Could NIkki Haley Be Our Next President?

From a New York Times opinion piece headlined “Could Haley Be Our Next President?”:

With candidates entering the 2024 presidential race, Times columnists and Opinion writers are starting a scorecard assessing their strengths and weaknesses. We rate the candidates on a scale of 1 to 10: 1 means the candidate will probably drop out before any actual caucus or primary voting; 10 means the candidate has a very strong chance of accepting the party’s nomination next summer. We begin with Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and United Nations ambassador in the Trump administration, who announced her bid for the Republican nomination on Tuesday.

How seriously should we take Nikki Haley’s candidacy?

David Brooks In a normal party, she would have to be taken seriously. She’s politically skilled, has never lost an election, has domestic and foreign policy experience, has been a popular governor, is about as conservative as the median G.O.P. voter and is running on an implicit platform: Let’s end the chaos and be populist but sensible. The question is, is the G.O.P. becoming once again a normal party?

Jane Coaston To borrow a phrase, we should take it extremely literally but not seriously. She is indeed running for president. But Nikki Haley will not be the next president of the United States of America.

Ross Douthat Much less seriously than the likely front-running candidacies of Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, and somewhat less seriously than the likely also-ran candidacy of Mike Pence. Which means that barring a scenario where at least two of those three men don’t catch fire, not particularly seriously at all.

David French The Republican race is best summed up as two individuals (Trump and DeSantis) and a field. Maybe a third candidate can emerge from the field, and maybe that person can be Haley — a decent reason to take her seriously — but we need to see evidence of independent traction.

Michelle Goldberg
Not very. I can’t imagine who she thinks her constituency is. A video teasing her candidacy starts with a spiel by the neocon Reagan official Jeane Kirkpatrick. Talk about nailing the zeitgeist!

Rosie Gray Haley handled the Trump years more deftly than most. She never allowed herself to be dragged into anything too embarrassing or scandalous and didn’t fall victim to vicious Trump world backstabbing. But she probably isn’t the kind of candidate who can get through a Republican presidential primary. Shrewd as she has been, she can’t plausibly reinvent herself as a 2023 outrage merchant.

Liz Mair She could be the next vice president. That’s the reason to take her seriously.

Mike Madrid I don’t see Haley as a serious candidate for the presidency or the vice presidency. She brings nothing demographically or ideologically to the G.O.P. that it doesn’t already have. But it is a serious attempt to maintain her relevance in the Republican hierarchy as a nonwhite woman willing to take a cabinet position or appointment to reassure primary voters that they aren’t actually a bunch of monolithic white people.

Daniel McCarthy The interventionist foreign policy that Ambassador Haley has made her signature theme in recent years is unlikely to resonate in an America First party.

Bret Stephens Seriously. Last month, Haley gave a speech to an association of auto dealers — the kind of audience any G.O.P. candidate needs to win over. Someone who was in attendance told me she got three thunderous standing ovations. It’s said of Ron DeSantis that the closer you get to him, the less you like him. Haley is the opposite. She still has work to do to win over other core Republican constituencies (above all, evangelicals and Trump sympathizers), but nobody should underestimate her appeal. She looks like a winner to a party that’s desperate to win.

What matters most about her as a presidential candidate?

Brooks If Trump and DeSantis compete in the Trumpy lane, there will be room for a normie candidate to oppose them. She’s more charismatic than Pence or Mike Pompeo, more conservative than Larry Hogan or Chris Sununu. Her problem is South Carolina. She’ll get no credit for winning that early primary, and it will be devastating to her campaign if she loses.

Coaston Haley ought to be an interesting candidate — daughter of immigrants, former governor of a state experiencing big population shifts, a U.N. ambassador — but she seems to have no real basis to run for office. She’s not a populist, and she’s not a culture warrior.

Douthat Her possible ability to split off a (small) piece of the non-Trump vote in early primaries, helping him to the nomination if those primaries are extremely close.

French She’s a conventional Republican. If no one like her can gain traction, it will be a decisive signal that the Republican base has fundamentally transformed and traditional ideological conservatives are at best an imperfect fit for the G.O.P.

Goldberg It will be interesting to see if Trump tries to destroy her right away as a warning to others, or holds off since he’s likely to fare best in a fractured field, with Haley pulling enough votes away from DeSantis to give the nomination to Trump. The more candidates there are, the more likely Trump is to win with a plurality.

Gray Not so long ago, the Republican National Committee was predicting continued electoral doom unless the party expanded beyond its mostly white base. So Marco Rubio threw himself into the failed Gang of Eight immigration bill; Paul Ryan went on a listening tour of poor urban communities, and Haley had the Confederate flag removed from the State Capitol grounds. For a time, Trump seemed to upend any hope that these savvy rising stars had of one day reaching the White House. Haley’s candidacy will test that assumption, and that’s why she matters. Did Trump stamp out the ambitions of her generation for good, putting an end to the dream of a friendlier, more moderate Republican Party? Or did he merely put those ambitions on hold?

Madrid Over 70 percent of Republican primary voters are white, so her candidacy will test the viability of a nonwhite candidate.

Mair She has foreign policy and national security experience, which DeSantis does not. Trump can claim to have that kind of experience, but for many people, all it amounts to is keeping classified documents he shouldn’t have had, coddling up to dictators and autocrats, being softer on China than a lot of Republicans would like and other national security failures. Less substantively, she’s a woman of color, and Republican primary voters would love a chance to show that there are indeed nonwhite people and women who think just like they do (this is something a lot of primary voters are a bit neurotic about, and Haley knows it).

McCarthy She’s the running mate they wish John McCain had in 2008, the kind of Republican the party thought it needed to appeal to a less white, more educated and firmly feminist America. But Trump changed the dream of the G.O.P.’s destiny: appealing to the working class, rather than to a wider ethnic profile within the class of educated professionals, is what Republicans voters now expect. Haley is too representative of the party elite’s desires to be seen as a plausible tribune of the working class.

Stephens If the subtext of a DeSantis candidacy is that he is Trump shorn of the former president’s personal flaws, the subtext of Haley’s is that she is the Republican Party shorn of the former president. A woman, a minority, an immigrant background, a self-made person: Without having to say a word, she embodies everything Trump’s vision of America isn’t. She also would be less vulnerable to Democratic attack lines about Republican bigotry.

What do you find most inspiring — or unsettling — about her vision for America?

Brooks Her immigrant story is a good one, and her decision to get rid of the Confederate flag showed common decency. On the other hand, there was an awful lot of complicity and silence when she served under Trump.

Coaston I would ask … what vision for America? What exactly is Haley offering that is distinctly different from the Generic Republican that Donald Trump (whom she reportedly asked first before deciding to announce her candidacy) became? She is selling the idea that she is somehow both distinct enough to separate herself from the former president she continues to support and similar enough to win the nomination with this Republican Party. I don’t buy it.

Douthat She has generally offered herself as the candidate of Reaganite bromides and as a potential vehicle for members of the Republican gentry who wish the Trump era had never happened but don’t particularly want to have any unpleasant fights about it. That’s a vision that’s neither inspiring nor unsettling; it’s just dull and useless and unlikely to take her anywhere.

French Haley is right about the most important issues facing the free world. The United States should aggressively support Ukraine, and it should aggressively compete with China and deter Chinese aggression. What’s unsettling about her is that, like many Republicans, she never seemed to figure out quite how to handle Trump and constantly flipped and flopped between confrontation and accommodation. Yet her vacillation may be the key to her potential viability. Her back-and-forth on Trump mirrors the back-and-forth of many rank-and-file Republicans. They could perhaps see themselves in her.

Goldberg She’s such a hollow figure that it’s impossible to say what her vision is. “What I’ve heard again and again is that Haley’s raw skills obscure an absence of core beliefs and a lack of tactical thinking,” Tim Alberta wrote in a great profile of her in 2021. She’d most likely pursue a hawkish foreign policy, though, so she could be the candidate of those nostalgic for the George W. Bush administration.

Haley might be the last person in American politics still quoting Sheryl Sandberg. “We are leaning in,” Haley told Sean Hannity last month. “It is time for a new generation. It is time for more leadership.” But at 51, she’s part of a political generation that can hardly be considered “new.” Her candidacy feels trapped in the post-Tea Party, mid-Obama administration era, when she rose to prominence.

Madrid Haley will be the first of many candidates trying to connect with Trump’s populist base while also resurrecting the establishment infrastructure that capitulated to him. If she can explain that she was against him before she was for him and now is against him again in a way that wins over voters and reassures party leaders, it may be inspiring for the sliver of Republicans who still maintain that the party can return to the Reagan-Bush days, and unsettling for everyone else.

Mair It’s not clear to me what her vision is for America. She has alternated between praising and defending Trump and Trumpism and critiquing him and it.

McCarthy What’s unsettling is that her vision is a prepackaged failure. She was a moderately conservative governor and something of a soft libertarian at a time when an aggressive neoconservatism was dominant in the G.O.P. But when she took to the national stage she proved unable to distinguish between the tough realism of Jeane Kirkpatrick and the tough-sounding but inept idealism of the George W. Bush administration. She imbibed Robert Kagan when she should have studied George Kennan.

Stephens There are two dueling G.O.P. visions for America: the “Fortress America” vision, of a nation besieged by undesirable immigrants and undermined by undesirable globalists, and a “City on a Hill” vision, of a nation whose powers of attraction are its greatest strength. Haley strikes me as leaning much closer to the second vision, at least within the broader parameters of conservative thinking.

Imagine you’re a G.O.P. operative or campaign manager. What’s your elevator pitch for a Haley candidacy?

Brooks Every wing of the party would accept her, at least as its second choice, if the top choice falters. It’s not an inspiring strategy, but it has worked for others — not the least of which a certain A. Lincoln.

Coaston Remember when Republicans seemed hinged? Nikki Haley remembers.

Douthat A charismatic female candidate with a vague platform and banal record is all we need to take a time machine back to the politics of 1988.

Goldberg She’s canny, poised and doesn’t come off as crazy, so could be formidable in the general election.

French She can beat Joe Biden!

Gray Haley has already been out there making her own elevator pitch for her candidacy: “We have lost the last seven out of eight popular votes for president,” she told Sean Hannity last month. “It is time that we get a Republican in there that can lead and that can win a general election.”

Madrid Nikki Haley has the establishment experience to beat the establishment.

Mair No one should underestimate the appeal of a nonwhite, female conservative candidate to old, conservative, white, die-hard G.O.P. primary voters, and she’s not another white conservative dude.

McCarthy Did you ever wish Hillary Clinton was a Republican? Now she is!

Stephens If she can win the nomination, she will win the general election.

David Brooks, Ross Douthat, David French, Michelle Goldberg and Bret Stephens are Times columnists.

Jane Coaston is a Times Opinion writer.

Rosie Gray (@RosieGray) has covered the conservative movement for more than a decade as a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and The Atlantic.

Mike Madrid is a Republican political consultant and a co-founder of the Lincoln Project.

Liz Mair (@LizMair) has served as a campaign strategist for Scott Walker, Roy Blunt, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina and Rick Perry. She is the founder and president of Mair Strategies.

Daniel McCarthy is the editor of “Modern Age: A Conservative Review.”

Speak Your Mind