Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley told the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards Wednesday if voters want an option besides President Joe Biden or former President Donald Trump on the ballot, they’re running out of time.

“The reason I’m running is because I think that Americans deserve a choice. If you come to any of my rallies, you’ll hear Americans desperate for a choice. But you know, this is the chance to make that choice,” she said.

They will not get the chance to vote for her as a third party ticket. On Wednesday, Haley offered her most explicit rejection yet of a potential No Labels run:

“No. I’m a Republican. You go on a No Labels ticket, what does that mean? A Democrat vice president. That’s not who I am. I’m a conservative. I’ve always been a hardcore Republican. I think that this is about the party and this is about the country, and the only way to do it is to do it the right way.”

Super Tuesday falls on March 5, when Utah and voters in 15 other states and territories head to the polls. Utah voters will choose their presidential candidate through a caucus.

After meeting with the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards, Haley was scheduled to meet with supporters at a private event, then speak at a rally at Utah Valley University.

Haley framed the primary elections as a battle over what the Republican Party will look like in the future — and said on its current trajectory, it is becoming a vehicle for Trump, rather than a party united around principles.

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Haley pitches Utah on a return to faith, family and freedom

As she continues to lose states to Trump, but manages to capture 30%-40% of Republican votes in each state, Haley said that’s evidence Trump can’t unite the Republican Party behind him — and she said that will make him unelectable in November. He hasn’t been able to reach independent voters or women, who abandoned him in 2020, she said.

She repeated her charge that the ticket in November shouldn’t be between “two 80-year-old candidates,” because that will result in Vice President Kamala Harris eventually assuming the presidency. Trump is 77 and Biden is 81.

Nikki Haley, a Republican presidential candidate, speaks to the crowd at Utah Valley University, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Haley: Donald Trump ‘can’t win’ the general election — a ‘sinking ship’ for the GOP

The Republican Party has faced a series of electoral setbacks or outright losses in the years since Trump was elected in 2016. The party’s candidates underperformed in 2018, 2020 and 2022. Haley placed the blame for those losses squarely on Trump’s shoulders.

“Republicans and Americans need to look at the fact that maybe if we keep losing, maybe Donald Trump is the reason we keep losing,” she said.

Haley wasn’t just talking about elections when she made that comment, she was also referring to recent losses in congressional debates over spending, the border and foreign aid.

“I have said this, and I truly believe it, there will be a female president of the United States — it will either be me, or it will be Kamala Harris. And if Donald Trump is the nominee, we can all welcome the president, Kamala Harris.”

The battle in the Republican Party is about more than the presidency, she said. “This is about which way do we want the Republican Party to go?” Haley said.

Trump is hurting Republican candidates’ chances at the ballot box, and he has turned the party into a “ship with a hole” in it, she said.

“And we can either see the hole for what it is, and take the life raft, or we’ll go down with the sinking ship,” Haley said.

Haley: ‘I don’t judge’ Trump voters

Haley pitches herself as the candidate who can avoid “chaos” and return stability to American politics. But Trump commands dominant leads in polls and has won each Republican primary and caucus to date by double digits. When asked what drives Republican voters to support Haley, she noted she voted for Trump twice and was “proud to serve America in his administration.”

“But the reality is, he will not win a general election. That’s a fact,” Haley said. “You can’t have 30% to 40% of the vote in every one of these early states that you lose.”

She theorized that Republican voters are backing Trump because “they feel like he fought for them, and now they feel like they’re fighting back for him.”

“Republicans saw that Donald Trump didn’t get an ounce of peace or a moments’ credit,” she said.

She added that she doesn’t judge voters who choose Trump. “You’re not supposed to judge the people you want to serve,” she said. “You’re supposed to communicate what needs to happen.”

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, right, meets with the Deseret News and KSL Editorial Board at the Triad Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Trump, RNC shouldn’t use campaign funds to pay legal fees, Haley says

Haley noted that Trump’s campaign and affiliated super PACs spent over $60 million on his legal defense. She referenced a draft resolution at the Republican National Committee, first reported by The Dispatch, that would restrict the RNC’s ability to foot Trump’s legal fees.

“Now, it’s very important that every state look at how their state’s committee members vote on this,” she said. “And I’ve said this vote needs to be on the record. Everybody needs to see exactly how they vote.”

When asked if she thinks Trump will go to prison, she demurred. “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “I don’t pay enough attention to the lawsuit, to the court cases. I think some have been overly politicized. I think in some, he’s going to have to defend himself.”

Voters ‘should care’ about morality, character of candidates

Attendees at Haley’s events in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina often say they support Haley because they want to see a person with good moral character in the White House. When asked if the Republican electorate at large weighs character when considering who to vote for, Haley said they should.

“That’s why I’m running,” she said. “I mean, I think that we’re better than this. And I think that, you know, America has an amazing ability to self-correct. Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom to know where up is. We’re there. Now, we just have to see if everybody’s willing to go up.”

On debt, foreign aid

Haley accused Trump of not focusing on spending and debt, while saying those are critical issues for the future of the U.S.

“Donald Trump continues to not talk about the debt, or the spending. We are now borrowing money to make our interest payments. China owns some of that debt. We’re now paying more in interest than we are in our defense budget. That’s a problem,” she said.

She also said Trump is “literally siding with (Vladimir) Putin, saying that (he’ll) encourage Putin to invade our allies. That means Donald Trump would consider siding with a man or half a million people have been wounded or killed because of the invasion of Ukraine. He’s going to side with a dictator who kills his political opponents. He’s going to side with a tyrant that takes American journalists and holds them hostage. Putin has made no bones about the fact that he wants to destroy America. And Donald Trump’s gonna sign with Putin over our allies that stood with us after 911. And then more than that, look at the direction of the party.”

How long will Haley stay in the race?

Last week, while campaigning in South Carolina, Haley vowed to stay in the race through Super Tuesday. After losing the South Carolina primary, she reiterated that plan, though she admitted she is not thinking beyond this Tuesday, when 16 states and territories will vote.

“As long as 70% of Americans say they don’t want a Trump-Biden rematch, I’m going to keep fighting,” she said. “This is bigger than one person. This is about the direction of our country. This is about the direction of our party.”