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Nikki Haley's GOP ascent adds to the well-deserved humiliation of desperate Ron DeSantis

If current trends hold, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley will stand on the GOP presidential primary debate stage Wednesday and give Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis a wedgie before stuffing him in a locker.

Such is the state of Haley’s rise in the Republican primary race and DeSantis’ ongoing parade of humiliations.

Along with strong poll numbers, Haley received a huge boost last week when the influential and deep-pocketed Koch political network endorsed her, presumably leaving DeSantis – once hailed as the Republican Party’s next big thing – to reckon with the fact that few people actually like him (whomp-whomp).

Nikki Haley gets Koch cash while Ron DeSantis gets another kick in the ...

While Haley was counting all the new campaign cash she would get from Americans for Prosperity Action, linked to bazillionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, DeSantis was desperately vying for attention by debating a Democrat who’s not running for president.

That’s right, the once-heralded presidential candidate, who now trails Haley in polls in New Hampshire and South Carolina (where she's also the former governor) while falling into a tie with her in Iowa, spent Thursday night on Fox News debating Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Why? I don’t know. Maybe he hoped Sean Hannity, who “moderated” the debate with his thumb pounding the scale in DeSantis’ direction, would make him look good.

DeSantis' Fox News debate marked the return of 'Awkward Ron'

It didn’t work out that way. Viewers again saw Awkward Ron, a guy who struggles with smiling and other basic human facial expressions. They heard him parrot his usual culture-war blah-blah while Newsom – who again is not running for president and really doesn’t matter – battered him with facts and lured him into exchanges like this one regarding Florida’s pandemic response.

Newsom: “You followed science, you followed facts.”

DeSantis: “That’s not true.”

Florida Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis (L) and California Governor Gavin Newsom (R) appear on screen from the press room during a debate held by Fox News, in Alpharetta, Georgia, on November 30, 2023. (Photo by CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA/AFP via Getty Images)
Florida Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis (L) and California Governor Gavin Newsom (R) appear on screen from the press room during a debate held by Fox News, in Alpharetta, Georgia, on November 30, 2023. (Photo by CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA/AFP via Getty Images)

The Florida governor’s campaign workers must have bruises from the constant face-palming.

Donald Trump continues to brutally mock DeSantis

Prior to the weird and unnecessary debate, leading GOP presidential primary candidate Donald Trump’s spokesperson released a predictably crass statement that wound up being prescient: “Instead of actually campaigning and trying to turn around his dismal poll numbers, DeSanctus is now so desperate for attention that he’s debating a Grade A loser like Gavin Newsom. At the debate, Ron will flail his arms and bobble his head wildly, looking more like a San Francisco crackhead than the governor of Florida. This isn’t a prediction. It’s a spoiler.”

Ouch. Gross, but also ... ouch.

Shutting Trump up would help GOP win: Trump battles gag order, but Republicans should pray he shuts up if they want to win 2024

Haley might be surging, but there's still the matter of this guy named Trump

While the DeSantis campaign’s death rattle is satisfying to those of us who have found him, his often-cruel policies and his bullying demeanor repulsive, there is an orange-hued elephant in the room that minimizes Haley’s admirable progress.

Trump remains miles ahead of both her and DeSantis in every poll, state or national. The former president again won’t bother to attend Wednesday’s debate, and while the Koch endorsement of Haley clearly irked him, it’s going to take more than money for anyone to overtake Trump and his 90-plus state and federal indictments.

Flanked by his attorneys Chris Kise, left, and Alina Habba, former President Donald Trump waits to take the witness stand at New York Supreme Court on Nov. 6, 2023, in New York.
Flanked by his attorneys Chris Kise, left, and Alina Habba, former President Donald Trump waits to take the witness stand at New York Supreme Court on Nov. 6, 2023, in New York.

If it comes down to Haley vs. Trump, she's going to need some big-time help

If we assume DeSantis eventually takes his non-woke ball and goes home, making it a race between Trump and Haley, one of several things will need to happen for Haley to prevail:

  1. Aliens abduct Trump in an attempt to understand all the flaws of humankind.

  2. Trump starts spreading lies at a speed that bends time and space, sending him back to Germany circa 1933, where he belongs.

  3. Trump drops out or gets imprisoned. The latter likely won’t matter and the former is never, ever going to happen.

DeSantis tried to out-bully Trump, and that's a fool's errand

So the only thing about Haley’s rise to “most-favored No. 2” that matters is that she’s delivering another kick to the shins of DeSantis and what is arguably one of the worst presidential campaigns ever witnessed.

Checkmate, haters! George Santos voted out of Congress, despite all his fake achievements

From his decision to run to Trump’s right – a space that doesn’t exist – to his painful debate performances and inability to muster an ounce of likability, DeSantis has gone from right-wing rock star to sad little fellow who thought being mean to LBGTQ+ kids was a winning strategy.

I don't like Haley or her policies, but ... go Nikki?

Personally, I salute Haley for running a smart, drama-free campaign that has turned the Florida governor into ground jerk. I hope she uses this week’s debate to finish the job.

Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis attends the Thanksgiving Family Forum at the downtown Marriott on November 17, 2023 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis attends the Thanksgiving Family Forum at the downtown Marriott on November 17, 2023 in Des Moines, Iowa.

And then I hope Trump is sucked into some alien spacecraft’s vacuum tube, giving Haley a chance to actually win. Not because I like her or her policies – I don’t, at all – but because she’s the only one of the bunch who doesn’t completely scare the tuna salad out of me.

Plus her winning would be an additional insult to DeSantis.

And I’m always – always – in favor of bullies getting their just desserts.

Follow USA TODAY columnist Rex Huppke on X, formerly Twitter, @RexHuppke and Facebook facebook.com/RexIsAJerk

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Haley's GOP primary field surge is death knell of DeSantis' campaign