Nikki Haley faces a murky path forward and a key decision on whether or not to endorse Trump

By STEVE PEOPLES, MEG KINNARD and THOMAS BEAUMONT (Associated Press)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Nikki Haley is perhaps the highest-profile Republican in the nation who has refused to fall in line and endorse Donald Trump’s presidential bid.

It’s unclear how long that might last.

Some allies believe she may be forced to endorse him before the November election to avoid permanently alienating the Republican Party base. Some even suspect that Haley will re-emerge on Trump’s short list of vice presidential contenders in the coming months, despite Trump’s recent statement to the contrary.

But if Haley submits to Trump, as so many of his GOP critics have done, she also risks destroying her own coalition of independents, moderates and anti-Trump Republicans, who are still showing up to support her in low-profile primary contests from deep-red Indiana to deep-blue Maryland. On Tuesday, she gets another chance to demonstrate her sustained strength in Kentucky’s presidential primary contest, which comes more than two months after she suspended her campaign.

Haley’s decision on Trump in the coming months will be closely watched not just by her supporters, but by allies of Trump and President Joe Biden. What she decides to do — and whether her coalition follows — could have a profound impact on this year’s general election and her future as a top-tier Republican whose brand appeals to many people outside her party.

“Nikki Haley could be the person that unites us,” said Thalia Floras, a 62-year-old retail manager from Nashua, New Hampshire, who was a lifelong Democrat before casting a ballot for Haley in her state’s January primary.

But Floras also has a warning: “Nikki Haley has a good place with me now. But if she goes with Trump, I’m done.”

Those close to Haley, a 52-year-old former governor and U.N. ambassador, say it’s unclear what she’ll do.

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Haley and Trump haven’t spoken in months. That includes the period after she bowed out of the GOP primary campaign in early March, according to a person with direct knowledge of Haley’s private conversations who was not authorized to speak about them publicly.

And while some Republicans who supported Haley will certainly drift back to Trump organically, the Biden campaign is working to win over her supporters, whom they view as true swing voters.

Biden’s team is quietly organizing a Republicans for Biden group, which will eventually include dedicated staff and focus on the hundreds of thousands of Haley voters in each battleground state, according to people familiar with the plans but not authorized to discuss them publicly.

The Democratic president hasn’t kept his intentions a secret.

Biden issued a statement thanking Haley for her courage to challenge Trump just minutes after she bowed out of the primary race in March.

“Donald Trump made it clear he doesn’t want Nikki Haley’s supporters. I want to be clear: There is a place for them in my campaign,” Biden said at the time.