Americans for Prosperity Action, a key component of the political network founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, is endorsing Nikki Haley in the GOP presidential primary, the group announced in a memo Tuesday.
The endorsement represents a significant boost for Haley less than two months from the first GOP nominating contest in Iowa, where Haley is virtually tied for second place with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Haley has been steadily rising in polls as the main alternative to Donald Trump, the front-runner for the nomination, culminating in a critical moment for her campaign that AFP is well-positioned to aid.
“AFP Action is proud to throw our full support behind Nikki Haley, who offers America the opportunity to turn the page on the current political era, to win the Republican primary and defeat Joe Biden next November. She has what it takes to lead a policy agenda to take on our nation’s biggest challenges and help ensure our country’s best days are ahead. With the grassroots and data capability we bring to bear in this race, no other organization is better equipped to help her do it,” reads the memo from AFP Action senior adviser Emily Seidel.
The super PAC founded by Charles and the late David Koch had vowed to spend tens of millions of dollars to prevent Trump from becoming the 2024 nominee after sitting out the last two presidential election cycles. Already the group has spent heavily on anti-Trump mailers and other outreach to influence the election.
Haley, the former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina governor, has seen her popularity rise slowly but steadily since launching her campaign in February. Not only is she almost tied with DeSantis in Iowa, she has surpassed him in New Hampshire, the second nominating state for Republicans.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a Trump critic, said the AFP endorsement is proof that Haley is exceeding expectations for her candidacy.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll have a nominee other than former President Trump,” Romney said Tuesday. “Nikki Haley is a very capable person. People didn’t think she had much of a shot, but she’s proved them wrong before and she’s doing it again. So I think it’s a huge boost for her campaign and may create the kind of momentum she needs.”
In a statement, a DeSantis spokesman said the nomination is akin to handing the nomination to Trump since Haley cannot beat him.
“Congratulations to Donald Trump on securing the Koch endorsement,” DeSantis communications director Andrew Romeo said. “Like clockwork, the pro-open borders, pro-jail break bill establishment is lining up behind a moderate who has no mathematical pathway of defeating the former president.”
Trump’s campaign spokesperson, Steven Cheung, called AFP “the political arm of the China-first, America-last movement” and dissed Haley as a “pro-China, open borders and globalist candidate.”
The Koch network, which supports a more libertarian-leaning conservatism, has long clashed with Trump on personal and ideological grounds, even as it succeeded in seeding his administration with key staffers. Haley, with her openness to raising the Social Security age for younger Americans and support of tax cuts, is a better match for the Kochs than the more populist and authoritarian Trump or DeSantis.
The AFP endorsement will benefit Haley with a direct-mail operation supporting her candidacy as well as field organizers who can knock doors and reach voters on her behalf. It will allow her to better compete with DeSantis, whose campaign has largely been run through a super PAC, Never Back Down, funded with tens of millions of dollars he raised in his Florida gubernatorial campaign. The group has been at odds with the official campaign operation over strategy as DeSantis slides in the polls. DeSantis allies recently launched a second super PAC, Fight Right, which released a new ad last week comparing Haley to 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
AFP says in the memo that it acquired data revealing that 75% GOP primary voters are open to a Trump alternative. Furthermore, the group says that its internal metrics show Haley handily beating Joe Biden in battleground states. Haley is “by far the strongest candidate Republicans could put up against Joe Biden in a general election,” AFP writes.
“In sharp contrast to recent elections that were dominated by the negative baggage of Donald Trump and in which good candidates lost races that should have been won, Nikki Haley, at the top of the ticket, would boost candidates up and down the ballot, winning the key independent and moderate voters that Trump has no chance to win.”
The first GOP nominating contest is Jan. 15 in Iowa, followed in quick succession by New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Besides Trump, Haley and DeSantis, the GOP field features former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
Jennifer Bendery contributed reporting.