Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley officially launched her campaign for President of the United States on Wednesday morning with an event in her home city of Charleston, South Carolina. Haley is the first major candidate to announce she will compete against former President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination in 2024. Haley was raised as a Sikh by her Indian immigrant parents, but converted to Christianity after marrying her husband, Michael Haley, in 1997. She served in the South Carolina House of Representatives for six years and as Governor of South Carolina for six more before being appointed as the Ambassador of the U.S. to the United Nations by former President Donald Trump. Haley would be both the first woman and the first American of Asian descent to be elected President.
Although Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis receive the majority of national attention and are the clear favorites to win the 2024 nomination, prediction markets suggest Haley is clearly the third most likely candidate to advance to the general election. Haley’s decision to run for President contrasts her previous position when she argued she would not challenge Trump for the Republican nomination if he chose to seek it himself. Although Haley and Trump held a working relationship during the first portion of his term, their relationship has soured since the 2020 election. Haley endorsed Trump over Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in 2016 and 2020 but has recently been more critical of his actions as President in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, noting that she was “angry” and his actions “will be judged harshly by history.”
Nikki Haley Scouting Report
Check out our recent article breaking down GOP Primary voters into five groups of voters in detail.
Social Moderates prioritize a combination of electability and fiscal conservatism over anything else, and Haley delivers on both counts. Given that these voters often tend to be younger and low-info, her positive identity politics (a woman of color) will also help her gain support with this group. However, although she has begun to criticize former President Trump since the January 6th Capitol attack, Haley still lacks the credentials to win over true “Never Trump” protest voters over a candidate like Larry Hogan.
Although Reagan Republicans are more conservative on most issues than Social Moderates, together they form the traditional GOP establishment. They should initially be considered Haley’s strongest base of support. While happy to support Trump over Biden, they tend to disagree with Trump’s assertions of election fraud in the 2020 presidential election and may want to move past Trump and Trumpism in 2024. These voters are searching for a strong, steady, and electable conservative to support against Trump, and should Ron DeSantis decide not to run, could propel Haley into his sphere of national stardom.
Haley will likely be one of the most solid challengers among Only Trump voters. Trump has begun to publically attack her, but not quite to the extent of other potential challengers such as DeSantis and former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (though, this could change once the campaign heats up). Although Trump seems likely to go down fighting rather than dropping out and endorsing other candidates, low-information Trump supporters could at least connect her positively with the former President.
Nikki Haley is an establishmentarian, not a populist. She is likely to tout her experience as US ambassador to the United Nations as necessary experience to be President. To the extent she attempts to court these voters, her challenge will be presenting that experience in a way that does not conflict with their isolationist and anti-establishment views. For example, Haley has consistently spoken out in favor of funding Ukraine and disappointed right-wingers when she removed the Confederate Flag from the South Carolina State Capitol during her time as governor.
The Evangelical Right
Given that neither Trump nor DeSantis have an uncommonly close relationship with The Evangelical Right, these voters may serve as the key battleground for prospective 2024 Republican candidates. Mike Pence helped Trump cement the support of these voters in 2016, but their relationship has turned notably south since. This at least opens a window of opportunity for Haley given her conservative social views and genuine embrace of “family values,” though she is unlikely to become the preferred Christian conservative candidate in the primary.
Haley’s First Four Advantage
Given that Haley’s home state of South Carolina will likely be a “First Four” primary, she will have a chance to gain momentum early in the campaign with a strong result. That being said, it will effectively end Haley’s campaign if she is unable to score a victory on her home turf.
Behind Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley may have the widest appeal and brightest prospects out of any other 2024 GOP Presidential candidate. She is conservative enough to win the support of the most conservative voters, but will not alienate moderates with her rhetoric. Her establishmentarian rhetoric and views will cause GOP primary voters to view her as an electable candidate come November of 2024 and will play especially well in the suburbs and exurbs.
Haley will have to overcome plenty of obstacles in order to win the nomination. Her name recognition and public profile lag far behind DeSantis and she will start at a massive fundraising disadvantage. Establishment Republican voters will be keen to prevent a second coming of 2016 when a variety of GOP challengers split opposition against Trump, allowing him to claim the nomination without ever facing a real challenge.