Haley says she’s the better choice than Trump in 2024: ‘Chaos follows him’
BLUFFTON — Rallying support in her home state, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley pitched herself as a new Republican leader who can bring strong foreign policy experience and more stability than former President Donald Trump, who remains the far and away frontrunner of the 2024 GOP presidential field.
“I believe President Trump was the right president at the right time,” said Haley, 51, who worked for the 77-year-old former president as his first United Nations ambassador.
“I was proud to serve America in his administration, and I agree with a lot of his policies,” she said to applause Monday from a crowd that packed a gym at the University of South Carolina Beaufort and spilled over to screens outside. “But the truth is that, rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him.”
Haley is polling in second place in South Carolina but still about 30 points behind Trump among South Carolina voters who self-identify as Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, according to the latest Winthrop Poll.
She spoke at the Bluffton campus of USC-Beaufort two days after Trump walked onto the field of Williams-Brice Stadium with Gov. Henry McMaster during the state’s most-watched college game of the year.
Trump, a guest of the governor’s, was on the field less than two minutes during halftime of a Palmetto Bowl that ultimately gave the Tigers another year of bragging rights over the Gamecocks. And he said nothing publicly. But video of him smiling and waving to a sold-out stadium that erupted in loud cheering put his dominance of the Republican field in this crucial early-voting state on display. Haley did not attend the game, which Clemson won 16-7.
“How did it work out for the Gamecocks having Trump show up?” asked Haley, a Clemson graduate and trustee on its governing board.
“Not so lucky for the Gamecocks, just saying,” she said. “Go Tigers!”
State Sen. Tom Davis, a Haley supporter who introduced her at the rally, called Trump’s visit an acknowledgement by the former president of Haley’s success.
“I think it was Donald Trump recognizing that Nikki Haley is quickly emerging as sort of his primary rival,” Davis, R-Beaufort, told the SC Daily Gazette. “The momentum and trajectory are on her side.
“He sees Nikki Haley as a threat, and he should,” Davis continued about his take on Trump’s quick visit.
Trump was not the only Republican who Haley criticized as she laid out “hard truths” about the GOP. She blamed rising expenses for ordinary Americans on Republicans’ willingness to back large federal relief packages during the COVID pandemic and spend money on earmarked projects.
“Republicans have lost the last seven out of eight popular votes for president,” Haley said. “That is nothing to be proud of. We should want to win the majority of Americans. But the only way you do that is you have to go with a new generational leader.”
Much of Haley’s speech was on national security, at home and abroad, using her two years as U.N. ambassador as a selling point. She spoke at length about the importance of defending allies — chiefly Ukraine, Taiwan and Israel — alongside increasing border security and strengthening the military. She called China the chief national security threat and called for a hard line on both military and economic policy.
“We tell (China) we are going to end all normal trade relations with them until they stop murdering Americans with fentanyl,” she said to applause.
Several people attending the rally said they liked Haley’s proposals on securing the border. And they liked her as an alternative to Trump.
Linda Croteau, who came from nearby Sun City, said she appreciated Haley’s “middle-of-the-road” approach in contrast to Trump’s bombast. The 61-year-old, who moved from Massachusetts about a year ago, was a registered Democrat in that solidly blue state but said she’s actually an independent.
For Crouteau, abortion is a big issue, and Haley has distinguished herself from the GOP pack in urging Republicans to stop calling for a national abortion ban that the former governor stresses has no chance of reality anyway.
“I like her stance on that very much,” Croteau said, adding she also agrees with Haley and other Republicans on border security. “Getting the wall up with Mexico, and finishing that up, and, you know, having people come in legally.”
Philip Alling, of Port Royal, said this was his first time seeing Haley in person. But he called himself a long-time supporter.
“I think she’s starting to build momentum,” said Alling, who’s also retired. “We need an alternative to the orange man.”