Nikki Haley, the Trump administration’s US ambassador to the United Nations, is the first Republican to challenge former President Donald Trump for the party’s presidential nomination in 2024.
Though she had previously dismissed the prospect of running against Trump if he sought reelection, the former South Carolina governor announced that she’s running in a video posted early Tuesday morning and will kick off her campaign at an event in Charleston Wednesday.
She framed herself as a moderate candidate relative to Trump who can win in a general election, noting that she does “not put up with bullies” while refraining from referencing the former president directly. That might appeal to party elites who fear Trump would again lose to President Joe Biden, and who are eager to move on from Trump’s brand of MAGA politics after his chosen candidates broadly underperformed in the midterms.
“Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. That has to change,” Haley says in her announcement video. “It’s time for a new generation of leadership.”
She also suggests that she would take a hardline stance against America’s foes abroad, highlighting her foreign policy credentials.
“Some think our ideas are not just wrong, but racist and evil. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have seen evil. In China, they commit genocide. In Iran, they murder their own people for challenging the government,” she says in the video.
Get excited! Time for a new generation.— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) February 14, 2023
Let’s do this! pic.twitter.com/BD5k4WY1CP
If Haley prevails, she would be the first woman and first Asian American to win the GOP nomination for president, adding to the list of firsts she has already achieved: South Carolina’s first woman governor and the first Indian American to serve in a statewide office there.
Haley has at times been critical of Trump, decrying his plan to build a border wall and his claim that there were “very fine people” on both sides of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in which a counter protester was killed. She nevertheless went on to serve in his administration as the US’s top diplomat from 2016 to 2018 and earned a rare glowing review from Trump upon her departure. Now that she’s challenging her former boss, it’s not clear whether she can continue to successfully toe the line between Trump critic and ally.
The daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley is centering her pitch for the presidency on foreign policy. She had one of the highest approval ratings of anyone in the Trump administration and was well-respected by her peers on the UN Security Council even when espousing controversial policy decisions, such as Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris Climate Accords, and the UN Human Rights Council.
In an environment where most Americans cite government and inflation as the top issues facing the US, it’s not clear whether that foreign policy experience will resonate with voters. But Haley has conservative credentials, too.
She won the South Carolina governorship in 2011 with the support of the conservative Tea Party wing of the Republican party and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, going on to tighten voter ID laws, oppose Syrian refugee resettlement in the state, and earn bipartisan praise for taking down the Confederate flag from the state capitol after a gunman killed nine Black churchgoers in Charleston in 2015. In her announcement video, she hit typical conservative priorities, railing against the “socialist left” while calling for securing the border and fiscal responsibility.
Haley, who boasts she’s never lost an election, and other Republicans who are reportedly weighing 2024 bids face a tough primary ahead. Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has yet to announce his candidacy, tied 33-33 percent as Republican primary voters’ top choice in a February Monmouth University poll. By comparison, no other potential contender received more than two percent support. But it’s early in the cycle, and those numbers could change as candidates consolidate donors and attract endorsements.
An expanding GOP field may in some ways strengthen Trump’s candidacy. The more candidates announce, the greater the competition in the alternative to Trump lane. There’s concern among many in the party who fear a Trump candidacy that his rivals will split the vote, allowing him to come out on top. That’s led some Republicans to call on the party to unify early behind DeSantis.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, and Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin are among other possible contenders. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott might also announce soon, given that he is scheduled to kick off a “listening tour” on Thursday in Charleston and to attend a presidential forum in South Carolina alongside Haley next month.