Nikki Haley, a former governor of South Carolina and United Nations ambassador, announced Tuesday she was entering the 2024 presidential race, making her the first Republican to challenge her former boss and ex-President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination.
Haley, 51, dug into the difference in ages between 80-year-old President Joe Biden and her challenger Trump, who’s 76. While Biden hasn’t formally announced his candidacy, he’s expected to do so in the coming weeks.
“Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven out of the last eight presidential elections. That has to change,” Haley said in a video posted to her Twitter account. She called for a new generation of leaders, saying Biden’s record was “abysmal” and that the “Washington establishment has failed us over and over and over again.”
In announcing her run a day before she’s scheduled a formal campaign launch in Charleston, South Carolina, Haley called for fiscal responsibility and secured borders.
Haley has been assembling a team to explore a potential run for weeks, despite previous claims she wouldn’t run if Trump decided to launch his third campaign for the White House.
Trump was quick to point out Haley’s prior stance Tuesday morning, telling NBC News, “Even though Nikki Haley said, ‘I would never run against my President, he was a great President, the best President in my lifetime,’ I told her she should follow her heart and do what she wants to do. I wish her luck!”
She enters the race trailing Trump and other would-be challengers in public polls.
A Morning Consult poll on Tuesday, for instance, shows Trump backed by 47% of Republican primary voters, while just 3% of respondents said they would pick Haley. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to enter the race, has 31% of GOP support while Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence, who’s likewise hinted at a possible run, has 7% of the vote.
One of Trump’s staunchest Republican opponents in the U.S. House, former Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., is neck and neck with Haley at 3% of the vote. None of those potential challengers have formally announced a run.
Born and raised in South Carolina, Haley noted how her Indian parents made her “different” from most other Americans, which she said forced her to look for similarities with other people instead. Her parentage made her the nation’s first female Asian American governor and the first Indian American member of the Cabinet.
She acknowledged the deep political divide as well as the racial and socioeconomic tensions in the nation right now, saying she’s seen and heard of atrocities overseas that underscore the freedoms Americans enjoy.
“I’ve seen evil,” she said. In China, the leaders are committing genocide while the Iranian government murders people who challenge its policies, she said. “Even on our worst day, we are blessed to live in America,” Haley said.
The political rancor in the U.S. is seen as a vulnerability by many at home and abroad, she said.
“The socialist left sees an opportunity to rewrite history. China and Russia are on the march. They all think we can be bullied, kicked around,” she said. “You should know this about me, I don’t put up with bullies and when you kick back, it hurts them more if you’re wearing heels.”
Haley’s widely anticipated announcement makes her just the second candidate in what’s likely to become a wide Republican primary field. Other GOP names getting presidential buzz include DeSantis, Pence, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
But for now, Haley is Trump’s sole rival, putting her in a potentially awkward spot as she has shifted her attitude toward the former president in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot by a mob of his supporters.
The riot, which was fueled by false claims of election fraud Trump had trumpeted, disrupted the transfer of power to Biden. Not long after the attack, Haley said she was “disgusted” by what Trump had done.
But like other Republicans, she reverted to a more positive view of Trump, who remains highly popular with a large chunk of the GOP base.
“Nikki Haley is just another career politician,” Taylor Budowich, head of the pro-Trump Make America Great Again PAC, said in a searing statement.
“She started out as a Never Trumper before resigning to serve in the Trump admin. She then resigned early to go rake in money on corporate boards,” the statement said. “Now, she’s telling us she represents a ‘new generation.’ Sure just looks like more of the same, a career politician whose only fulfilled commitment is to herself.”
The Democratic National Committee wasn’t much nicer. It said Haley has “embraced the most extreme elements of the MAGA agenda.” As governor, she signed an “extreme abortion ban into law with no exceptions for rape or incest,” backed plans to cut to Medicare benefits and pushed for tax cuts for the wealthy, the DNC said in a statement.
“Haley’s entrance officially kicks off a messy 2024 primary race for the MAGA base that has long been brewing,” it said.
Haley’s first campaign event, previously teased as a “special announcement,” is set for Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET in Charleston. The next day, she’s headed to hit the campaign trail with stops in the key primary states of New Hampshire and Iowa.