Some people cannot take a hint. Nikki Haley had just suffered her fourth straight defeat at the hands of Donald Trump, and in her home state of South Carolina too, yet she was still refusing to give up.

“I’m a woman of my word,” she told supporters as the caravan prepared to move on to Michigan for another Republican primary she stands to lose. After that, it is on to Super Tuesday and votes in 16 states. Again, she stands no chance.

Her denial of electoral reality is positively Trumpian, and if the man himself was not so irritated he might admire her perseverance. But in Trump’s just-so world, Haley is the scratch on the mirror, the hair in his burger. At least the men who went up against him for the nomination had the good grace to quit early. Not Haley. She has joined that ever-growing club of women giving Trump grief.

Trump is not the only one puzzled by Haley hanging in there. Reporters have had her on resignation watch for weeks. There are good reasons to go now. Even with the defeats she has put down a strong marker for 2028. She has shown that she can raise money - more than Trump lately - which never harmed any candidate.

We can be sure she is not sticking around in the hope Trump will invite her to be his running mate. Not after what she called him (mentally unfit) and he called her (“bird brain” is the nickname he finally settled on).

READ MORE: Haley casts doubt on Trump's mental fitness

According to Haley, an accountant by trade, she is staying because of the numbers. Take the South Carolina result: 60% for Trump, 40% for her. Instead of accepting that as a resounding defeat she sees “huge numbers” who want an alternative to Trump.

She has gone further, arguing that a majority of Americans don’t want a Trump-Biden rerun, and by staying in the race she is giving the country a chance to think again. To what end, though? How does she think this will play out?

Long before Haley and her alternative arithmetic came along, the 2024 race for the White House was heading into strange territory. Polls showed voters had misgivings about Biden’s age, Trump’s divisiveness and the then looming court action against him. Yet both Democrat and Republican top brass chose to ignore those concerns. They knew better. Voters would come around.

As long as Trump’s base stuck by him, and no rival to Biden appeared, the parties were content to stand by their men. The plan was simple: maintain the focus on the key states, get out the vote, and keep attention away from the candidates as much as possible.

If it sounds bizarre, trying to sleepwalk a candidate into the Oval Office, there is precedent. Consider Biden’s 2020 run and how little he was seen in public. He had a good excuse to stay at home, the pandemic, and his absence was generally accepted by the media. As long as Trump kept delivering the soundbites and scandal, it didn’t matter that much about Biden’s no show. Biden had been around forever anyway, what more was there to learn about him?

READ MORE Biden sweeps to victory but harder yards ahead

So the election went ahead, and just look how well that turned out. Two candidates who should have been tested were not, and the consequences are with us still.

In some ways the outcome could be worse this time. The electoral system was not designed for the nomination process to be over this early. It is going to be a long haul to November. Plenty of time for voters to become more disillusioned about the choice they face.

As things stand, the party conventions will be mere coronations. Both men will sail through, and more opportunities to scrutinise them will be lost. In Trump’s case this is especially worrying. It is not just Biden who is four years older. With all the noise he generates it is easy to think nothing has changed with Trump, but it has. There are not as many rallies as before. When he appears in public it is mostly to attend court. In general he looks distracted. As with Biden, every name is a blunder waiting to happen.

Trump continues to insist that the court cases are working in his favour. He even told an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland (Liz Truss was there, enough said) that “the black people” are siding with him because what is happening to him happens to them. It might be one of the most offensive things he has said, but the competition is strong.

The court cases are working for him in as much as they are taking up time he could otherwise be using to put his foot in it, as with his remarks on Nato and Russia. But keeping busy has its downsides. Even with a private jet, the travelling would test a man half his age.

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Nor should we underestimate the impact of the court decisions so far. The fine in his civil fraud case is $355 million, and every day he does not pay there is 9% interest on top. Add to this the three-year ban from running a company in New York. For someone so tied to the place emotionally as well as financially, that must have hurt. If he can’t make it there can he make it anywhere? Plus he owes the writer E Jean Carroll $83 million for defaming her.

The plan, reportedly, is to take control of the Republican National Committee and get the party to pay his legal bills. That won’t go down well with everyone. As for his smaller donors, at what point do they reckon enough of their hard-earned cash has gone into the pockets of lawyers?

If there is no hiding away for candidate Trump there is no way Joe Biden can be kept out of the public eye. Indeed, the more he is criticised as too old for office it the more he wants to prove doubters wrong, often with disastrous results. His next big test will be delivering the State of the Union address to Congress on March 7.

Barring something extraordinary occurring, 2024 will be a straight re-run of 2020, and there is nothing that can be done to change that. From what has been seen of her so far, Haley is not the deus ex machina this situation requires. It is a miracle she got this far.