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Can Trump win without Haley supporters?

This won’t be easy, but imagine, if you can, that Donald Trump is capable of putting his massive ego aside and is prepared to be gracious to a political opponent he doesn’t like — and one who, for good measure, doesn’t like him either. Unless you just emerged from a coma, you know we’re talking about the icy relationship between Trump and Nikki Haley.

Let’s imagine that Trump tells her that while they had their differences during the primary campaign, it’s time, for the sake of party unity, to put those differences in the rearview mirror. Imagine if he could muster what it takes to paise her for her intelligence and apologized for calling her a “birdbrain.”

Now imagine if he asked her to be his vice-presidential candidate, a conciliatory gesture that would go a long way in winning over her voters — and a lot of other moderate voters too, especially suburban women — and would certainly enhance his chances of winning in November. 

But that’s not going to happen. Donald Trump is a man who holds grudges and doesn’t like anyone too close to him with strong, independent views. He prefers the kind of people who, whether they really believe it or not, will go out on the campaign trail and enthusiastically tell voters how wonderful he is — and who, when asked, will either tap dance around the question of whether the 2020 election was rigged, or flat-out agree with Trump that it was. So reaching out to Nikki Haley would be out of character for him. Way out of character.

But Haley won 22 percent of the vote in last week’s Indiana’s GOP primary — even though she dropped out of the race two months ago. In one wealthy Indianapolis suburb, she did even better — winning 34 percent of the vote.

And the New York Times reported in March that, “Even out of the race, Ms. Haley has continued to pull in a significant number of voters in ongoing primary contests. Across the five swing states that have held primaries so far — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina and Nevada — a total of about 750,000 people cast ballots for Ms. Haley.” Those votes could be the difference between winning and losing in a close race.

Despite all that, soon after Axios reported that Haley was being considered for VP, Trump tried to bury the speculation. He went public and said she is not a contender.

Trump, I think, is making a mistake, but when his ego is involved, mistakes are never far away. And, who knows, she might not even want the job. Wherever Trump goes, drama and chaos are right there with him. Haley may figure that she doesn’t need that for the next four years.

So which VP candidate could win over Haley’s supporters?

Donald Trump needs a grownup on his ticket, someone mature, someone stable — someone, in other words, like Nikki Haley and not like Donald Trump. He needs someone who could win over voters who don’t especially like Biden but are uneasy with Trump and need a reason to vote for him. 

Two possibilities: Doug Burgum, the North Dakota governor and successful entrepreneur — not especially charismatic, but he checks the stable and mature boxes that would help Trump — and Glenn Youngkin, the Virginia governor, who’s smart and likable. And if the Trump campaign really is targeting Virginia, Youngkin can help him get it. 

Like Haley, either one would make Biden’s vice president look by comparison even less competent than voters already think she is.

A recent New York Times-Siena College poll shows Trump winning in five of six key battleground states. It shows him running neck and neck with young voters and Hispanic voters — two groups Joe Biden won with 60 percent of their vote in 2020. And it has Trump winning more than 20 percent of black voters — a much higher percentage than GOP presidential candidates normally get.

So maybe he figures he’s got the election wrapped up and doesn’t need Nikki Haley — or her supporters. But that’s a big gamble.

Someone needs to tell Trump (if they haven’t already) that reconsidering Haley would be the smart thing to do. That he’s not running against her anymore; he’s running against Joe Biden and Kamala Harris — and they’re already going after Haley voters.

But even if he won’t consider Haley, he still needs her supporters. A vice-presidential candidate rarely has much influence on the outcome of a presidential election, but this year — with so many voters unenthusiastic about both presidential candidates — Trump’s VP pick might make a big difference. You’d think a “stable genius” like the former president would understand that.

Bernard Goldberg is an Emmy and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award-winning writer and journalist. He is the author of five books and publishes exclusive weekly columns, audio commentaries and Q&As on his Substack page. Follow him @BernardGoldberg.

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