Nikki Haley takes the stage at CPAC on March 3, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images)

Why Nikki Haley Is Running for President

A wide-ranging conversation with the woman who believes she can beat Trump. Plus: the latest episode of The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling.

By The Free Press

March 8, 2023

Last month, Nikki Haley announced she is running for president. Haley is someone who has consistently proven doubters wrong: she was the first female governor of South Carolina; she has never lost a race; she’s self-made; and she survived as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during a turbulent, chaotic Trump White House without so much as a scrape.

Some see Haley a savvy, smart player of politics. She allied herself with Trump just enough to stay in his good graces—but stayed away from him just enough to appease his critics.

Her position on Trump is just one of many challenges she will have to face in the Republican primaries. Another big issue: In a post-Trump political landscape, Haley’s old-school Republican worldview might not resonate with the party’s base, which is increasingly isolationist and populist. On the flip side, perhaps she can be a breath of fresh air for the GOP: a candidate promising the kind of normalcy who—as the midterms seemed to show—voters are more than ready to support.

While speaking to the conservatives assembled at CPAC this past week, Haley delivered a message of national unity, saying: “If you’re tired of losing, put your trust in a new generation, and if you want to win—not just as a party, but as a country—then stand with me.” Does she stand a chance? 

That’s one of the many questions we asked Haley on the latest episode of Honestly. Listen right here—and scroll down to get a taste of the conversation.

On foreign policy and a growing isolationist movement on the right:

BW: You’re someone who believes that America needs to play its role on the world stage as the policeman, using force if necessary, and many in the GOP base seem to be asking why. They see a president going to visit Zelensky rather than going to East Palestine, Ohio. What do you say to the Republicans, or the independents, or even the Democrats that you meet on the campaign trail, and certainly the ones you’ve met over your political career, that have said, “Why aren’t we putting America first?” What do you say to the Republican base that’s pivoting away from the neoconservative consensus and going back to its more isolationist roots? 

NH: East Palestine and Ukraine are two different things. Biden needed to be in East Palestine. I have dealt with my share of crises in South Carolina, and I know that when your people are hurting, you drop everything and you are there with them. I think that if Biden had gone to East Palestine, you wouldn’t hear so much criticism about him being in Ukraine.

When it comes to Ukraine, though, it’s our job to let people know why they should care about this. I don’t think Biden has done a good job communicating that, but I’m going to continue to remind people that this is a national security issue for America, because if you let Russia get away with this, guess what? Taiwan’s next. China’s watching everything. China is watching sanctions. China’s watching what we’re doing militarily. China’s watching how the rest of the world is responding to the U.S. Everything we do matters, and I think it’s up to us to continue to tell people: standing with Ukraine is standing for America. 

I don’t think that we need to be the policeman of the world. What I do think, though, is that you have the backs of your allies and you hold your enemies to account. When we speak, the world listens. When we act, the world follows who we are.

On Donald Trump:

BW: Within the Republican Party in the years since the Trump presidency, some have gone the way of Liz Cheney, and others the way of Trump, and a very small number tried to stay out of it. That’s you, I think. Do you think that strategy has worked? And how long do you think you can actually sustain this kind of avoidance when you’re running against Trump? How long do you think you can have your cake and eat it too? 

NH: It’s so funny that everybody thinks that I’m avoiding anything. I’m actually being very true to who I am. So first of all, do I agree with Trump on 100 percent of things? No. Do I disagree with Trump on 100 percent of things? No. I don’t agree with my husband 100 percent of the time either. I think there were a lot of policies that President Trump had in his administration that were great. I’m always going to praise him for that. I’m always going to tell him that I think there are things that he did that were detrimental. I have always called him out on that. People don’t understand how I do both. But isn’t that how we deal with everybody? That’s how I see it. So is there a day he’s going to call me a name? Maybe. Do I care? No. And am I going to continue to say what I think? Absolutely. And I’m going to be honest about it.

On identity politics:

BW: You’ve spoken out against identity politics, and yet in your campaign announcement, you emphasized your identity as a minority woman, as the daughter of Indian immigrants. In that same announcement, you emphasized your femininity: “When you kick back,” you said, “it hurts them more when you’re wearing heels.” To me, it’s a kind of Lean in, you go, girl play that’s typically reserved for Democrats. How central is your identity as a woman, and particularly a woman of South Asian descent, to your candidacy? Do you draw a line between a sort of inclusive identity politics and exclusionary identity politics? 

NH: When I was bullied, when I was younger, my mom would say to me, “Your job is not to show them how you’re different; your job is to show them how you’re similar.” I think that’s a lesson for all Americans. Don’t let people divide you based on what you look like. Instead, show them how similar you are to them. 

I think it also helps people understand me more when I talk about being a woman. I’m proud of being a woman. I’m a feminine girl. I love that. I don’t deny what people can see, which is that I’m a brown woman. That’s fine. I have fun with it. If you’re going to criticize me for those things anyway, I’m going to lean into it and have fun. It’s not identity politics; it’s just loving who you are. I love being a woman. I love my heritage. I love how I was raised, and I love how it has made me who I am today.

Identity politics are when you divide people based on what you are. I’m not dividing people based on what I am. I’m trying to show people that we are all more similar than we are different. 

And (drumroll please…)

The fourth episode of “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling” is out now. It’s called TERF Wars. It’s about why J.K. Rowling became a feminist—and the tensions that arise when the aims of the transgender and women’s rights movements collide.

Listen to it here:

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