On the menu today: Former South Carolina governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley will make her presidential campaign official with an appearance in her home state this morning, and then tomorrow, she’s off to New Hampshire. A lot of the early coverage of Haley is pointing out what a long shot she is; over at The Bulwark, Sarah Longwell snickers that Haley’s “the perfect Republican presidential candidate for 2015.” But as both a potential nominee and president, Haley would bring a wide range of strengths and a serious accomplishment record to the table. A lot of race-watchers seem convinced that Republican primary voters don’t want that. Do they?
Nikki Haley’s Record
The next president is going to face a dangerous world and sooner or later is likely to deploy U.S. troops into harm’s way. It might be nice to have a president whose husband is a captain in the U.S. Army National Guard, who served for a year in Afghanistan, and whose convoys were hit with improvised explosive devices twice, thankfully with no injuries.
Upon Michael Haley’s return from his deployment in 2013, then-governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley later said, “Seeing him, I felt like I took my first breath in a year.” It might be nice to have a president for whom military deployments and the effect on military families is not an abstract issue.
The next president is going to face a complicated state of foreign relations. It might be nice to have an indisputably conservative Republican who somehow managed to convince the New York Times editorial board that she was an effective U.S. representative to the United Nations, who “could talk as bluntly as the president himself about the failings of the United Nations system, and yet, more quietly, she proved a practitioner of multilateral diplomacy.” The Times raved, “many United Nations diplomats valued Ms. Haley as a pragmatic envoy who could explain the president to a world confused by the chaos in Washington,” and it praised her efforts to reform the U.N. bureaucracy and building consensus for “tough new sanctions on North Korea.”
Haley received similar expression of surprised praise from Politico, BuzzFeed, Foreign Policy, and multiple columnists at the Washington Post. Many foreign-policy wonks thought Haley was unprepared and in over her head when she started the U.N. ambassador job. Apparently, she’s a fast learner, a persuasive communicator, and has good instincts. It might be nice to have a president with traits like these.
The next president is going to face a national debt beyond $31 trillion. It might be nice to have a Republican nominee who not only balanced a budget, as required by state law, but who was willing to fight her own party on spending she deemed excessive and pushed for a simpler tax code. It might be nice if the Republican nominee could point to reducing ineffective spending in, say, the United Nations peacekeeping program, reducing the U.S. contribution by 7.5 percent and overall spending by $600 million.
The next president is going to be the head of state for a country that has lost a lot of faith in its institutions, particularly in the federal government, and a sense that few if any powerful figures are held accountable anymore. Way back in the day, as a state legislator, Haley took on her own party over the importance of having recorded votes (instead of voice votes, in which no record is made of which lawmakers approved and which opposed a particular bill or amendment). At one point, less than 10 percent of all votes in either chamber of the South Carolina state legislature were on the record. After a long, long fight, Haley signed two bills into law — in 2011 and 2016, respectively — that require the legislature to take more recorded votes,
Despite its heavily Republican voting record, the South Carolina of the late 2000s and early 2010s was not a conservative’s paradise. State politics were often dominated by a powerful political establishment that liked to take care of its own and dish out favors to its friends. The state’s governorship was relatively weak and its legislature was strong; Michael Barone’s Almanac of American Politics cites the anecdote of former governor Mark Sanford, an indisputable fiscal conservative, issuing 106 vetoes on spending he deemed excessive and the legislature overriding 105 of them.
(At one point, it was considered controversial or scandalous that Haley’s then-14-year-old daughter was working in the gift shop of the South Carolina state house, making $8 per hour, and working 20 to 25 hours per week cleaning and stocking shelves. Remember when that was considered a controversial way for the child of an elected official to earn money, in the pre-Hunter Biden or Jared Kushner Saudi deal days?)
The next president is likely to face a widespread public perception that large corporations benefit from unfair laws and rules that hold back small businesses. It might be nice to have a president who stepped down from Boeing’s board of directors after less than a year because she opposed a request for $60 billion in government aid to the company during the Covid-19 pandemic, declaring that she “cannot support a move to lean on the federal government for a stimulus or bailout that prioritizes our company over others and relies on taxpayers to guarantee our financial position. I have long held strong convictions that this is not the role of government.” As a member of the board of directors at Boeing, Haley made $256,322 in 2019 and $83,750 in 2020.
The next president is likely to face widespread public doubt that institutions of higher education are effectively preparing America’s young people for the world, and instead incubating a generation of ideologically extreme, hypersensitive, fragile layabouts who are addicted to social media and incapable of overcoming adversity. Haley serves on the board of trustees of Clemson University, and often tells audiences of young people that “they need to have three war stories they can tell, stories that involve something that made them uncomfortable but stronger in the end.”
Haley often tells audiences a version of this story:
Haley ran against Larry Koon, the longest-serving legislator in the state, and who was, she says, “related to half the district.” During the campaign, she and her husband, sporting their “Haley for Legislature” badges, attended a Ducks Unlimited event. A crowd of 1,500 people was there, with a long line waiting to shake hands with the incumbent. As she tells the story, Koon’s cousin got on stage and said, “I want you to know that I’m voting for Larry Koon, and I want everyone else in this room to vote for Larry Koon.” He was greeted with massive applause.
Haley and her husband stood in line. “I shook Mr. Koon’s hand, and he said, ‘See, little lady, they love me.’ And I said, ‘Yes sir, they do.’” Haley spent the rest of the evening, shaking every hand she could, to make sure, she says, “that they knew I wasn’t leaving.”
On Monday, she visited Mr. Koon’s cousin in his office. “Hey, I’m Nikki Haley, and I’m running for State House. I wanted to talk to you,” she said. “I just wanted you to know why I’m running.”
He responded, “I just told over a thousand people I’m voting for him, and they should, too.”
She acknowledged that but asked him to hear her out. “I told him why I was running,” she says. “It was no disrespect to the incumbent, but I just thought we needed something different.”
After she was done, he thanked her and said, “But what do you want from me?”
With just a little more than chutzpah, Haley responded, “I don’t want you to put my yard sign in your front yard. But in your small circles, I want you to tell people what I had to say, and that you liked what I had to say.
“And before I leave, I need a thousand dollars.”
And he gave it.
It was a tough primary, and a runoff that got ugly, focusing on religion, on nationality, on gender. But she won it by a 10-point margin.
We know the Democrats and their allies will contend that the Republican Party is misogynistic. It might be helpful to have a nominee who is a woman. We know the Democrats and their allies will contend that the Republican Party is full of “white nationalists,” and is xenophobic and anti-immigrant. It might be helpful to have a nominee who is the daughter of Indian immigrants.
Much like the man she appointed to the U.S. Senate, Tim Scott, Haley tends to bring out the worst, ugliest, and most hateful sides of her critics. Figures from Ann Coulter to South Carolina Democratic chairman Dick Harpootlian have “joked” that Haley is not really an American and “should go back to where she comes from.” Apparently, it doesn’t matter if you’re born in Bamberg, go to Clemson, live in South Carolina almost your entire life, build a business, sit on the board of your church, donate $130,000 to charity in one year, and have a husband in the Army National Guard who serves in Afghanistan for a year . . . you will still face “You’re not one of us” crap.
That ugly, hard-fought 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary included some questioning of whether Haley was truly a Christian. (Some people may forget, David Brody, but I don’t.)
Haley has her flaws and her missteps and unresolved problems from her days as governor. She will face tough questions about her past statements about President Trump, and whether, when push comes to shove, she ultimately should be seen as more of an ally or more of a critic of Trump. Back in April 2021, she said that if Trump was running, she would not run for president, and Republicans will ask fair questions about what changed and why.
But a good and serious Republican Party would give Haley real consideration as a potential nominee, noting that her depth and breadth of experience and combination of indisputable toughness and charisma on the stump represent a rare combination of strengths in a potential president who is only 51 years old.