Former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley declared her candidacy for president on Tuesday, becoming the first significant opponent to challenge Donald Trump for the GOP nomination in 2024.
Haley made the announcement in a video posted to social media, in which she pointed out, “Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven out of the last eight presidential elections. That has to change. Joe Biden’s record is abysmal. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Washington establishment has failed us over and over and over again.”
She added, “It’s time for a new generation of leadership to rediscover fiscal responsibility, secure our border and strengthen our country, our pride and our purpose,” in a not-so-subtle swipe at Trump.
“I’m Nikki Haley, and I’m running for president,” she says at the close of the video.
Get excited! Time for a new generation.
Let’s do this! 👊 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/BD5k4WY1CP
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) February 14, 2023
But is Haley really running for president? A recent poll found that in her home state of South Carolina, Nikki only manages to get 12% support from likely GOP primary voters compared to Ron DeSantis who gets 31%, and Donald Trump who gets 41%.
Donald Trump, who feels entitled to the GOP nomination, also reportedly encouraged her to run.
“I talked to her for a little while, I said, ‘Look, you know, go by your heart if you want to run,’” Trump revealed, according to a report from CNN earlier this month. He added that he told Haley that she “should do it” and that he would welcome the competition.
That Haley called him at all is very telling, but Trump’s encouragement of her candidacy tells us all we need to know — especially in light of Trump’s attitude toward Ron DeSantis, who is reportedly preparing to launch his own presidential campaign. Trump knows as well as anyone that, unlike DeSantis, Nikki Haley poses no threat to Trump’s plan to get reelected to the White House. Ron DeSantis, however, absolutely is, as some GOP primary polls have him beating Trump, or in a close second, with other potential candidates lagging far behind. Hence the reason why, on the eve of the 2022 midterms, Trump warned DeSantis not to run for president in 2024, insisting it was a bad idea.
Related: Should DeSantis Wait to Run for President?
Given the weak position Haley is in for a presidential bid, why bother to run at all? She’s not even a close second behind Trump in her home state — where the voters know her. She’s just been out of the public eye too long. From where I sit, this means that Nikki Haley’s campaign is an audition to be Donald Trump’s running mate. The best way to do that is a national campaign to reintroduce herself to the public.
Why else would Haley contact Trump for his blessing? Haley had previously promised not to oppose Trump in a primary, but is that the only reason? We’ll likely never know the content of their discussion, but my gut says that Nikki Haley promised no friendly fire in exchange for Trump to consider her as a running mate based on the strength of the campaign she runs.
It’s a decent strategy, and seeing former opponents unite on a ticket can certainly help bring the party together after a divisive primary. Her past comments about Trump and the 2020 election also offer the potential to unite different factions of the party behind the ticket, the same way Trump’s selection of Pence in 2016 helped expand Trump’s appeal to social conservatives.