Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) jumped into the presidential race early Tuesday, becoming the first Republican to officially challenge former President Donald Trump for the GOP’s 2024 nomination. The former governor and United Nations ambassador announced her bid in a video, calling for new leadership in a party that she acknowledged had repeatedly failed to capture the popular vote in most presidential elections over the past three-plus decades.
“Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven out of the last eight presidential elections. That has to change,” Haley, 51, said. “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. It’s time for a new generation of leadership.” Haley’s entrance into the race has been expected for months. While she said nearly two years ago that she would not challenge Trump for the 2024 nod if he decided to mount another bid for the White House, that didn’t stop her from laying the groundwork for a campaign. After leaving the Trump administration, she founded her own outside group, “Stand for America,” to boost GOP candidates ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. She’s also stayed active on the national media circuit.
In an interview with Fox News in January, she signaled that she was still weighing a White House bid, saying that the country needed a new generation to step up in 2024 and offering herself as potential leader. “It’s bigger than one person. And when you’re looking at the future of America, I think it’s time for new generational change. I don’t think you need to be 80 years old to go be a leader in D.C.,” Haley told the network. “I think we need a young generation to come in, step up, and really start fixing things.”
Haley’s expected to kick off her first official campaign swing this week with a series of stops in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first states to hold Republican presidential nominating contests. Her announcement was also expected by Trump, who disclosed in late January that he had spoken to Haley about a White House bid and said he encouraged her to do so.
In announcing her campaign, Haley signaled a strategy that seeks to bridge the divide between traditional conservative priorities – shrinking the federal deficit and upping security at the U.S. southern border – and the culture-war-focused populism exemplified by the likes of Trump and DeSantis. “Some people look at America and see vulnerability. 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,” Haley 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.” Of course, she still faces some steep challenges.
Early polling shows her distantly trailing both Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who hasn’t yet jumped into the presidential contest but is expected to later this year. Her early announcement could allow her to gain a closer look from voters and Republican donors before other prospective candidates enter the race. But Haley’s campaign launch also puts her in direct contention with Trump, who appointed her as his envoy to the U.N. just after taking office in 2017. The former president is running to reclaim the White House in 2024, and has made clear that he believes he is the GOP’s rightful nominee, even as other Republicans consider their own bids.
At the same time, Haley irked many Republicans two years ago when she appeared to criticize Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Still, Haley has a winning track record to fall back on; she’s never lost a race for public office in her political career. “She’s tough. She won the governor’s race in ‘10 and none of us thought Nikki would have a chance,” said Katon Dawson, a former South Carolina Republican Party chair who’s backing Haley’s presidential bid. “She brings a lot to the Republican Party as far as diversity and common sense. And I think those are the things that will attract people to her candidacy.”
Haley’s announcement is further evidence that Republicans have become increasingly willing to take on Trump, who has maintained a vise-like grip over the party since he captured the White House in 2016. Many in the GOP have soured on him in recent months, believing that his brand and political instincts are responsible for Republicans’ lackluster performance in the past three election cycles. Her candidacy could also have larger implications for the 2024 GOP presidential primary. While early polling shows DeSantis leading Trump in hypothetical head-to-head matchups, Trump regains the edge in a multi-candidate field.
While she may be the first Republican to challenge Trump for the nomination, she likely won’t be the last to announce. In addition to DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, among others, are believed to be moving toward White House bids. There’s also the possibility that Haley will have to square off against a fellow South Carolinian, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who is said to be weighing a presidential campaign. Both Haley and Scott are set to attend a presidential candidate forum in South Carolina next month.
–Updated at 8:35 a.m.