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Five Thoughts on Nikki Haley Jumping into the 2024 Race

AP Photo/Mic Smith

As was reported weeks ago – then confirmed in a video released Tuesday – former South Carolina Governor and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley announced her 2024 presidential campaign on Wednesday at an event in Charleston. She becomes the second entrant into the race from either party, joining former President Trump, in whose cabinet she served. Haley's rollout speech emphasized the central themes of her aforementioned campaign video, echoing Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' call for a "new generation" of GOP leadership in her response to President Biden's State of the Union Address earlier this month. Haley has now noted on several occasions that Republicans have lost the national popular vote in seven of the past eight presidential elections (they've won it in three of the last four midterm elections), making the case that it's time for a change. 

In case you missed any of it, here's Team Haley's slick, pre-produced video and her formal announcement speech, with a few points of analysis to follow: 

Her biggest applause line may have been, “America is not past our prime — it’s just that our politicians are past theirs,” a shot at both Biden and Trump. Some thoughts:

(1) Haley has never lost a political race in her life, and has faced long odds before. She has collected a lot of chits over the last few years, having worked hard for other Republicans around the country, with rallies and fundraisers. She will run a serious operation, has the capacity to develop a serious war chest, and will be formidable. On day one of her campaign, she's boasting about winning the endorsement of a "top Trump ally" in Palmetto State Congressman Ralph Norman:


(2) On paper, Haley's resume checks a lot of boxes. She was a re-elected governor of a significant state, ably handling some significant electoral and governing challenges. She then burnished her foreign policy credentials at the United Nations, most visibly standing up to a number of America's adversaries, and forcefully standing up for an unjustly-targeted US ally. After stepping away from public office, extricating herself from the Trump administration on her own terms and with minimal drama, she joined a number of corporate boards and spent time in the private sector (having previously been an accountant, earlier in her life).

(3) She's not afraid to lean into identity politics a little bit, using her own story as a woman of color to highlight America's exceptionalism, to refute the claim that we are a fundamentally racist country, and to argue that the American dream is real and alive. In doing so, she has baited identitarian leftists into a series of embarrassing, ignorant, and racist attacks against her. One might have assumed that after "The View" truly humiliated itself on this subject, others would shy away from the same trap, but no:


Before she even announced, Politico assigned six journalists to contribute to a weak hit piece on Haley, with a focus on race: 


"However much you loathe corporate media, it’s nowhere near enough," Mollie Hemingway quipped in response to the story. Haley will use all of this to her advantage.

(4) Unlike his obsessive, Democrat-aided broadsides against Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump has gone relatively easy on Haley in the lead-up to her arrival into the race. His recent comments about her were somewhat gracious, by his standards, and his PAC put out a boilerplate critique of Haley this week that was not as personal or pointed as it might have been:


The Trump factor will be an issue for Haley. She has been all over the map on Trump, with critics arguing that her views on the 45th president have blown with the political winds, dating back to 2015. Indeed, after some very sharp (and deserved, in my opinion) words breaking from Trump after January 6th, 2021, Haley seemed to backpedal once she realized the base wasn't stampeding away from him the way some thought they might. To get back into his, and their, good graces, she once again became much more laudatory – and explicitly promised that if Trump ran again in 2024, she'd support him. She would not run if he did, she said. Yet here we are, with Trump and Haley as the only two people already in the race thus far. Navigating the Trump maze has been tricky for all Republicans who've tried to thread that particular needle, and running against him has proven even more difficult. If Haley catches fire, and appears to pose any realistic of national threat to his ambitions, expect things to get quite a bit nastier. We'll see how she responds, if and when it comes to that. But for now, in these ludicrously early stages, elements of Team Trump are actually quite pleased to welcome her to the race, given this dynamic:

While some of Donald Trump's allies publicly criticize Nikki Haley's decision to run against him in the 2024 Republican presidential primary, others are privately enthusiastic -- arguing that the more opponents he has in the race, the more likely he is to repeat his 2016 primary victory even if he again loses a majority of voters. More specifically, these people contend, Haley and others running for the nomination can only weaken Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, seen by many as Trump's biggest potential challenger"Any Republican getting in the race isn't running against Donald Trump, they're running against Ron DeSantis," said one source close to Trump's team. "The best-case scenario for Haley is she exits the race as the runner-up to Donald Trump, but that will be at the expense of Ron DeSantis."

Trump will likely have roughly 30-40 percent of the GOP electorate locked in, depending on the state. Beating him will require someone else to consolidate more support. Trump appears to be very vulnerable in a "binary choice" setting at the moment, certainly as compared to a 'splintered field" scenario:


(5) Haley is betting that she can end up as the alternative to Trump, and maybe she's right. But a lot of capable "Trump alternative" candidates made the same bet in 2016, and we remember how that turned out for all of them. For a balanced, if tough, look at her candidacy, read this Wall Street Journal editorial, out today:

Running for President is an ordeal, and primary contests have the virtue of identifying candidates’ weaknesses that will give GOP voters an idea of who is the best long-distance runner. Ms. Haley’s candidacy is welcome in that sense, and she brings clear strengths. She was a popular Governor, held a cabinet-level position in a foreign-policy role, and brings racial and gender diversity to the GOP field. She also has charisma and can light up a room of Republicans...The bigger challenge for Ms. Haley is identifying the rationale for her candidacy beyond a winning persona. Her campaign announcement stressed a belief in America as a force for good, the seriousness of global threats, and the follies of the progressive left. Is there a Republican presidential candidate who believes something different?  She hasn’t staked out any clear domestic policy directions, and she doesn’t have an obvious core of support. Her “new generation” line suggests Ms. Haley, age 51, will make her relative youth and vitality a contrast with Messrs. Biden and Trump. Good idea, but Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, another likely candidate, is 44. Other likely candidates are similarly youthful. Ted Kennedy famously fizzled in the 1980 Democratic primary when he couldn’t answer the question “Why do you want to be President?” Ms. Haley needs her own answer. 

As Jim Geraghty counsels, Republican voters should give Haley a chance, see how she performs (we are still almost a year away from any voting), and see how the field takes shape. I'll leave you with this, which Haley and other prospective Republican candidates will need to be ready for:


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