What Haley's Announcement Means
Her entry into the presidential race tells us a great deal about... Donald Trump
Nikki Haley formally enters the presidential race today; she’s actually been running for some time. But her formal entry tells us a lot about what she and other Republican candidates think about Donald Trump.
I was fortunate enough to be in Iowa when Haley came through for a campaign visit in the summer of 2021. She wasn’t alone, either — Mike Pompeo was coming in shortly after that, as was Mike Pence.
This is something that has impressed me since early 2021. At least to some extent, there is a normal Republican presidential contest going on. That is, the expected Republican candidates have been visiting Iowa, New Hampshire, and other early-contest states, meeting with party activists, major donors, usual endorsers, attending the large party events, and so forth. They were preparing for a world in which Donald Trump declined to run. For the most part, no one was really making a commitment to these candidates yet, but it’s important for them to make the effort and make friends where they can.
The impression I got at the time was that many or most of these candidates would drop out, or never even formally announce their candidacies, once Donald Trump got in.
The fact that Haley is announcing several months after Trump did is notable. I rather doubt she has much chance at the nomination. But she clearly sees Trump as more vulnerable than he was a year or two ago. And she’s demonstrating this in two ways:
She wouldn’t be running if she didn’t think she could win.
She wouldn’t be running if she didn’t think she could withstand any invective Trump throws her way.
This was clearly on her mind when she spoke in Iowa back in 2021. At an event hosted by the Young Republicans of Story County, she was asked a number of pertinent questions about her candidacy, including:
How do we win back suburban voters?
What’s best approach to China?
Who would you nominate for SCOTUS?
How should we be thinking about January 6th?
Are we the party of Trump? Should we be?
Okay, first of all, shout out to Iowa Republicans for asking legitimately interesting questions and taking the first-in-the-nation thing seriously. But her answers on those last questions were telling.
Regarding January 6th, she said, “I was disappointed with how Trump responded after the election, especially as it related to Mike Pence, who was nothing but loyal to him, and going into the Georgia races, and I’ve said that.” However, “President Trump’s going to be a part of this party for a long time. We want him to be, we want him to be a source for good…. We should welcome that.”
So, notably, she was trying to split the baby on an issue that was obviously of great importance to Republicans. She wanted to be seen as willing to criticize Trump where necessary, but also still a loyal supporter of his.
This has clearly changed. It remains to be seen just how much she’s willing to criticize him directly on the campaign trail. Should she find herself facing him in debates this summer, it’ll be interesting to see whether she goes after him or, as most Republican candidates did in 2016, the other candidates. But she knows full well that he is vicious and unkind to his opponents, and she just doesn’t seem as worried about that anymore.