Nikki Haley’s pitch to donors has everything but a plan to defeat Trump

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nikki Haley has crisscrossed the country in the days leading up to Super Tuesday with a private pitch to donors about why they should keep giving her money. But according to six sources who have heard it, that plan has been missing a key element — a potential path to victory over former President Donald Trump. 

While most candidates offer more candor behind the scenes with the donors funding their bids, Haley’s private message has largely matched her public one: She’s in it until Super Tuesday, and then her campaign will take it step by step.

Haley said Friday she plans to stay in the race for “as long as we’re competitive.”

“I don’t know that I’m ending my bid for president,” she said Friday to a small group of reporters here. “If you’re in the race, the last thing you think about is not being in the race.”

It’s similar to the message she’s brought to a 10-event fundraising swing that started on Feb. 25 in the key state of Michigan (which she lost to Trump) and has continued in near-identical fashion since. 

Recent fundraising events, at times, have ranged from small gatherings of about 45 people to bigger meetings of around 100 guests. Donors and VIPs sometimes huddle with her before or after campaign stops, occasionally in the same place she holds her rallies. The fundraising tour is carrying into Saturday with stops in North Carolina and Massachusetts.

Each huddle, though, lacked details about how she plans to defeat Trump in the delegate count, according to six people familiar with the matter, some of whom declined to be named in order to speak freely. 

Instead, according to one source who heard her donor pitch recently, it’s an ask to help her fund “the best operation” she can until Super Tuesday. 

“Help me, and then we’ll see how it goes. It’s measured,” this person said, summing up the message from Haley.

At a private event on Thursday in Virginia, for instance, Haley told the crowd of about 100 people that she is the best candidate positioned to defeat President Joe Biden in the general election, according to an attendee — a message she regularly touts to crowds on the trail. 

In Colorado on Tuesday, Haley held forth for a question-and-answer session with donors. Two attendees, who declined to give their names to NBC News but were wearing VIP credentials, said Haley was asked about climate change and electric vehicles and that delegate math was not a focus.

“I didn’t hear talk of a delegate count,” Brent Neiser, a co-host of the event who also attended the fundraiser, said in an interview. 

Instead, he noted, she touched on a variety of other subjects, including a call to donors to demand state representatives on the Republican National Committee have a public vote about the party’s political operation paying for Trump’s legal bills. 

“What she said to me and the group is that those in each state have to demand from their RNC committee members to disclose their vote on this subject,” Neiser said. Haley also urged reporters the next day in Utah to ask the RNC for more transparency around voting on that draft resolution, saying, “Republicans especially, deserve a vote on the record on that resolution.”

Though the Haley pitch has clearly resonated with donors as she continues to raise millions of dollars — including $12 million in February, according to her campaign — her message suggests that she and her allies realize they may not be able overcome Trump with delegates and are instead content with being a thorn in the former president’s side.

Asked by NBC News Friday at a small gathering with reporters here what the money she’s raising was for — given she refuses to say with certainty that she’ll be in the race past Super Tuesday — Haley balked at the premise. 

“When I go into a fundraiser, they don’t ask me, ‘What’s your strategy?’ They don’t ask me, ‘What’s your plan?’ All they say is, ‘Thank you for giving me hope,’” she said. “No one has said what y’all ask, which is, ‘How long are you staying in?’ No one. What they are asking, what they do say is, ‘Keep fighting.’”

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