It's a fine line that former governor and UN ambassador Nikki Haley wants to walk to reach the 2024 US presidential election. A lot will depend on how the Republicans see the signs of the times.
Donald Trump is no longer alone. The ex-president was the first to announce last year that he wanted to move back into the White House. Now he gets well-known company: Nikki Haley has officially announced that she wants to become US President. This is not surprising, but given the circumstances it is daring. Despite her competition with Trump, the Republican - unusually enough - does not have a bad connection with him.
The 51-year-old is a well-known face both nationally and internationally. She was governor of the state of South Carolina for six years. Haley spoke out against Trump as president, but was appointed by him as US Ambassador to the United Nations. For example, while she was in office, the United States withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, which was highly unpopular with Republicans.
At the end of 2018, Haley resigned on her own initiative, while Trump fired others in charge during his tenure. Perhaps this is also the reason why she never fell out with him: she had announced her move to the president months in advance and went on good terms.
"It's time for a new generation of leadership," Haley justified her candidacy for the Conservative candidacy in a video, alluding to the old age of both 76-year-old Trump and 80-year-old President Joe Biden. Biden's record is "bottomless", the "Washington establishment" has disappointed the Americans "again and again and again and again". Their promises are vague: "fiscal responsibility," plus "secure borders" and "strengthening the country." They are Republican basic positions.
Haley's job will be to differentiate herself from her competitors before and during the 2024 primary. In all probability, these include Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Mike Pence, Vice President under Trump. Both have not yet announced their entry into the race, but are treated as applicants for the candidacy. According to US media, many more will submit their applications. Haley conveys the image of an adaptable, non-elite woman with political experience who will position herself at the center of polarized debates in the US. Her history matches that.
For example, Haley changed her attitude after the racist attack in Charleston in 2015. That's when Dylann Roof stormed into the Bible study at a church in the city and shot dead nine black people because he wanted to start a race war. The symbol of oppression, a Confederate flag, in front of Parliament, which Haley previously endorsed, was finally overtaken a few weeks later.
"People driving by feel hurt and pain. No one should feel pain," Haley said. The flag has no place in one place that should represent everyone in South Carolina. Haley is the daughter of Indian immigrants. Before her political career, she ran a successful clothing business in rural South Carolina. During her tenure as governor, the state was also hailed as the "Beast from the Southeast" for strong industrial growth.
In her video, Haley now says that "the socialist left" sees an opportunity to "rewrite history". Meanwhile, photos float by of Democrats like Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Nancy Pelosi, former House Majority Leader and hate figure for many Republicans. It fades into a portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping. "China and Russia think they can bully and kick us," but she doesn't put up with it. "But kicking back hurts more when you're wearing heels," she says, smiling.
In a phone call, Trump gave her the blessing to apply, although that means she will compete with him. "Nikki has to follow her heart, not her sense of honor," he teased just a little. "You should definitely apply!" Haley herself said she would support Trump's candidacy. But in the end she decided to apply early to get enough attention, as one employee said. In their home state of South Carolina, Republicans have long been looking for alternatives to Trump. When he campaigned there in January, Haley didn't show up.
The ex-president may assume that Haley is addressing a different target group than he is. Polling results among eligible Republicans were clear just before Haley's announcement: 43 percent supported Trump as the 2024 re-election candidate, 31 percent for DeSantis and 7 percent for Pence. Only 4 percent chose Haley. Another poll asked for a three-way battle without pence. Haley would help Trump win the primary because his base would remain loyal, but some of DeSantis' supporters would defect to her.
Their ability to adapt to political circumstances can be both an advantage and a disadvantage when the election campaign gets hot at the end of the year. For example, Haley criticized the election deniers from Trump's camp, who consider Biden's victory to be fraud. Despite this, she supported several such Republican candidates.
A lot will therefore depend on how the signs of the times stand in the coming year. Do Republicans want to return to polarization under Trump? A measured conservative like Pence? A rational culture warrior like DeSantis? Someone else? Haley tries to present herself as the best alternative somewhere in between. If this is too arbitrary, it may not be tangible enough for Republicans.