Halfway through the Q&A. Earlier this month, in the corner of the Nikki Haley Town Hall at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Merrimack, New Hampshire, a man named Ted Johnson stood up and announced that the United States was heading toward civil war. “So,” he asked Haley, “how can I go back to that day in the nineteen-eighties when I was happy, running down the street, riding my bike?”
As it happens, Haley often refers to the eighties. The title of her latest book is taken from a quote by Margaret Thatcher, who she often quoted during her campaign. Last month, at the first Republican presidential debate, she dished out the line “If you want something done, ask a woman” to the largest audience yet. In February, a video trailer for Haley’s campaign began with a blurry clip of Jeane Kirkpatrick — the Democrat who became the leader of Ronald Reagan’s neoconservative diplomacy Policy advisor, speech at the 1984 Republican National Convention.
In the long U.S. presidential campaign season, most candidates usually get a chance to have a “moment.” Here’s Nikki Haley: CNN’s recent general election caucuses show her beating Joe Biden by the largest margin of any Republican candidate, including Donald Trump.After the first debate, Washington postal David Brooks wrote that Haley had “earned wisdom and experience” and it was time to “give Haley a chance”; even new republic There’s an article about why she’s “scaring the Biden campaign.” Haley does not present herself as an isolationist or populist. She didn’t call the government a “regime” or compare the country to the declining Roman Empire; at one of her events I attended, she never uttered the word “woke” or even “freedom” The word “faction” or “elite”. She likes to utter the platitude “I always tell the hard truth,” a simple platitude that makes her stand out in the non-Trump Republican primary field — unlike Ron DeSantis or Vivek Ramaswamy’s chatter, and Mike Pence’s lifeless call for a golden age.
At the Veterans of Foreign Wars post, a flashing sign at the entrance advertises a meat raffle. A former Air Force nurse introduced Haley, who was pacing in flared blue jeans and a white lace sweater. When Johnson asked her how she could go back to the eighties, she saw his disillusionment and nostalgia for a bygone era as the opening lines of a poignant story — the kind Democrats usually tell — about an immigrant. The story of a daughter burying a Confederate flag.
“I don’t know if you remember, but we had a horrific church shooting in South Carolina a few years ago,” she said. She recounted the 2015 murder of nine black men by a young white man after they attended a Bible study with them at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. The gunman’s articles called for a race war, and his website featured a photo of him holding a Confederate flag; Haley decided it was time for South Carolina to take down the flag that had flown in front of the state Capitol since 1961 . To convince state lawmakers to vote in favor, Haley said, she told them about accompanying her father, a Sikh. A professor at a historically black university was shopping for groceries on a jaunt to the small town where they lived; the store owner called the police after seeing her father’s hijab. “Every time I go to the airport, I have to walk by that produce stand. And, every time I walk by it, it hurts. Don’t let any kid have to walk by the state Capitol and see that flag and feel pain.”
After leaving City Hall, I sat in a folding chair next to Johnson. “I supported Trump in 2016 and 2020, but now I want unity,” he told me. “I’m a Haley convert. I ordered her sign last night. Now, I’ve got one for Burgum, but it’s going to be canceled soon.” I told him I thought I saw him on Haley cried during her impromptu performance about the flag. “I completely forgot about that,” he said. “She was the one who really took it down – she worked with Republicans, Democrats, faith leaders, community leaders. When I say the nineteen-eighties, my mom kept me out of the house until dark. Come home. Everyone likes each other and everyone is happy. My wife and I are independents now, and Haley will appeal to people like us. She will appeal to moderate Democrats, too.” He continued, ” There are a lot of Trump bases here, in remote areas. They want Hunter to pay a price, they want Hillary to pay a price. That’s not going to get our country anywhere.”
“Do you remember when you were growing up, how simple life was and how safe it felt?” Haley posed the question to the audience as she walked to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “American Girl” , the audience responded with warm applause. “Don’t you want to do it again?” They did, and they did. Haley said she raised $1 million within seventy-two hours of the first debate, and her New Hampshire campaign struck a triumphant tone. During her town hall, I noticed that the audience would spontaneously use her phrasing. (“I’m here because of this debate,” one voter said, “and you tell the hard truth.”) Melinda Tourangeau, a Desert Storm veteran wearing pearls , pink lipstick and a striped blazer, she told me, “I haven’t” had such a fondness for a politician since Ronald Reagan. “
Haley’s claims for the future harken back to more traditional visions of the Republican Party — the kind of candidacy one might think of as useless to contemporary parties — but savvy establishment conservatives may be Biden’s biggest threat. Haley is now tied for second place with DeSantis in the New Hampshire primary polls — Trump is first, of course — but more importantly, she appears to be interested in a group of moderate suburbs that Biden needs to win Voters have real appeal. She took down the Confederate flag, was not overtly hostile to transgender rights or a woman’s right to choose, and sided with liberal internationalism in support of Ukraine. She was the first female minority governor in the country and never lost an election. Her claims are particularly inclusive: “We should hope to win over the majority of Americans,” she said. “Our solutions are the right ones, but you can’t do it by keeping people out. You can do it by opening the tents. We need more people. We need young people, we need women , we need African Americans, we need Asians, we need Hispanics. You don’t go to them and say, “You should be with us. ” You go to them and say, “What do you care about?” “”
The day before the VFW, Haley traveled to Claremont, a once-thriving mill town on the Vermont border, to attend a town hall in the game room of a local senior center. Tacked to the wall is a license plate that reads “Retirement: No worries, no rushes, no phone calls, no bosses.” A sign nearby warns people not to fall for scams. According to the menu scrawled on the whiteboard, dinner was shepherd’s pie. Hailey walked in wearing a blue striped shirt and white open-toe espadrilles with a light pink pedicure. The event will be small; no more than ten people will attend per journalist.
Haley typically begins her campaign speeches with a brief family origin story: the only Indian in a small town with two stoplights in South Carolina — “We’re not white enough to be white, and we’re not black enough to be black.” ” — where her parents told her how lucky they were to be in America. She talks about sending her husband, a veteran, off to Africa for a year-long deployment at four in the morning. She noted that before entering politics, she was an accountant who graduated from a public university. (No law schools, no Ivy League schools.) She always said, “The first thing we need to address is this national self-loathing that has gripped our country” — a nod to Kirkpatrick’s “Blame America First” speech Recalling her letter, she said the American people understood “the dangers of endless self-criticism and self-deprecation.” Haley likes to conclude by insisting that she’s glad to have been underestimated her whole life: “It makes me scrappy.”
She also managed some hilarious, pre-recorded banter without making Pence or DeSantis or, for that matter, the current president cringe. She has an attentive, active listening look on her face, smiles, and doesn’t interrupt. She paused mid-sentence to say “bless you” to the person sneezing in the back of the room. She held the baby of a crying constituent and stayed up late talking to the local police in charge of the event. The two women next to me reported back: “This is awesome—someone who’s really accomplished something.” Two school-age children wanted Haley’s autograph, and when they reached the front of the line, she knelt down to talk to them. They discussed it at length and then signed “God bless you” in their notebooks.