There are now under eight weeks until caucus-goers in Iowa gather to take the first step in determining the Republican (GOP) presidential nominee. The intensity is heightening as candidates race to close the massive gap with perennial front runner, Donald Trump.

His double-digit lead has been impenetrable since the first of four indictments was issued months ago by the Manhattan district attorney. Since then, MAGA supporters have elevated the twice-impeached ex-president to the stratosphere both in the polls and in fundraising.

Yet, in a last-ditch effort, the GOP establishment is making its final stand as it attempts to wrest control of the party from the iron grip of MAGA Republicans and ultimately its leader, the ex-president himself.


South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott recently became the latest casualty in the brewing showdown pitting MAGA against the establishment. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley surprised many when she turned her fire on the amiable senator during the GOP debate at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Tim Scott

The senator, who steadfastly refused to criticize Trump during his presidential run, might not be down for long. Widely praised in the past by Trump, Scott could see a political resurrection in the near future as a likely running mate should Trump secure the nomination.

Still, the clock is ticking on efforts by moderate-to-center-right Republicans to claw back control from MAGA. The Trump wing has seen its fortunes rise with the recent elevation of election denier, Congressman Mike Johnson of Louisiana, as the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

A powerful ally indeed should the ex-president need help once again delaying congressional certification of the 2024 presidential election.

Trump has masterfully exploited his compounding legal woes to advance his political fortunes with the MAGA base. Polling data shows him ahead of President Biden in next year’s election. However, ominous signs stemming from the ex-president’s mounting legal challenges could prove potentially fatal for a party that has only won the popular vote once this century.

A looming US$300 million judgement stemming from a civil suit brought by the New York Attorney General is an ongoing story that both emboldens the Trump base and terrifies traditional Republicans. Moreover, recent developments in several of his criminal cases, including cooperating witnesses and mounting evidence, portends a reckoning on the horizon.

The steady headlines of legal machinations at play from savvy and tenacious prosecutors against the one-time president are making billionaire donors and party leaders increasingly nervous about Trump's chances of making it to Milwaukee for the formal nominating convention of the party's presidential nominee.


Haley, who many pundits say won the last two debates, has seen her stock skyrocket as she has now cemented herself firmly in second place in the first three nominating contests.

Already on the receiving end of acerbic criticism by the former real estate mogul-turned-politician, the presidential aspirant is now the darling of powerful republican interests such as banking titan Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase Bank.

The only candidate standing in her way as she plots to take on her former boss is Florida Gov. and one-time Trump mini-me, Ron DeSantis.

The culture warrior was initially seen by many in the party, including the Fox News brain trust, as the heir apparent to Trump. Yet, since winning re-election in Florida by a landslide and cementing the state as a GOP firewall, the former Trump acolyte stumbled badly with rank and file voters and donors since announcing his candidacy.

Lacking charisma and personal empathy on the campaign trail, the once-promising pol quickly faded once officially entering the race. Now, as the MAGA soldier limps into primary season, the establishment is planning a major offensive.

The Associated Press recently reported Haley has reserved US$10 million in radio, digital, and television advertising across Iowa and New Hampshire as she capitalizes on the momentum of her rising candidacy.

The report goes on to say, “Haley's planned investment, as of now, is more than five times larger than DeSantis' current advertising reserves for the same time period…” At a packed auditorium in Miami, the former diplomat cheekily declared, “I wear heels. They're not for a fashion statement; they're for ammunition.”

Having dispatched Scott in impressive fashion, Haley is now targeting once-MAGA darling Gov. DeSantis as she seeks to make it a one-on-one contest against the MAGA godfather himself, Donald Trump.

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley

The latest Real Clear Politics poll shows Haley in second place with GOP voters. Equally important, as she attempts to take on the MAGA wing of the party, she’s fielding a cadre of deep-pocketed donors.

According to Bloomberg, Haley has poached donors from DeSantis and already secured the support from billionaire donors of Sen. Scott and former vice president and one-time presidential candidate, Mike Pence.

Haley’s recent cash infusion notwithstanding, polls show her competitive in a head-to-head matchup with President Biden. This gives her the electability claim she will need to match up evenly with Trump if it becomes a two-person race for the nomination.

Trump’s ongoing legal travails still remain a boon to his political candidacy. However, should a whopping US$250-million civil fine for fraud or a guilty verdict in any of his other pending cases come to fruition during the primary, it could prove disastrous for the entire GOP ticket in a general election matchup.

Rank and file Republicans’ support is overwhelming but Republican super donors -- the ones whose cheques fuel any candidacy -- are coalescing behind the one that sounds and acts like a traditional establishment Republican.

To date, Trump has purposely refused to debate, and with good reason. Leading the field by double digits and lapping all candidates in fundraising was a testament to his strength and appeal as a potential nominee. With voting on the near horizon the establishment is making its final play to change the race. Haley is hoping there is just enough ammunition in those heels to finish the job.

Eric Ham is a bestselling author and former congressional staffer in the U.S. Congress. He served as a contributor to and The Washington Diplomat. He resides in Washington, DC.