Haley courts Republicans after losing Trump’s favor
Nikki Haley is seeking a course-correction after a falling out with Trump World earlier this year left her isolated from some top conservatives.
The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations will headline the Iowa GOP’s annual Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines on Thursday, the latest step in a months-long effort to rehabilitate her image in conservative circles after criticizing former President Trump over the Jan. 6 riot.
Since then, she has endorsed female Republican candidates, met with House conservatives on Capitol Hill and praised Trump publicly — all the while fueling speculation that she’s planning to mount her own bid for the White House.
But Republicans remain split on whether her efforts to get back into the good graces of Trump’s conservative base will be successful, noting the intense sense of loyalty many Republican voters continue to feel toward the former president.
“Trump won’t let it happen,” Keith Naughton, a veteran Republican strategist, said of a potential presidential bid by Haley. “She tried to criticize Trump over the election fraud accusations and then she tried to make up for it. You can’t do that. You can’t be two places at once.”
A spokesperson for Haley’s political action committee said that the former U.N. ambassador is focused on helping Republicans in the 2022 midterm elections, when the GOP will have a shot at recapturing control of Congress.
Haley’s allies are quick to point out that she’s long spoken out on issues she feels strong about, even if it challenges those in her own party.
After she was elected to the South Carolina state House in 2004, for instance, she went head to head with Republican Bobby Harrell, the powerful former state House Speaker, over her efforts to force the chamber to take on-the-record votes. She succeeded in that effort, even as Harrell sought to sideline her by stripping her of a key committee assignment.
“It’s a big mistake to underestimate her,” one South Carolina Republican said. “Nikki knows what she’s doing — she knows how to pick her battles and when to pull back, and I think she’s very much in tune with where the party and the grassroots are at.”
Haley, also a former South Carolina governor, ran afoul of Trump earlier this year when she sharply criticized her former boss over his claims of a rigged election. In an interview with Politico published in February, she said that she was “disgusted” with Trump’s conduct surrounding the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
“We need to acknowledge he let us down,” Haley said of Trump’s behavior after the 2020 election. “He went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him. And we can’t let that ever happen again.”
Those remarks landed her on the wrong side of Trump, who’s vowed revenge on Republicans he believes have crossed him.
Since then, however, Haley has taken a more deferential posture toward Trump. During an appearance in her home state in April, Haley told reporters that she would not seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2024 if Trump decides to make another run for the White House and that she would in fact support him in the race.
She has also spoken fondly of her time in the Trump administration and has emerged as a leading critic of the Biden administration’s handling of U.S.-China relations and its posture toward Iran. Even as she criticized Trump’s conduct around the Capitol riot, she praised his administration’s work in her interview with Politico, saying that Trump “was someone who cared about the country.”
Haley remains well-liked within certain GOP circles, and she’s stepped up her efforts in recent months to curry goodwill among Republicans in key states and in Washington. She has issued a slew of endorsements ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, and last week she appeared in front of the Republican Study Committee, an influential group of House conservatives.
Haley has also cultivated relationships throughout her political career with national GOP donors, a network that would almost certainly prove useful in what could be a crowded 2024 primary field.
While she’s in Iowa this week, Haley is expected to attend fundraisers for a handful of state Republicans, including Gov. Kim Reynolds and Reps. Randy Feenstra and Mariannette Miller-Meek, as well as state House Speaker Pat Grassley and the state House Republican Caucus.
Haley is also expected to hold an event with Iowa GOP co-Chair Linda Upmeyer for female elected officials and is working with Rep. Ashley Hinson’s (R-Iowa) team on additional events.
A spokesperson for Haley said that she has raised some $250,000 for GOP candidates since January.
“I think Nikki Haley is very strategic and well-positioned. She came out of the administration in a better position than she went in, which certainly can’t be said of everybody,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and former aide to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
“I think that there are a lot of different segments of the party that really like her,” he added. “And I think she has a unique story, which is important in presidential politics in order to stand out.”
She still has ground to make up among conservatives. A straw poll of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in February showed her running in fourth place among the field of potential 2024 candidates, with just 3 percent support.
And over the weekend, another 2024 straw poll at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver placed Haley at the bottom of a list of 13 potential 2024 hopefuls, with 19.14 percent approval.
“Among conservatives and Republicans who are the core of the Republican primary voters, President Trump is very popular right now,” one GOP pollster said. “A lot of the attacks on him have backfired.”
Still, the pollster noted, much of what happens in 2024 will depend on what Trump does. If the former president decides to forego another White House run, it would leave the GOP field wide open.
At the same time, a handful of high-profile Republicans are seen as potential presidential contenders, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and even Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.
“If President Trump chooses not to run again, it’s more of a wide-open race,” the pollster said. “There’s no single front-runner, there were some double-digit candidates like Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, Donald Trump Jr., but then everybody else is in single digits. So there’s always an opportunity there.”