On Feb. 15, former South Carolina governor and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced her candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. The Washington Examiner spoke with Haley after the announcement. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Nikki Haley: Truly, I love this state so much, and I was so motherly to this state. And so to feel the love back but to also feel the love back from so many Americans, it was overwhelming, but it also gave me a charge. We’ve got some work to do. We’ve got to start getting it done. But they want a new generation. They want new energy. They don’t want the status quo. They want to see things change. And so I feel more motivated than ever to go and prove to them that we can do this. …
Look, I’ve never been in Washington, and I don’t think you need to be 80 years old to get there. I think that it’s time that we understand that people who have served, they’ve done their time. We need a new crop of people. We’ve got to start getting politicians to realize you either do your job or you get out. And right now, that’s not happening. We need term limits in Congress, but more importantly, we need people in Washington to listen to the American people.
You could hear this crowd today. They know what it means to go to the grocery store and see what inflation has done to them. They know what it means to look at their child’s test scores and worry about whether they’re ever going to catch back up. They know what it means to look at the sky and see a Chinese spy balloon and say, “How is this happening in America?” They know what it means to see crime on the streets because you’ve got lawlessness everywhere, including the border. They feel it, and they want America back the way they felt it when they were growing up. And they want America to be better than it was for them for their kids. And for the first time in our country, parents are worried their kids won’t have it as good as they are. That’s unacceptable, and it’s not OK. And as a mom with kids, we have to do this for our kids. We have to.
Washington Examiner: I spoke to a woman in the crowd in her 80s, and she voted for President Trump twice, but she was bothered by his attacks on you, that you were too ambitious.
Nikki Haley: If ambitious means successful, I’ll take it. And I think successful people are ambitious, and I think that I have always worked hard, but more importantly, I’ve always proved results. You can look at my time as governor. We had double-digit unemployment. We got it down to a 15-year low. We created the “Beast of the Southeast.” We reformed education. We opened it up to charter schools. We did E-Verify. We did voter ID. When I went to the U.N., I took the “Kick Me” sign off our backs. I had America respected again. And now, when it’s time to go and lead this country, I want to lead this country in a way that Americans want it led, not the way politicians want it led. I want it to be someone that goes in with fresh eyes that says, “You know what? I haven’t been part of Washington, but I know what American families want.” And we’re going to get them that.
Washington Examiner: Let’s talk a little bit about foreign policy. We’re in a very interesting place right now, with the American people, and it doesn’t matter if you’re Democrat or Republican, feeling vulnerable in watching that first balloon over the country. Talk about China. You were an ambassador to the U.N. Talk about that relationship, about the fact that [Secretary of Defense Lloyd] Austin, when he called, nobody answered the phone.
Nikki Haley: It’s an embarrassment. It’s just an embarrassment. When I dealt with China, we told them what we expected of them. Biden’s not telling countries anything. He’s showing them what he expects of them by letting Afghanistan … by watching the surrender in Afghanistan, by falling all over himself [to get an] Iran deal, by letting all of this happen with Russia and not being tough from the very beginning like he should have. And then the idea that China’s so arrogant that they think they can send a spy balloon over American skies and they wait until it hits South Carolina, where we have all our military bases, before they consider capturing it. It’s an embarrassment to our country. And Americans deserve better.
Washington Examiner: Even during the worst part of the Cold War, there were still channels open between the U.S. government and Russia. There were still conversations. As president, is that something that you think we need to be able to do so that we don’t get into these situations?
Nikki Haley: Oh, we’ll have conversations with China after we take their funding out of our universities, after we have them stop stealing our intellectual property, after we make sure there’s no spy balloons going over, after we build up our military. Then we will have hard conversations with China. The problem is Republicans and Democrats for too long have thought that if we were nice to China, they would want to be like us. They don’t want to be like us. They’re communists. They think the West are the great sinners. We have to change the way we treat them. We don’t need to be doing trade with them on things that affect our national security. We need to build up our military so that they know we’re strong and when we say something, we mean it. We have to start treating China the way they deserve to be treated.
Washington Examiner: You’re president of the United States. How are you going to handle Ukraine? How would you have done things differently?
Nikki Haley: Stronger and faster from the very beginning. The war in Ukraine is not about Ukraine. It’s about freedom. And our focus has to be on making sure that Ukraine has everything they can to win this war. We don’t need to put troops on the ground. We don’t need to get blank checks. But when they need equipment, you give them the equipment because they have the will and the passion to save their country and fight for freedom. If Russia wins this war, we’re going to have a problem with China and Iran. If Russia loses this war, it will send a message to all of our enemies that they don’t want to go there. That’s why this matters. And if Ukraine loses, Russia won’t stop with Ukraine.
Washington Examiner: Your relationship with Vladimir Putin, what would it be like?
Nikki Haley: When Putin’s having to get drones from Iran and missiles from North Korea, he’s hit rock bottom. When you go and you look at the fact that they’ve raised the draft age to 65, he’s having to pull people off the streets untrained and put them on the front lines to fight. So we know that he’s losing. The problem is we need to finish it. And so he’s buying time to figure out any way that he can to work this out. We need to, not just America, we need all of our allies to get together and say, “Who is doing what? How are we making sure that we have the backs of Ukraine? And let’s finish this.” And so I think it’s hugely important.
Putin is one. You take him at his word. He said he was going to invade Ukraine. You better believe him. Just like China said they were going to take Hong Kong. They did it. China said Taiwan’s next. We need to believe them. Russia said Poland and the Baltics are next. We need to believe dictators when they tell us what they’re going to do. The difference is we need to get in front of it. We need to stop it before it starts.
Washington Examiner: We have [the train derailment disaster] in East Palestine. And you don’t have anyone coming out from the White House and talking to the American people. This is a much bigger disaster than anybody’s talking about, and these rural places that you and I have talked about before often get ignored. And they’re the ones that face the biggest problems when there’s a big chemical spill because trains are diverted around the big cities. How would you have handled it?
Nikki Haley: Unfortunately, I had no shortage of crises when I was governor of South Carolina, including there was a trail derailment when I was a legislator. We had the shooting of Walter Scott by a dirty cop. We had a racist shooting in a church. We had a hurricane. We had a thousand-year flood. When there is a crisis, you go be with the people immediately. Because if you don’t have their back, who else are they going to expect to have their back? And you don’t make them struggle to get the answers. You get transparency. You tell them how to protect themselves. You tell them you’re not going to leave them, and you finish it. You don’t leave America to suffer.
Washington Examiner: You weren’t going to run if Trump ran, but you changed your mind and you are. What was the moment that made you change your mind and said, “You know what? I have to do this”?
Nikki Haley: Look, I think that what President Trump did during his administration, so much of it was so good. And I was proud to be a part of it. And when I first said I wasn’t going to run … Biden had just gotten into office. Since then, we’ve seen Afghanistan fall. We’ve seen inflation. We’re seeing mothers have to fight for baby formula. And then we saw the midterms. And when we saw the midterms and you take the fact that we had lost the last seven out of eight presidential elections, why wouldn’t I get in? I did it in South Carolina. I showed leadership here. I showed it at the U.N. I want to save this country, and I am a problem-solver. And the only way I’m going to do it is not wait on anybody else. I’m going to go do it myself.