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World less safe because ‘America is distracted,’ presidential candidate Nikki Haley says

March 14, 2023
| Des Moines Register by Brianne Pfannenstiel and Francesca Block

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley told Iowans Friday morning that America needs to be tougher on the world stage and make national security one of the country’s top priorities.

“I think America right now looks so distracted, and when America is distracted, the world is less safe,” Haley said to a crowd of Iowans in Clive.

Haley joined U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst for a discussion on foreign policy hosted by The Bastion Institute, positioning herself as the authority on foreign policy among an increasingly crowded field of potential Republican presidential candidates.

Her trip came as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made his Iowa debut Friday ahead of the 2024 presidential caucuses and a possible campaign.

Haley flexed her experience as ambassador to the United Nations under the Trump Administration to make a case for her vision of U.S. leadership on the world stage, arguing that America needs to act as a global leader in promoting fundamental values of human rights and freedom.

That means, Haley said, strengthening the U.S. military by promoting patriotism and technological innovation, and focusing less on diversity, equity and inclusion’s “gender pronoun classes.”

She said U.S. leadership also requires being tougher on adversaries such as China, Russia and Iran, and showing support for its allies, including Ukraine, even as other Republicans have publicly questioned America’s financial support to the country at war with Russia.

“I wanted to make sure that every country knew what America was for and what we were against,” she said. “I didn’t care if they didn’t like me, but I wanted them to respect America.”

She said it’s imperative the U.S. join with its allies “to make sure that they (Ukraine) have the equipment they need.”

“If we win this war, this will send a message to China, it’ll send a message to Iran, it will send a message to Korea, it’ll send a message to Russia. If we lose this war, we need to take dictators at their word. They said Poland and the Baltics are next and you’re looking at a world war,” she said of Hitler’s invasion that presaged World War II. “This isn’t about starting a war, this is about preventing one.”

Haley also noted her track record on promoting U.S. interests abroad. As UN ambassador, Haley made headlines for leading America’s withdrawal from the Human Rights Council and for her staunch support of Israel while the country faced allegations from the international community of human rights abuses.

On Friday, Haley called the U.N. “a farce.” Haley said she intentionally went into the role keen on disrupting the status quo and making sure America’s interests were front and center.

Haley makes Iowa trip as Iowa Poll says many Iowans still don’t know her

The foreign policy forum came at the end of Haley’s three-day trip across the first-in-the-nation caucus state, which began with a public town hall in Council Bluffs Wednesday night.

She also met privately with farmers, stopped for pastries at a Winterset Bakery, spoke to Iowa lawmakers at the Capitol in Des Moines and held a town hall in Nevada Thursday evening.

Her visit comes as a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows Haley is viewed favorably by 53% of Iowa Republicans and unfavorably by 8%. However, she is relatively unknown, with 40% saying they don’t know enough about her to form an opinion.  

The poll of 257 self-identified Republicans in Iowa, conducted by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, has a margin of error of plus or minus 6.1 percentage points.

At an event in Nevada Thursday night, Haley urged Iowans not to read too much into early polling, saying she won her race for governor despite being mostly unknown.

“I don’t mind being underestimated,” she said. “It makes me good. It makes me scrappy. It motivates me. What I want to know is that you’ll have the courage too to say, ‘Maybe we deserve better. Maybe we’re not going to listen to the pundits and we’re not going to listen to the politicos telling us what we should be thinking.'”

Even if they didn’t know much about her before, attendees at Friday’s foreign policy discussion were eager to hear her as they begin to weigh potential candidates for 2024.

“I’ve only heard Ambassador Haley speak once before, but I’m interested in hearing more about what she thinks,” Clive resident Kim Schmett said ahead of the event.

Schmett said Haley has a track record that makes her a strong potential candidate. He voted for Trump in 2020, but said he’s unlikely to vote for the former president again.

“I’m interested in seeing several candidates on the campaign trail. I certainly think she’s got a lot of credibility,” he said.

John Bandstra, 66, of Oskaloosa said Haley impressed him with her knowledge and experience promoting American interests abroad.

“She said nothing wrong,” he said.

Bandstra said he particularly appreciated Haley’s “America first” position. Echoing Trump, now her political opponent, Haley told Iowans Friday America needs to “build a wall” along the southern border.

“I think we have some good candidates. Nikki is one of them. There’s others that have not announced yet that are likely and there’s still some in the woodworks,” he said.

Haley pitches for a “new generation” of Republican leadership

In Nevada, about 150 people braved snowy conditions to hear her speak at LongView Farms. She made her pitch for a “new generation” of leadership that is less divisive — a not-so-subtle critique of the former president, though she did not mention Trump by name.

“(Republicans) have lost the last seven out of eight popular votes for president,” Haley said. “That means we are doing something wrong. We should not be proud of that.”

She said Republican policies are the right ones because they “lift up everybody, not just a select few.”

“But the way we communicate matters,” she said, arguing that Republicans need to be better about bringing women, racial minorities and others into the party.

Tammy Wicks, a Hubbard resident who attended the event in Nevada, said afterward that Haley had won her over with her speech.

“I’ve been a Trump follower. I voted for Trump. We met Trump when he first started his campaign up in Mason City,” she said. “And unfortunately, lately, I just — my faith has faltered. He has so much drama and turmoil around him, and he just doesn’t know when to close his mouth.”

Wicks said she appreciated that Haley spoke about creating more competition in health care, supporting the ethanol industry, making changes to preserve the future of Social Security and putting parents in charge of their kids’ education.

“I feel good putting my faith in her,” Wicks said, sporting a Nikki Haley button and holding a yard sign.  

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