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Haley treads carefully seeking nomination in Trump’s GOP

She does not mention former president who made her ambassador and touts being Asian American woman while decrying ‘identity politics’

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley announces she is running for president of the United States in Charleston, S.C., on Wednesday.
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley announces she is running for president of the United States in Charleston, S.C., on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Nikki Haley emphasized the need for a new generation of leaders to strengthen America as she became the first prominent Republican to challenge former President Donald Trump for the 2024 presidential nomination.

“America is on a path of doubt, division and self-destruction. A path of fading patriotism and weakening power,” she told cheering supporters at the Charleston Visitors Center on Wednesday. “The stakes are nothing less than our survival. And you and I and every American is being summoned to take bold action.”

But while Haley leaned into her potential to be the first female, Asian American president, she did it while decrying identity politics and pushing back on the idea that America is a racist country.

“As I set out on this new journey, I will simply say this: May the best woman win,” she said, before adding, “All kidding aside, this is not about identity politics. I don’t believe in that. And I don’t believe in glass ceilings either.”

‘Trust in a new generation’

Haley, 51, outlined a conservative vision for the presidency, calling on Republicans to “put your trust in a new generation,” while pointing out that the party has lost the popular vote in seven of the past eight presidential elections.

“Our cause is right, but we have failed to win the confidence of a majority of Americans,” she said, without noting that in the last two of those elections, in 2016 and 2020, the majority backed Democrats Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden instead of Trump.

A former two-term South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador, Haley is the daughter of immigrants from India and the first former female governor and first Republican Asian American to seek the presidency. She announced she was running Tuesday in a video shared online.

She’s the fifth prominent Republican woman to run for the job, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, but in 2020 alone there were six Democratic women vying, including five members of Congress. That’s partly because gender and racial representation are more prominently touted by Democrats, but it’s also because there’s a segment of Republicans who are hostile to raising such issues, said Kelly Dittmar, the center’s director of research and scholar and an associate professor of political science. 

“You hear the response from a lot of Republicans, not all, which is to say, we don’t play identity politics. We’re going to choose the best candidate,” Dittmar said in an interview. 

Stale names, faded ideas

In emphasizing new leadership on Wednesday, including by calling for term limits and mental competency tests for politicians who are over 75 years old, Haley indirectly drew attention to both Biden, 80, and Trump, 76.

“We are ready to move past the stale names and faded ideas of the past,” Haley said.

Haley said younger leaders would be better prepared for dealing with foreign adversaries.

Other than saying he nominated her to serve as his first ambassador to the U.N., Haley didn’t mention Trump by name Wednesday. The former president still enjoys broad popularity in the party. Haley will surely face additional candidates for the nomination, possibly from a fellow South Carolina leader, Sen. Tim Scott

Loretta Rezzoug, an 18-year state resident who said she recently left the Democratic Party, attended Haley’s rally and said she’d watched Haley throughout her political career and thought she could “bring together our divided nation” and was a “strong and independent voice.” 

“She’s stood up against Trump,” Rezzoug said. “She’s been able to maintain Trump, you know, because he is a little bit of a wild card, and she’s able to maneuver her way around it, and I’m very excited about that, because you have to be able to be very flexible in this and be able to put a lot of things aside to compromise for the better good. And I love that about her.”

Trump’s campaign sent a release to reporters after her rally titled “The Real Nikki Haley,” highlighting a 2012 quote in which Haley said she first ran for office because of Clinton. It also knocked Haley for supporting a plan to overhaul Social Security and Medicare pitched by former Speaker Paul Ryan, and for supporting the sending of fighter planes to Ukraine rather than finding a “peaceful solution” to the war. 

Several South Carolina Republicans are backing Trump and appeared with him in the state last month, including Sen. Lindsey Graham and Gov. Henry McMaster. 

Norman endorsement

But Rep. Ralph Norman, a House Freedom Caucus member who had supported Trump, endorsed Haley on Wednesday.

Norman said at the rally that if Haley was in Congress, she would have been in the group of House Republicans who initially opposed Kevin McCarthy for speaker, as Norman was. Norman praised Trump as a “great leader,” saying he was what the country and the party needed in 2016, but he called Haley an American Margaret Thatcher, a reference to the conservative British prime minister. 

“I would have been right there with you in Congress holding them accountable,” Haley told Norman as she took the stage. 

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