Haley slams old candidates, but faces tough challenge as ex-Trump official

Nikki Haley wasn’t remotely subtle about it.

Time and again during her presidential announcement speech yesterday, she took swipes at aging presidential candidates, unmistakable references to Donald Trump (and Joe Biden, as well).

It’s time to move past the “stale ideas and faded names of the past.”

“America is not past our prime, it’s just that our politicians are past theirs.”


We “won’t win the fight for the 21st century if we keep trusting politicians from the 20th century.”

And, in the oddest moment, she said there should be “mandatory mental competence tests for politicians over 75 years old.” (How exactly would that work? Who would administer the tests? Would you ALSO have to ride a bicycle?)

It’s fair to say the 51-year-old made her point, and the only time she mentioned Trump’s name was to say he had appointed her U.N. ambassador.

It was an uplifting, energetic, folksy speech in Charleston by an undeniably fresh face. And on paper, Nikki Haley should be a formidable contender for the presidency.

She’s a woman of color, had a well-regarded tenure as South Carolina governor and gained international experience at the U.N. 

It’s not that Haley once promised not to run against the 76-year-old Trump; I think most voters regard those pledges as so much hot air.

But how does she convince previous Trump voters to switch their allegiance to her – and win over independents who can’t stand for the former president?

Haley may be running for the nomination of a Republican Party that no longer exists. Can her “new generation” rhetoric actually separate her from the former president?

And as other Trump alumni jump in – Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo – do they simply divide the Trump-wary vote? Despite being the only woman in the field, Haley is polling in the very low single digits.

The speech hit most of the hot buttons, and there were populist notes as well, such as too many big businesses getting taxpayer bailouts. Haley denounced Biden, vowed to “stop socialism,” took shots at “illegals,” promised to combat America’s wave of “self-loathing” and move past “divisions and distractions.” 


She also called for term limits, a once-popular GOP idea that faded after many Republicans became comfortably entrenched in power.

And she played the gender card, saying it was time to send “a tough-as-nails woman to the White House.”

There was one other line meant to sting Trump as well. Republicans, Haley said, had lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight elections. Trump was the loser in two of those races.

Heading into the speech, the pundits weren’t exactly setting high expectations, including New York Times columnists. David Brooks writes: “In a normal party, she would have to be taken seriously. She’s politically skilled, has never lost an election, has domestic and foreign policy experience, has been a popular governor, is about as conservative as the median G.O.P. voter.” 

But he questions whether the Republicans are a normal party.

Another anti-Trump conservative, Bret Stephens, is more upbeat: “It’s said of Ron DeSantis that the closer you get to him, the less you like him. Haley is the opposite. She still has work to do to win over other core Republican constituencies (above all, evangelicals and Trump sympathizers), but nobody should underestimate her appeal.”

Former CNN analyst Chris Cillizza, in his new Substack column says, “Haley’s bet is that she can emerge from the Trump Adjacent bucket” of former administration officials. “It’s not an awful idea as she does have natural charisma” but must figure out how to “deal with the former president. All of them have praised him at one time or another.” 

Another complicating factor for Haley is that even if she does well in the early South Carolina primary, that will be discounted as a vote for the home-state gal. Another is that Tim Scott, from the same state – ironically, appointed by Haley as South Carolina’s first black senator – is gearing up to run and might draw from the same base of support.

Haley did master the art of stretching out her announcement, first leaking that she would run, then giving Axios her pre-announcement video the day before her speech. On that tape, in which she talks about kicking bullies with high heels, Haley said she grew up in a racially segregated neighborhood and “was the proud daughter of Indian immigrants. Not Black, not White, I was different.”


Haley showed political bravery as governor when, after a white nationalist killed nine black church parishioners, she banned the Confederate flag from the State House grounds. But that may not win her many fans in a national GOP primary.

With Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other likely candidates hanging back for now, Haley will get a burst of attention in the coming weeks. She clearly has political talent. But in this environment, she has to thread a very difficult needle.

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