On the debate stage a week ago in Milwaukee, GOP presidential primary candidate Nikki Haley came closest to melding conservative ideals with America’s realities. A winning combination, her rise has been rapid in the days since.
Between her spunk and reality checks hand-delivered to Republican challengers, Haley is turning heads, including those of unaffiliated voters.
It’s a new day – absolutism may not be winnable. Thank you, Haley, for reminding us of this. And that moral clarity isn’t a campaign slogan. It’s a way to be human.
After the debate, Haley saw the percentage of people who would consider voting for her increase to 46%, up from 29% pre-debate, the greatest improvement out of GOP candidates in the field, according to a Washington Post poll. Her campaign reported more interest and more online donations in the first 24 hours post-debate, than in any other single day. Website traffic increased 10-fold, and Haley was the second-most searched candidate on Google, behind Republican candidate Vivek Ramaswamy.
This shift is seismic. Haley didn’t waste time or energy posturing, and stood out from noisy, self-righteous candidates. Her flip from tired arguments, including that Dems only want to tax and spend, was welcome. She showed – on that stage, in her two terms as South Carolina governor and as U.N. ambassador – she has the chops.
It’s still very early. The road to the White House is wide open. But Haley is bringing a buzz. She made good sense, which we’ve sorely missed lately.
Some debate points that paid off. On a national abortion ban, Haley made clear the Senate doesn’t have the 60 votes to succeed. A national ban can’t be delivered, so don’t make hollow promises – let’s get on with it. She humanized layered situations rather than coming from that too familiar all or nothing position.
“Can’t we agree that contraception should be available?” she said. “Can’t we all agree that we are not going to put a woman in jail or give her the death penalty if she gets an abortion?”
On the deficit and the country’s fiscal reality, the move she made was bold, calling out her own party’s part in it. “Biden didn’t do this to us; our Republicans did this to us too,” Haley said. “Donald Trump added $8 trillion to our debt, and our kids are never going to forgive us.”
On foreign policy, she steamrolled Ramaswamy, emphasizing that as a global superpower, we live in a dual reality. Yes, the southern border is of great concern, but if the U.S. were to deny aide to Ukraine, it would effectively turn over this pro-America country to Russia. Because of Vladimir Putin’s ties, this would dangerously weaken our position with China and North Korea. Border problems could be overshadowed by more catastrophic events. We have to hold space for both domestic as well as international problems. We can’t ignore our place within the rest of the world, nor can we completely put one over the other.
Haley showed courage in speaking difficult truths in front of a wildly pro-Trump audience. She showed grace, too, to former Vice President Mike Pence, saying he did the right thing during the certification process for the 2020 election.
The climate is changing, she acknowledged, alongside those who said it’s all a hoax.
But long before she was on that debate stage, Haley did something decent we won’t forget. She removed the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds in 2015 following the murders of nine Black congregants at a church in Charleston.
The campaign road ahead could be twisty and full of potholes. For now, though, Haley is presenting as a candidate more Democrats could live with if she were to win the presidency. And there’s something deeply encouraging about that.