CHARLESTON, S.C. — Nikki Haley, a former U.N. ambassador and governor of South Carolina, announced Tuesday that she is running for president, becoming the first major rival to officially challenge Donald Trump for the GOP nomination in 2024.
A veteran of the Trump administration, Haley begins as an underdog in the GOP race. If successful, she would become the first woman and first Asian American to lead the Republican ticket. She previously made history as the country’s first female Asian American governor and the first Indian American to serve in the Cabinet.
Haley has shifted her posture toward the former president over the years. She criticized Trump when he first ran in 2016, before joining his administration the next year and later vowing not to run against him in 2024. In recent months, she has disavowed the pledge as she moved toward a planned announcement speech here in Charleston on Wednesday.
Her announcement comes three months after the entrance of Trump, who announced his third White House bid in November. The campaign has progressed slowly, with other Republicans, including governors, senators and former Trump officials, signaling an interest in the contest and making moves toward jumping in. But most are taking their time, determined not to rush.
Haley makes no mention of Trump in her video but notes that Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven out of eight elections, and she rails against the “Washington establishment.” Trump lost the popular vote twice.
“I’m Nikki Haley, and I’m running for president,” she says in her video, which seeks to take an optimistic view of the country and its past. “The railroad tracks divided the town by race,” she begins, referring to her hometown. “I was the proud daughter of Indian immigrants. Not Black, not White, I was different.”
Haley adds that her mother urged her to focus on similarities, not differences, and she criticizes those who she says “think our ideas are not just wrong but racist and evil.” A sign reading “Racism is a pandemic” and an American flag burning flash on-screen at one point.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Haley adds. She says she “saw evil,” citing killings in China and Iran.
Haley will continue her early-state travel this week, holding town halls in New Hampshire and Iowa hoping to build a following amid polls showing her lagging well behind Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a potential candidate.
Haley takes aim in her video at President Biden and warns of the threat posed by China and Russia. “I don’t put up with bullies, and when you kick back, it hurts them more if you’re wearing heels,” she says.
Haley’s entrance adds to the competition a Republican from a key early primary state that Trump has indicated is a priority for his campaign. He recently stumped in Columbia, S.C. — part of his first day on the trail since his announcement last year. Trump handily won South Carolina’s primary in 2016, finishing 10 percentage points above the second-place finisher, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who was endorsed by Haley.
One of the youngest Republicans who has signaled an interest in running in 2024, Haley, 51, recently reshared an article about an interview from last year. In it, she said: “We seriously need to have a conversation that if you’re going to have anyone above a certain age in a position of power — whether it’s the House, whether it’s the Senate, whether it’s vice president, whether it’s president — you should have some sort of cognitive test.” Biden is 80, and Trump is 76.
When it comes to her past relationship with the former president, Haley has been both an ally and an opponent. “I would not run if President Trump ran, and I would talk to him about it,” Haley said in 2021, pledging to support the 45th president.
But when asked about that comment in a January interview with Fox News, Haley signaled that she had changed course. “It’s bigger than one person. And when you’re looking at the future of America, I think it’s time for new generational change,” she said.
Speaking of Haley in an interview this month with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Trump said: “She’s a very ambitious person. She just couldn’t stay in a seat. I said, ‘You know what, Nikki? If you want to run, you go ahead and run.’”
Haley opposed Trump in 2016, when she initially backed Rubio and later supported Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). At the time, she warned against following “the siren call of the angriest voices,” seen as a reference to Trump’s campaign. Haley offered lukewarm support for Trump in the general election, saying she was “not a fan.”
As governor, Haley drew national attention for calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from the State House grounds after a white supremacist killed nine Black parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015.
She referenced the shooting in her announcement video, saying: “When evil did come … we turned away from fear, toward God, and the values that still make our country the freest and greatest in the world. We must turn in that direction again.”
During her tenure, she also appointed Tim Scott to the Senate. Scott — a possible 2024 candidate himself who is holding an event in Charleston on Thursday and in Iowa next week — is the first Black senator from South Carolina and the only Black Republican serving in the chamber.
After leaving her post at the United Nations, Haley started a political action committee and released a memoir. The Stand for America PAC was active with endorsements in the midterm elections, and Haley was a frequent presence on the campaign trail, stumping for candidates across the country — including pro-Trump Republicans who questioned or denied the results of the 2020 election — and stopping in early nominating states.
After serving as governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017, Haley was ambassador to the United Nations from January of that year until December 2018. She increased the influence of the position in her first year in the role.
Haley has indicated that her pitch will rely in large measure on her foreign policy experience in the post. A video teasing her Charleston announcement featured former U.N. ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, who served under then-President Ronald Reagan. The narrator of the video quotes poet Charles Mackay: “He who has mingled in the fray of duty that the brave endure must have made foes. If you have none, small is the work that you have done. … You’ve been a coward in the fight.”
As a member of the administration, Haley kept a distance from some of Trump’s personal and political scandals. Yet she infrequently broke from him, and she supported most of his foreign policy agenda, including withdrawing the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate accord and the U.N. Human Rights Council, as well as moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Haley, who had no previous formal diplomatic experience, was confirmed to the post with a 96-4 vote in the Senate. During her confirmation hearing, she voiced strong support for NATO and condemned the idea of a ban on Muslims entering the country, which Trump once proposed. She also defended Trump’s praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin but took a stronger position against Russia than Trump.
When she officially resigned from the post — seated next to Trump in the Oval Office — Haley said that she would not run for president in 2020 and that she would instead campaign for him.
After a pro-Trump mob attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Haley said that Trump would be “judged harshly by history” and that he was “wrong with his words” on the day of the insurrection.
“President Trump has not always chosen the right words. He was wrong with his words in Charlottesville, and I told him so at the time,” she said in the same remarks to the Republican National Committee winter meeting on the day after Jan. 6, referring to Trump’s response to violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
Her posture has caught Trump’s attention.
“Well, every time she criticizes me, she uncriticizes me about 15 minutes later,” Trump told Vanity Fair in a story published in 2021. “I guess she gets the base.”
In an interview with Politico published last February, Haley said of Trump, “I am so disappointed in the fact that [despite] the loyalty and friendship he had with Mike Pence, that he would do that to him. Like, I’m disgusted by it.”
Responding to Haley’s announcement Tuesday, Democrats sought to amplify Republican divisions. “Haley’s entrance officially kicks off a messy 2024 primary race for the MAGA base that has long been brewing. Everyone get your popcorn,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison said in a statement.
Haley was born into a Sikh family in Bamberg, S.C., and frequently speaks about her parents and background.
“I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrants. They came to America and settled in a small Southern town. My father wore a turban. My mother wore a sari. I was a Brown girl in a Black and White world. We faced discrimination and hardship, but my parents never gave in to grievance and hate,” she said in an address to the Republican National Convention in 2020.
Throughout her time in the national spotlight, Haley has advocated for the Republican Party to do more to reach people of color. After her election in 2010, Haley became the youngest governor in the country.
Before she was elected governor, Haley served in the South Carolina House of Representatives, defeating an incumbent who had served for decades in the GOP primary to win the seat. She previously worked as an accountant, including for her family’s clothing business.
Presidential candidates for 2024
Three Republicans have officially declared they are running for their party’s 2024 presidential nomination, and plenty of others are making moves. We’re tracking 2024 presidential candidates here.
Republicans: Former president Donald Trump, Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy have announced they are running for president in 2024. Here is The Post’s ranking of the top 10 Republican presidential candidates for 2024.
Democrats: President Biden has yet to officially announce he is running but has said he intends to stand for office again in 2024. Activist and author Marianne Williamson, a long-shot candidate, has said she will seek the Democratic nomination. Here is The Post’s ranking of the top 10 Democratic presidential candidates for 2024.