A ‘Badass Woman’ Puts Herself Forward for White House
In New Hampshire, though, Nikki Haley fails to offer a program.
Nikki Haley, at a town hall in New Hampshire this week, spends most of her speech detailing her personal story as the daughter of Indian immigrants and her electoral upsets in South Carolina. She’s never lost an election, and she likes to point out that Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven out of the last eight presidential races. Her message: I’m electable. Don’t underestimate me.
“She’s a political talent. She’s engaging. She’s got very good communication skills,” a University of New Hampshire political science professor, Dante Scala, tells the Sun. Yet he says her message is “heavy on biography” — albeit compelling — and needs “fine tuning” to attract “those voters in the middle who like Trump but don’t want to see him again.”
Nikki Haley is running for the Republican presidential nomination on a message of “generational change,” but is that just a smokescreen for a candidate with no clear constituency in today’s GOP? A former governor of South Carolina and President Trump’s ex-envoy to the United Nations, Ms. Haley has impressive credentials, but she can neither run as a Never Trumper nor in the MAGA lane occupied by Mr. Trump and the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, if he jumps in the race.
When Ms. Haley was asked in a “Hannity” interview this week how her positions differ from Mr. Trump’s, Ms. Haley equivocated. “I don’t kick sideways,” she said.
On the evidence in Ms. Haley’s website, her campaign is all biography. There are no policy positions listed, aside from generalities, like that she’s anti-abortion, mixed in with her story. For a candidate who hasn’t run for office since 2014, her stances on the issues of the day are conspicuously absent.
The Sun spoke with several attendees of the town hall who all expressed the same sentiment: We’re not Nikki Haley fans per se but we want someone new. What they fear most is another Trump-Biden matchup. So far, Ms. Haley is the only officially declared candidate in the race beside Mr. Trump.
“We need to focus on new generational leadership, and the best way to do that is to put a badass woman in the White House,” Ms. Haley said to applause. Ms. Haley’s “generational change” message resonated with the room. She is calling also for congressional term limits and competency tests for elected leaders over the age of 75 — a dig at Messrs. Trump and Biden.
The age message, though, only goes so far. If Governors DeSantis or Sununu, both in their 40s, enter the race, it will apply to them, too — perhaps more. Ms. Haley has an advantage in announcing early, but if she doesn’t refine her message, the need for new blood alone is unlikely to carry her across the finish line.
Ms. Haley’s heavy reliance on her sex, her age, and her biography as the daughter of Indian immigrants may not work in her favor with a GOP base that eschews identity politics. Ms. Haley criticizes identity politics, too, yet these aspects of her identity may give her an unexpected lifeline in the mainstream liberal press.
On Thursday, a CNN anchor, Don Lemon, got in hot water for saying that Ms. Haley, 51, “isn’t in her prime. Sorry. When a woman is considered to be in her prime in her 20s, 30, and maybe 40s.”
Mr. Lemon got immediate pushback from his female co-anchors, later apologized, and was absent from his morning show Friday. Ms. Haley shot back on Twitter: “To be clear, I am NOT calling for competency tests for Sexist middle-aged CNN anchors; only for people who make our laws and are 75+.”
This week, an MSNBC anchor, Andrea Mitchell, asked a former United Nations ambassador, John Bolton, about Ms. Haley: “You’ve quoted Mike Pompeo as saying she’s light as a feather. Would you say that about a man?” After he answered, Ms. Mitchell pushed back further, “Are you judging her in a different way based on gender?”
Ms. Haley, too, seems to intuit that her biography is an asset, and maybe even a shield. She is not shying away from using her gender to her advantage. In her video announcement that she is entering the 2024 race, Ms. Haley opened with her immigrant parents’ story and that of racial divisions in her town, and ended by emphasizing her sex.
“You should know this about me,” Ms. Haley says to the camera. “I don’t put up with bullies. And when you kick back, it hurts them more if you’re wearing heels.”
In the town hall Thursday, Ms. Haley dipped her toes into the culture wars, though with less bravado than Messrs. Trump and DeSantis. In mentioning Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill — dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by the press and Ms. Haley — she said, “Basically it said you shouldn’t talk about gender before third grade. I’m sorry, I don’t think it goes far enough.”
Ms. Haley’s appeal is as a polished communicator and perceived steady hand. Attendees praised her for not using notes and for commanding the room. Yet what exactly she is bringing to the table that is new for Republican voters or different from other prospective candidates who are polling better is unclear. Is she selling a “new generation” of ideas and policies, standard conservatism, or a MAGA candidacy in a prettier package with heels?