Nikki Haley announces presidential campaign, first major GOP challenger to Trump

Hugely popular with US pro-Israel groups and Republican Jews for her work in fighting anti-Israel bias as UN ambassador, she would be first female and Indian-descent US president

Former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during the first day of the Republican convention at the Mellon auditorium in Washington, DC on August 24, 2020. (OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP)
Former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during the first day of the Republican convention at the Mellon auditorium in Washington, DC on August 24, 2020. (OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP)

Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador, announced her candidacy for president on Tuesday, becoming the first major challenger to former US President Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican nomination.

The announcement, delivered in a video, marks an about-face for the ex-Trump Cabinet official, who said two years ago that she wouldn’t challenge her former boss for the White House in 2024. But she changed her mind in recent months, citing, among other things, the country’s economic troubles and the need for “generational change,” a nod to the 76-year-old Trump’s age.

Haley, 51, is the first in a long line of Republicans who are expected to launch 2024 campaigns in the coming months. Among them are Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former vice president Mike Pence, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.

US President Joe Biden has said he intends to seek reelection in 2024, stalling any jostling for the Democratic nomination.

Haley has regularly boasted about her track record of defying political expectations, saying, “I’ve never lost an election, and I’m not going to start now.”

If elected, Haley would be the nation’s first female president and the first US president of Indian descent.

The daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley grew up enduring racist taunts in a small South Carolina town and has long referenced that impact on her personal and political arc.

She was an accountant when she launched her first bid for public office, defeating the longest-serving member of the South Carolina House in 2004. Three terms later and with little statewide recognition, Haley mounted a long-shot campaign for governor against a large field of experienced politicians.

She racked up a number of high-profile endorsements, including from the sitting South Carolina governor, Mark Sanford, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a tea party darling.

With her 2010 victory, Haley became South Carolina’s first female and minority governor — and the nation’s youngest at 38. She earned a speaking slot at the 2012 Republican National Convention and gave the GOP response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union in 2016.

Haley is also hugely popular in Israel and among Republican US Jews.

Haley made fighting anti-Israel policy the centerpiece of her United Nations tenure, removing the United States from the UN Human Rights Council because it focused an uneven amount of energy on Israel. She also took the lead in the US decision to cut funding for UNRWA, the UN-affiliated body that assists Palestinian refugees, and which Republicans say is perpetuating the conflict.

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks at a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, Thursday, April 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

She has also been a star among pro-Israel Republicans for her pledge as UN ambassador to “take names” of countries that go against the United States when it backs Israel.

Her frontline pro-Israel advocacy has made her extremely popular at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, where she always earned the loudest cheers — the mere mention of her name by another speaker guaranteed applause.

She memorably coined the phrase that came to define her UN gig at the 2017 AIPAC conference: “I wear high heels. It’s not for a fashion statement, it’s because if I see something wrong I will kick it every single time.”

She has a very warm relationship with Jewish Republican groups, including the Republican Jewish Coalition (at an RJC event in 2020, Haley urged Jewish voters to ignore Trump’s coarse conduct and focus on the “results” his policies have yielded).

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley uses binoculars to look at southern Lebanon from Kibbutz Misgav Am on the Israeli-Lebanese border on June 8, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy/Flash90)

Many Jewish Republicans are disillusioned with Trump after the January 6 riot, which attracted explicit displays of antisemitism and his later meeting with noted antisemites Kanye West and Nick Fuentes. Fundraising among Jewish donors ahead of 2024 likely will be a hard slog for any presidential candidate who is Trump-adjacent.

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