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Haley looks to Trump’s trials as she commits to extending campaign

By Kylie Atwood, CNN

(CNN) — Nikki Haley’s recent comments suggest that she sees a sweet spot for her campaign as former President Donald Trump’s legal drama intensifies – and potentially results in a criminal conviction – in the coming months.

“Just wait, just wait. March, April, May, June,” the former South Carolina governor said on Wednesday when asked about Trump’s support typically strengthening when he shows up in court. “When you see this and he is completely distracted and the American people are worried about the $34 trillion in debt, they are worried that their kids can’t read. … They are worried about wars around the world and he is talking about how he is victim.”

While Haley predicts that support for Trump will drop off in the coming months as he spends more time in the courtroom, she has also made the case that voters will not support Trump if he is criminally convicted.

“There is no way that the American people are going to vote for a convicted criminal. They’re not,” Haley said last week in an interview with NBC News. Trump has pleaded not guilty in all the cases against him.

Haley has long said that Trump would not be able to focus on a general election or beat President Joe Biden in large part because he is going to be spending so much time in court. Now she is also making the case that support for him could wane even before the GOP convention.

“Now he has three judgments against him. He’s going to be in court March and April, May and June. He has said himself he is going to spend more time in a courtroom than he is on the campaign trail. And so he’s been on a rant about what a victim he is,” Haley told supporters at a campaign event in her home state of South Carolina on Wednesday.

But the primary calendar and the timing of Trump’s trials create a challenging dynamic for Haley. Her campaign will likely have to make a decision about whether or not to stay in the race after Trump wins enough delegates to clinch the GOP nomination, but before his criminal trials have begun or concluded.

“Nikki ‘Birdbrain’ Haley and her campaign still can’t name one state they think they can win. She has become the candidate of choice for Democrats and Never Trumpers still afflicted with Trump Derangement Syndrome,” Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung told CNN in a statement.

This week, Haley indicated a willingness to stay in the race for as long as she has support from voters and the money to fuel her campaign.

“I’m campaigning every day, until the last person votes, because I believe in a better America and a brighter future for our kids. Nothing good in life comes easy,” Haley said on Tuesday in Greenville. “I’m willing to take the cuts, the bruises, and the name calling. Because the only way you get to the blessing is by going through the pain.”

Haley also pointed out that Trump lost 49% of the vote in Iowa and 46% of the vote in New Hampshire.

“That’s not good. We’re talking about almost half our voters,” Haley said.

Still, Haley resists drawing a connection between staying in the GOP presidential race and her predictions about Trump’s support waning in the coming months.

When she was recently asked if Trump getting bogged down in court appearances is impacting how long she stays in the race, Haley refused to give a definitive answer. She listed a whole host of reasons for why she is staying in the race, without mentioning Trump’s court cases.

“I’m staying in this because I think we have a country to save. I’m staying in this because I believe in what I’m fighting for. And I’m staying in this because it doesn’t matter what anybody else says,” Haley told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins. “We’re going to continue to fight this as long as we can fight it because I think that it’s that important.”

Haley’s campaign routinely says that they are focused on expanding the electorate and winning delegates. They are keenly focused on Super Tuesday states with plans coming together for Haley to visit those states, and leadership teams being rolled out.

But much like Haley herself, campaign aides do not like to entertain a connection between Haley keeping her campaign alive and Trump’s intensifying legal battles. Instead they broadly say they are focused on how to expand the electorate in her favor, especially in super Tuesday states where 11 of the 16 states have open or semi-open primaries.

Haley, however, has not made an effort to shut down the idea of being the alternative if Trump’s legal challenges jeopardize his stronghold on the Republican Party.

“I very much see myself as a Republican option that people can realize when you see Donald Trump can’t win and you know that we have to turn this country around, then I am your alternative,” Haley said during her Fox interview Wednesday.

CNN’s Kate Sullivan contributed to this story.

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