COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley is throwing her support behind U.S. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to win the GOP nomination now that her original choice, U.S. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, dropped out after losing his home state Tuesday.
Cruz still trails in the delegate count behind front-runner Donald Trump, whose rhetoric Haley has repeatedly slammed. Haley hedged her bets on whether she will support Trump if he becomes the nominee.
“Ask me when the time comes again, but as of now I strongly believe I will support the Republican nominee,” Haley said. “The only thing I can say now is my hope and my prayer is that Sen. Cruz can come through this. That’s who, privately, I’m fighting for.”
Haley’s comments came Wednesday during a Statehouse press conference about family services and the Department of Social Services.
“I do see a path for (Cruz),” she said, “because I think he’s been solid and strong the entire way. I think that he’s been disciplined in the way that he’s done it.”
The announcement comes nearly a month after Haley endorsed Rubio, the first-term Florida senator. The endorsement came just days before the state’s Republican primary and was seen as the push that helped Rubio claim second place in South Carolina by 1,100 votes over Cruz but still far behind Trump.
Haley didn’t have any advice for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the third GOP candidate still in the race, who said he plans to keep running until the national convention in mid-July.
“I would never tell anybody to drop out of a race,” Haley said. “This is a strange election year. I personally don’t see it.”
Haley’s endorsement last month for Rubio followed fellow South Carolinians U.S. Sen. Tim Scott’s and U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy’s support.
Scott told The Post and Courier on Wednesday he wished Rubio could have stayed in the race just a little bit longer.
“I had hoped he would have been able to find a way to make it seem plausible and doable,” Scott said. “But obviously he did not see that.”
Rubio consistently placed second and third in primaries this year, winning only Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia and Minnesota. In recent contests he had shifted his message to attack Trump, who dubbed him “Little Marco” and mocked him frequently on the campaign trail. Rubio’s jabs at Trump initially gave him a boost, but the momentum failed to materialize, turning Florida’s primary into his last stand.
Rubio rode a wave of tea party support into the Senate, just as Haley did as governor in 2010. In his concession speech, he pointed to the people behind that same movement for failing to compromise on issues in Washington and fueling gridlock. That gridlock gave power to the populist outsider message of Trump.
“I blame some of that on the conservative movement, a movement that is supposed to be about our principles and our ideas,” Rubio said. “But I blame most of it on our political establishment.”
Haley struck similar moderate tones earlier this year in her nationally televised response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.
“While Democrats in Washington bear much responsibility for the problems facing America today, they do not bear it alone,” Haley said at the time. “There is more than enough blame to go around. We as Republicans need to own that truth. We need to recognize our contributions to the erosion of the public trust in America’s leadership.”
Emma Dumain from The Post and Courier’s Washington bureau contributed.