When Nikki Haley formally launched her bid for the Republican nomination for president, she crossed an important Rubicon in American politics. Haley won’t be the only talented Republican to challenge former president Donald Trump, the GOP’s aging Dear Leader, but she deserves special recognition for being the first. And, sorry, Don Lemon, but at 51, she’s very much in her prime. Margaret Thatcher was 53 when she became prime minister.
Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, used her launch event to showcase her inspiring personal story, conservative world view and accomplishments as the former governor of South Carolina and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
“We’re ready – ready to move past the stale ideas and faded names of the past,” Haley said, “and we are more than ready for a new generation to lead us into the future.”
As a next generation leader, Nikki Haley will be well-positioned to tackle next generation issues like climate change. As polling from our sister organization, C3 Action, has shown, Republican primary voters in key battleground states overwhelmingly believe climate change is real and want candidates to propose climate solutions.
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Unlike her former boss, who Haley believes should be subject to a mental competency test, she has not been all over the map on the question of whether climate change is real. She has unequivocally and repeatedly said it’s real. More importantly, Haley has a deep commitment to policies rooted in economic freedom that are essential to energy innovation and therefore emissions reductions. As Nick Loris, Vice President of Public Policy at C3 Solutions has shown, countries that embrace economic freedom are twice as clean as countries that don’t. Haley’s organization echoed this conclusion, saying “capitalism isn’t the problem; it’s the solution.”
Haley is also an unapologetic happy warrior conservative in the mold of Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. In her launch speech, Haley demonstrated her allegiance to the American tradition of principled pluralism. She said, “Real national unity comes from boldly proclaiming our national purpose and persuading opponents to join us.”
Haley has long urged conservatives to try to persuade rather than “own the libs.” As she said at a Turning Point USA event in 2018:
This is a winning strategy for conservatives. Progressive climate activists who embrace extreme “degrowth” and anti-nuclear and anti-fossil fuel policies are out of step with not just mainstream voters but Democrats who are looking for serious and durable solutions. The C3 Action poll found that 63 percent of Democrats support an “all of the above” strategy; 68 percent of Democrats support nuclear energy. Additionally, 49 percent of Democrats support fracking while only 32 percent oppose it.
Nikki Haley also emphasized “fiscal responsibility” in her launch video and speech and promised to “end the earmarks and pork that fuel big government.” These positions also put her on solid ground among voters looking for real climate solutions and are a rebuke to her former boss who neglected fiscal conservatism and encouraged Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to bring back earmarks.
The C3 Action poll looked closely at how voters want climate solutions to be financed:
- Two-thirds of Republicans and Democrats support streamlining regulations to speed up the deployment of new clean energy technology while Republicans and Democrats prefer to finance clean energy research through spending offsets (49 percent) over borrowing (13 percent) or tax increases (9 percent).
- 76 percent of Republicans and Democrats are not willing to pay more than $10 a month to fight climate change.
- Republicans oppose reviving earmarks by a more than two-to-one margin (46 percent to 21 percent).
The conventional wisdom about the race says Nikki Haley’s campaign, and other campaigns to follow, are sideshows to the looming battle between Trump (the actual Trump) and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (the Trump-like figure without Trump’s baggage). There are good reasons to think this trend will hold but if it does it will be unusual. In the past three presidential election cycles, the race in the February before election year looked very different than at election time.
At this point in 2007, the race was Rudy Giuliani’s to lose. Giuliani was at 33 percent while John McCain was at 19 percent and Newt Gingrich was at 13 percent.
In 2011, Mike Huckabee (18 percent), Sarah Palin (16 percent) and Mitt Romney (16 percent) were neck and neck in February.
And in 2015, Trump wasn’t even in the picture early in the race. In February, Scott Walker (25 percent) led Huckabee (17 percent) and Jeb Bush (13 percent).
The race may well come down to Trump and DeSantis, or one or both may fade. Haley and the other challenges may go nowhere, or one may become the nominee. The safest bet is that the race in January 2024 will look different than it does today.
Voters will ultimately decide if they want generational change. If they do, Nikki Haley will be ready with an agenda to meet next generation challenges.