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Trump Gets Republican Challenger for 2024 Presidential Election

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley greets supporters after her speech, Feb. 15, 2023, in Charleston, South Carolina.
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley greets supporters after her speech, Feb. 15, 2023, in Charleston, South Carolina.

At her first presidential campaign event on Wednesday, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley told an enthusiastic crowd in Charleston that it is time for the country “to move past the stale ideas and faded names of the past.”

Haley did not mention former President Donald Trump, instead focusing her criticism on the nation’s current leader, Democrat Joe Biden.

“Our leaders are failing. No one embodies that failure more than Joe Biden,” she said.

To face Biden, however, Haley will need to get past Trump, who has already declared his candidacy, and numerous other expected Republican hopefuls.

Haley, ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration, is the first prominent Republican to launch a 2024 campaign to formally oppose her former boss. Her entry into the race reverses a promise she made.

“I would not run if President Trump does,” Haley told reporters on Dec. 4, 2021.

Through a campaign spokesperson, Trump, in a statement to VOA, noted Haley’s previous pledge and said he told her, “She should follow her heart and do what she wants to do,” adding, “I wish her luck!”

Haley, an accountant before entering politics, was relatively unknown in her home state when she made her initial successful run for governor in 2011. She would go on to serve a second term, when she raised her national profile by dealing with a mass shooting by a white gunman in a Black church and signing legislation to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the State House.

FILE - Nikki Haley takes the oath as Governor of South Carolina, Jan. 12, 2011, at the Statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina.
FILE - Nikki Haley takes the oath as Governor of South Carolina, Jan. 12, 2011, at the Statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina.

Haley said she was repeatedly underestimated in her previous political races, noting it was not always easy for her as a child in South Carolina, “a brown girl growing up in a Black and white world.” Haley is the daughter of Punjabi Sikh immigrants from India.

In her inaugural presidential campaign video, released Tuesday, Haley portrays herself as a face of the party’s future rather than one from its past.

“Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven out of the last eight presidential elections. That has to change,” says Haley, a point she also emphasized at Wednesday’s rally.

Haley, who is 51, told supporters at the campaign event there should be “mandatory competency tests for politicians over 75 years old.” Biden is 80. Trump turns 77 in June.

“As U.N. ambassador, she was loyal to President Trump and didn't break with him as some of the Republican Party did. So those things, I think, would be on the positive side for a Republican voter looking at a new candidate. On the negative side, it's not clear that she has as strong a lane or as strong an attraction to America, to Republican voters as some others,” says American Enterprise Institute senior fellow John Fortier. He describes Haley as “a dynamic figure.”

Haley’s candidacy declaration likely is just the first among Republicans seeking to thwart Trump’s return to the White House. Among those considering entering the race are three men who served in Trump’s administration -- his vice president, Mike Pence, the former secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and former national security advisor John Bolton.

“The big person we're talking in this field as a potential alternative to Donald Trump is the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis,” notes Fortier. “And I think the reasons for that is that he did portray, as a large-state governor in a Republican-leaning state, many of the characteristics of Donald Trump.”

Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley Running for US President
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The governor, who focuses on culture war issues as does Trump, is expected to dominate other Republican hopefuls in raising funds. That may make him attractive to party loyalists desiring a strong candidate to face Biden, the expected Democratic Party nominee.

If Haley continues to poll in the single digits, she is more likely to be considered as a running mate (vice presidential candidate) to the eventual party nominee.

Conservative media figures are mostly expressing skepticism, questioning the viability of her campaign and whether she’s a liberal in disguise.

“There’s a rule in politics that you never run for vice president,” said Federalist senior contributor Benjamin Weingarten, speaking on the conservative Newsmax TV channel. “The way the field will ultimately cull that’s the highest seat she could probably attain.”

Haley “is a liberal in outlook and mindset,” declared conservative lawyer Will Chamberlain on Twitter. “She is from South Carolina so she had to run as a Republican. But her views are ultimately formed by The New York Times and The Washington Post.”

The top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, is not playing favorites, predicting a vigorous primary process for his party.

“I think it’s going to be very, very competitive in these primaries and we’ll hope for the best and obviously I'm going to support whoever the nominee ultimately is,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

A crowd of candidates competing against the former president and each other could pave the way for Trump, who was twice impeached, to repeat what he did as a political newcomer in 2016 – having just enough support to clear the field and capture the Republican Party’s nomination.