Politics and principle alike provide reasons to oppose her.
(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Here’s a blind presidential candidate description for you: She’s held relatively high-ranking positions in both state and national government. She checks the right demographic boxes, being both a woman and of South Asian ancestry. She’s attractive and still relatively young—in her fifties—while her main competitor is in his seventies. On the stump, her delivery is mostly in a monotone, except when her voice trails off at the end of a sentence in an effort to make a boilerplate slogan seem profound. Her speeches are packed with contrived laugh lines and feigned appeals to femininity, workshopped to the point that her delivery comes off as labored or unnatural. When she launches her presidential campaign, she’s polling in the single digits. Everyone knows she doesn’t have a chance at winning her party’s nomination and is clearly angling for the vice presidency, boosted by her intersectional identities.
The candidate described above is Kamala Harris. But it is also Nikki Haley. The difference: At least Harris truly represents the future of her party and its obsessions with race, sexuality, gender, not to mention its abundant hatred for America. While Haley claims the mantle of the GOP’s future, she is positioning herself as the candidate that will take the Republican party back to the before-Trump times.
In her 2024 campaign announcement speech at the Charleston Visitor Center last week, Haley’s remarks were packed with blatant contradictions.
“May the best woman win,” Haley told the crowd. As it stands now, Haley is the only female to enter the GOP presidential race. Shortly after, Haley said, “This is not about identity politics. I don’t believe in that. And I don’t believe in glass ceilings either.” Later in her speech, Haley told the crowd that as “the first minority female governor in history,” she can say authoritatively that “America is not a racist country.”
Which is it: Her gender and ethnicity should bring voters to her cause, or they don’t matter at all? Haley herself doesn’t seem to know, but she’s happy to have her campaign make a quick buck off of the identity game—her campaign website store is selling shirts and stickers that read, “Sometimes, it takes a woman.”
In her kickoff speech, Haley said her candidacy represented that America is “ready to move past the stale ideas and faded names of the past. And we are more than ready for a new generation to lead us into the future.” It is surprising that Haley’s vision of the Republican party’s future—downplaying the culture war and playing up the importance of race and gender—looks so much like the party’s neoconservative past, when the left’s cultural agenda advanced unimpeded.
Haley’s PAC may be called Stand for America, but it appears the former South Carolina governor stands for nothing at all. She seems to wake up every morning and stick a finger in the air to see which way the political winds are blowing. She shows some talent for it. Haley rightly perceives that the Republican establishment in Washington badly wants to put Trump in the rearview mirror. While she did not mention the former president by name, Haley clearly thinks that Trump, too, is one of the “faded names of the past.” Haley would reduce the MAGA movement, the Trump revolution, the realignment, whatever you want to call it, to a brief detour on the road of neoconservative dominance rather than a hard fork to which there’s no return.
Which is why Haley has been on the warpath for Ukraine while her former boss has advocated for putting an end to hostilities.
Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, Haley started making the media rounds to advocate for more abundant and more lethal aid to Ukraine. In an interview with Dave Rubin on The Rubin Report, she argued that the United States should supply Ukraine with more military aid because “we always have to fight for freedom. The reason we fight for freedom is because the threats could end up on our doorstep. Why should you care about Ukraine? You should care about Ukraine because this was a country that all they were doing was minding their own business. They were trying to be free.”
Haley’s comments are too ignorant to be a lie; Russia cares about Ukraine because that country is on their “doorstep,” and the Ukrainian-American-NATO interests in Kiev were hardly minding their own business. Those without principles often present as ideologues; malleable abstractions paper over an absence of knowledge. Haley is of this kind.
In a March 2022 television appearance on Fox Business, Haley implored President Joe Biden to consider war with China if that nation were to support Russia. “If Russia receives a lifeline from China, then the U.S. and their allies will start responding accordingly,” Haley said. “And China doesn’t want the wrath of all of us. And I think they [the administration] need to make that very clear.” With ideas like that, thank heavens Haley reportedly declined an offer to become Trump’s Secretary of State and was appointed to the essentially ceremonial position of U.N. ambassador.
A cynic might suggest there’s an element of self-interest in Haley’s hawkish stance. War with China would be calamitous for the young men from heartland America sent overseas, but awfully good for Boeing, which gave Haley a seat on their board after she left the Trump administration in 2018 saddled with debt between $525,000 to $1.1 million dollars. She resigned the post in 2020.
With theological zealotry, Haley has continued to sermonize against Russia and China. Russia and China “both agree on the fact that they think the U.S. and the West are the great sinners. They think we’re sinners because we enjoy freedom, and they think we’re sinners because we enjoy democracy, and they will continue to work together until they can destroy it.”
Haley has embraced the language of liberal empire not because she’s a true believer, but because she has no idea what she’s talking about. Neocon Nikki has fastened onto a bumper-sticker foreign policy toward Ukraine—quite literally. The Team Haley twitter account tweeted a link to donate to the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund, and donors would receive a bumper sticker of the Ukrainian flag with the words “I need ammunition not a ride”—a quote reportedly from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky when the U.S. offered to evacuate him.
Even as the United States emptied its military stockpiles and injected billions into the Ukrainian war effort, Haley claimed America was making Zelensky “beg for equipment and arms.” “Why are we making the Ukrainians beg for things?” she asked during a Fox News appearance, again trotting out the line that “this isn’t just a war on Ukraine. This is a war on freedom.” (Never mind Zelensky’s crackdown on political opposition, the press, and the nation’s Orthodox minority.) Haley cannot offer any tangible American national interest in Ukraine, only an abstract appeal to freedom.
Haley pulled out all the stops to rally supporters to the Ukrainian cause. During her speech at the Christians United for Israel Summit in July, Haley told attendees that, “in the same way that every person of goodwill should take Israel’s side, we have a duty to support Ukraine. We should never stop standing for freedom and democracy. And we should always stand strong against tyrants.” If Haley hadn’t quite managed to drive the point home, she added that failing to support Ukraine signifies a weak America, which, “bears directly on the safety and security of Israel.”
As conservative skepticism for America’s military support for Ukraine continued to grow, Haley attempted to change her tune. On Fox News, Haley said she was not for “giving Ukraine blank checks.” But Haley’s commitment to the neoconservative project was too deep to pull off the attempted pivot. Practically in the same breath, Haley suggested the U.S. should give the Ukrainians anything their hearts desire: “If they ask for long range missiles, you give them. If they ask for planes, you give them.”
Haley has continued this waffling between placing constraints on Ukrainian aid—no boots on the ground and no blank checks—and unmitigated support for Ukraine in the name of freedom. In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody after her 2024 announcement, Brody asked Haley what she makes of the fact that “a lot of MAGA … wants the Ukraine gravy train … to stop.” “This isn’t a war about Ukraine. This is a war about freedom,” Haley stated once again. “If [the Ukrainians] win this fight, you won’t hear anything from Russia, China, or Iran. If they lose this fight, Russia’s not going to stop at Ukraine. They’re going to go into Poland and the Baltics and we’ve got a world war on our hands.”
This fantasy is difficult to reconcile with Russia’s lack of military aggression toward NATO countries giving material assistance to Ukraine’s war effort; it seems that Haley’s Russian counterparts take the threat of nuclear escalation seriously and understand that the Bear is unlikely to win a war against the West.
It will be interesting to see where Haley stands on Ukraine by the time she drops out of the 2024 presidential race. If the past is guide, the paths before Haley are nearly limitless.
As governor of South Carolina in 2015, she gained that “strange new respect” from the left for removing the Stars and Bars from the state capitol in response to a mass shooting committed by a white supremacist at a historically black church. She used this newfound credibility on matters of race relations in the United States to suggest then-candidate Trump was a racist. “I will not stop until we fight a man that chooses not to disavow the KKK,” Haley said, speaking at a Marco Rubio rally. “That is not a part of our party. That is not who we are.” Of course, Haley went on to resign her position as governor to work for the man she suggested was a racist.
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A more recent example of Haley’s political opportunism is her recent attack on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Haley made a campaign stop to give a town hall in Exeter, New Hampshire, where she said, “there was all this talk about the Florida bill—the ‘don’t say gay bill.’ Basically what it said was you shouldn’t be able to talk about gender before third grade. I’m sorry. I don’t think that goes far enough.”
Nikki, governor, would like a word with Nikki, presidential candidate. In 2016, Haley opposed a bill introduced by South Carolina Republicans that would require individuals to use school bathrooms corresponding with their biological gender. “I don’t believe it’s necessary,” Haley said of the bathroom bill. (Was she scared of losing liberals’ “strange new respect” by wading into the culture war?) She seemed to stick to her pro-queer line as U.N. ambassador, boasting on Twitter that she “never voted against anything that would discriminate against LGBT” at the U.N.
Endless war and cultural progressivism—it’s as if the neoconservative era never ended for Haley. If America is “ready to move past the stale ideas and faded names of the past,” they should start by moving on from Nikki Haley.
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.