He's behind Trump in Iowa by 30 points in an average of the polls. The head of a super PAC supporting him just resigned, and there have been reports of infighting. So this line DeSantis has tried to walk - this attempt to be Trump without the baggage - it really hasn't worked so far, and it certainly didn't help him win this endorsement.

SUMMERS: So what is the path for DeSantis, then?

MONTANARO: It goes through Iowa. I mean, DeSantis has to go - is going all-in there and is expected to make it to all 99 of Iowa's counties very soon. He's got one more. He's still got more staff on the ground than Haley, and DeSantis has a lot of money and outside help. In fact, a new super PAC just popped up, Fight Right. And it has a new ad up in Iowa hitting Haley, and it's using a familiar name. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR #2: We know her as Crooked Hillary. But to Nikki Haley, she's her role model - the reason she ran for office.

MONTANARO: So the ad pulling out the oppo (ph) file there...


MONTANARO: ...Going after Nikki Haley saying that, you know, Hillary Clinton had inspired her, which she had said she felt inspired to do 'cause a woman was running. You know, I felt like I was really put in a time machine there. But, you know, DeSantis' supporters, you can hear there, are trying to pull Haley down any way they can. They really can't afford for Haley to leapfrog him, especially in Iowa. That's his path - win or have a strong second-place showing there and hope that that gives him some momentum...


MONTANARO: ...Going forward. But that's not going to happen if Haley does well in Iowa and New Hampshire or her home state of South Carolina.

SUMMERS: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thank you so much.

MONTANARO: You're so welcome.

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NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.