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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Nikki Haley is running for president, the first GOP rival to take on Trump

Former Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina campaigns in Las Vegas on Sept. 29, 2022, for Joe Lombardo, who later won the governor’s race in Nevada.

By Trip Gabriel

Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador, entered the race for president on Tuesday, a well-hinted-at move that is likely to leave her as the lone major Republican challenger to former President Donald Trump for many weeks, if not months, as other potential 2024 rivals bide their time.

By announcing her campaign early, Haley, 51, who called for “generational change” in her party, seized an opportunity for a head start on fundraising and to command a closer look from Republican primary voters, whose support she needs if she is to rise from low single digits in early polls of the GOP field.

She made the announcement in a video that does not mention Trump’s name, but makes clear her intention to break with the Trump era. In addition to calling for a new generation to step up, she urged Republicans to rally around substantive issues and a candidate with appeal to mainstream America.

“Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven out of the last eight presidential elections,” she said. “That has to change.”

Haley’s campaign has drawn encouragement from many polls showing that in a hypothetical multicandidate field, Trump wins less than 50% of Republican voters. Her entry into the race underscores how the former president has failed to scare off rivals in his third presidential campaign, announced in November after a disappointing midterm election for Republicans.

Her announcement reversed a statement in 2021 that she would not run if Trump were a candidate. She was a rare figure to leave the Trump administration while earning praise from Trump rather than a parting insult. Trump recently said that when Haley informed him she was considering a run, he told her, “You should do it.’’

That the former president has so far not coined an insulting nickname or otherwise attacked Haley is a sign, perhaps, that he does not perceive her as a major threat. Strategically, it is to Trump’s advantage to have multiple candidates splitting the votes of Republicans opposed to him.

Since leaving the Trump administration in 2018, Haley has walked a fine line with the former president, praising his policies and accomplishments in office while offering criticism that appeals to Republican moderates. The day after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, she said his actions “will be judged harshly by history.”

“He went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him,” she told Politico days later.

But she opposed Trump’s impeachment for his actions surrounding the riot. “At some point, I mean, give the man a break,” she said on Fox News in late January 2021.

In interviews last month, Haley swiped at the advanced age of both Trump, 76, and President Joe Biden, 80.

“I don’t think you need to be 80 years old to go be a leader in D.C.,” she told Fox News.

To advance into the top tier of Republican presidential hopefuls, Haley’s campaign is banking on her skills as a retail campaigner in early nominating states. She is traveling to New Hampshire after a rally planned in South Carolina on Wednesday, for two town hall-style events, and she plans to be in Iowa next week.

Haley was largely a bystander as cultural battles enveloped Republican primary races in 2022 and as Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, Trump’s leading potential rival, has increasingly leaned into such issues to stoke support from the GOP base.

But now she is jumping into the cultural fray, using her 3-minute, 33-second announcement video to criticize those who say “our founding principles are bad” — text that was laid over images of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and the “1619 Project,” an interpretation of U.S. history, created by The New York Times, that focuses on the consequences of slavery.

Haley, who is best known on the national stage for pursuing Trump’s foreign policy agenda for two years at the U.N., is seeking to broaden her following through such cultural appeals, denouncing Democrats as pushing “socialism” in government and “wokeism” in schools. At the same time, she highlights her biography as the daughter of immigrants who rose to be South Carolina’s first female governor, and first nonwhite governor, as a rebuke of liberal arguments that America harbors systemic racism.

“I was the proud daughter of Indian immigrants, not Black, not white,” Haley, who was born in Bamberg, South Carolina, says in the announcement video.

Other Republicans exploring presidential campaigns include DeSantis; former Vice President Mike Pence; and Mike Pompeo, a former secretary of state and CIA director under Trump. Govs. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire and Glenn Youngkin of Virginia are also thought to be eyeing a run, along with former Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland.

In early polls, which are partly a reflection of name recognition, Haley has been in the low single digits. She was the choice of 1% of Republican voters in a Monmouth University poll this month that showed Trump and DeSantis tied at 33%, with all other potential rivals at 2% or less. One out of four Republicans was undecided.

During the 2016 Republican presidential primary, in which Haley first backed Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, she got into a high-profile spat with Trump after calling for him to release his tax returns. Trump, on Twitter, called her an embarrassment to South Carolina. “Bless your heart,” Haley tweeted back at him.

But Haley went on to endorse Trump when he became the nominee, and he named her as his U.N. ambassador in 2017. She vowed to take on foreign adversaries in her announcement video, describing China and Russia as “on the march.”

“They all think we can be bullied, kicked around,” Haley says in the video. “You should know this about me: I don’t put up with bullies. And when you kick back, it hurts them more if you’re wearing heels.”

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