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GOP consultant calls Haley the party's 2024 front-runner

Republican consultant Alex Castellanos said in a new interview that former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki HaleyNikki HaleyBiden administration seeking return to UN Human Rights Council Juan Williams: The GOP is a party without ideas Is the 'civil war' in the Republican Party really over? MORE, who dramatically broke with former President TrumpDonald TrumpSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Georgia secretary of state withholds support for 'reactionary' GOP voting bills MORE last week, has the best shot at the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.

“I think Nikki Haley is the front-runner and it’s going to be very hard to stop her,” Castellanos told OZY co-founder and CEO Carlos Watson. “I think she’s underestimated.”

In a clip from “The Carlos Watson Show” provided exclusively to The Hill, Castellanos went on to say that “politicians in Washington” dismiss the former South Carolina governor as “not really a heavyweight candidate” but that “she’s the real deal” and “the horse to beat.”

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Haley, a former member of Trump's administration, was sharply critical of him in an interview published Friday, particularly over his role in the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

"We need to acknowledge he let us down,” Haley said. “He went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him. And we can’t let that ever happen again.”

Asked who might be the runner-up for the 2024 Republican nomination, Castellanos, a CNN contributor, said he "wouldn’t rule Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonTucker Carlson bashes CNN, claims it's 'more destructive' than QAnon Former Trump officials eye bids for political office Jill Biden picks up where she left off MORE out."

Asked for comment, a spokesperson for Fox News pointed to remarks the prime-time host made in August when he said he is "certainly not planning anything" and has multiple years left on his contract.

"I’ll just say that I haven’t received any call from Republican HQ," Carlson told Variety.

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Watson went on to ask how the challenge to the 2020 election results from another potential 2024 contender, Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyTrump to attack Biden in CPAC speech Laurence Tribe: Justice Thomas is out of order on 2020 election The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Finger-pointing on Capitol riot; GOP balks at Biden relief plan MORE (R-Mo.), affected the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection.

“That riot could have grown into something awful,” Castellanos responded. “What did America fear so much? Not that the left was wrong about Trump but that, even if they were right, we chose him. That’s the fear that working America has had about its elite, the managerial elite. I would say that the people responsible for that riot, the people responsible for Donald Trump, the people responsible for the whole MAGA movement — Donald Trump was just the vessel," he added, referring to the former president's "Make America Great Again" slogan.

“I’ve seen how you get an authoritarian leader,” added Castellanos, who was born in pre-revolution Cuba. “You get one when what came before fails the people so miserably that all they turn to is strength.”

Updated at 4:11 p.m.