Feb 2, 2023

Nikki Haley is running for president.

Nikki Haley speaking in Arizona at a campaign event for former Sen. Martha McSally. Photo: Gage Skidmore
Nikki Haley speaking in Arizona at a campaign event for former Sen. Martha McSally. Photo: Gage Skidmore 

Haley is the first formal challenger to Trump.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

Today, we're covering Nikki Haley's announcement she is running for president, and a question about intervening with a police officer's arrest.

Quick hits.

  1. The FBI said it did not find any additional classified documents in its search of President Biden's Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, home. (The search)
  2. The Fed raised its interest rates by 0.25%, slowing down its rate hikes which had previously been 0.50% and 0.75%. (The pullback)
  3. President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy met yesterday to discuss the looming debt ceiling standoff. (The meeting)
  4. Former President Trump unveiled a set of proposals to cut off federal funding for any school or program that includes “critical race theory” or “gender ideology.” (The proposals)
  5. On Wednesday, the College Board released the curriculum for its new Advanced Placement African American studies course, which includes material on Black Conservatism and now excludes requirements to teach Black Lives Matter or reparations, which Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had objected to. (The changes)

Today's topic.

Nikki Haley. Yesterday, news broke that the former South Carolina governor will be announcing an official campaign for president on February 15 at a launch event in Charleston. Haley, 51, was South Carolina's governor for six years before she joined former President Donald Trump's White House to serve as ambassador to the United Nations. Haley is the first Republican to formally enter the race against Trump, who announced his plans to run shortly after the 2022 midterms.

The news comes just days after Trump went to South Carolina for the beginning of his 2024 campaign, where he appeared alongside current Gov. Henry McMaster.

Haley's entrance into the race confirms longtime speculation on her presidential ambitions. She came to national prominence in 2015 after a mass shooting at a Black church in South Carolina, when she joined a movement to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse. She initially expressed opposition to Trump's candidacy, though she eventually expressed her support for him before the 2016 general election. In 2018, Haley left Trump's White House, citing fatigue after two years on the job. Some onlookers believed she would run against Trump in 2020 or join his ticket as vice president, replacing then-Vice President Mike Pence.

But in the wake of the January 6 riots, Haley once again expressed doubt that Trump would ever be re-elected, while pledging not to run against him if he decided to seek the office again in 2024. Trump told a radio station in South Carolina that Haley called him to ask permission before running, and that Trump told her if her heart tells her to do it, she should do it.

Haley, the daughter of two Indian immigrants, would be the party's first woman atop the ticket and first non-white candidate, were she to win the nomination. She is viewed as a solid conservative and defender of American interests abroad, capable of bridging the gap between some traditional conservatism and Trump-style foreign policy. During her term as ambassador to the United Nations, the U.S. pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, left the Human Rights Council out of support for Israel, and threatened military force against North Korea. She has been criticized for regularly changing her political positions, especially on Trump.

Since leaving the Trump White House, Haley has returned to South Carolina and joined the board of Boeing Co. while hitting the speaking circuit, where Reuters reports she is commanding fees as high as $200,000. She has also written two books since leaving the White House.

Today, most national polls show her with single digit support from Republicans, though some Republican pollsters believe she could shake up the race.

We're going to take a look at some reactions from the right and left, then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • Many on the right are skeptical of her odds, and curious about what positions she'll stake out in the race.
  • Some criticize her as an establishment figure and political opportunist.
  • Others warn not to underestimate her, given some of the polling we have.

In National Review, Jeffrey Blehar expressed skepticism about Haley's candidacy.

"My initial reaction (as memorialized on Twitter) was 'well okay . . . but why?' The answer to that is simple enough, in one way: Why not?" Blehar wrote. "As a two-term governor of an early primary state, one with credentials that could be pitched either to more establishment-minded GOP voters (serious executive; foreign policy credentials; never dined with Kanye post-antisemitism) or to Trump supporters (she served in his administration as his U.N. ambassador), she can certainly tell a story about how she is a dark-horse competitor for the nomination, especially if Trump should fail to gain traction in his revanchist campaign. Upon further consideration, however, the case becomes weaker.

"Haley is a politician long out of her executive spotlight (the story of how she rose to the governorship of South Carolina is quite the improbable tale, involving prior governor Mark Sanford’s endorsement of her as his successor after his legendary decision to 'hike the Appalachian Trail'). She inspires no strong feelings among voters, most of whom are unaware of who she is, except for a vaguely uneasy sense that her opportunism (in particular her variant relationship with Trump and the administration she served in) marks her as someone without locatable core principles," he said. "She checks certain demographic boxes, can deliver a reasonable stump speech, and has a record as an executive. All of these threshold qualifications will melt away into nothingness the second she makes a play for the loyalties of Trump supporters and Trump reminds those same voters of her 'disloyalty' to him."

In The Washington Examiner, Tiana Lowe said her "longshot" candidacy is nothing like the delusions of former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

"The increasing number of Republicans wishing to move on from Trump, who will be 78 on election night, are rightly terrified of a clown car primary like the one that almost cost Biden his 2020 nomination (and thus, the Democrats their eventual victory). Based on the polling, DeSantis is the surest bet for the statistical majority of Republicans ready to move on from Trump," Lowe said. "But can Haley coalesce a plurality, or would she simply serve as a spoiler? With the Florida governor front of mind to voters, Haley is currently a long shot in the polls. A Trafalgar poll in the Palmetto State gives its junior U.S. senator, Tim Scott, 14.3% of primary support, with Haley garnering just 11.6% support. In a 10-candidate field nationally, a poll by the Bulwark, of all places, ties Haley with Liz Cheney at a mere 4% each.

"But that doesn't mean that Haley's long shot bid is tantamount to the 2024 delusions of Larry Hogan or Cheney. Go back to her favorables, and it's clear that Haley doesn't have a clear ceiling," she added. "That Bulwark poll found that 47% of Republicans overall and Trump voters have a favorable opinion, with only 6% of GOP respondents having an unfavorable opinion. Compare that to Cheney, who is considered unfavorable by a majority of Republicans. Does Nikki Haley have a chance of winning the Republican presidential primary? It's certainly too early to say, but critics would point out that her numbers don't look great, either to win the entire primary or to galvanize the field against Trump."

In 2021, shortly after Haley condemned Trump for January 6, Christopher Bedford articulated a common sentiment in The Federalist, writing that Haley was a "social climbing political opportunist."

"This has been true since before she even entered the national consciousness, but she blessed us with a quick refresher course Thursday when she condemned President Donald Trump during a dinner speech to the Republican National Committee’s annual winter meeting," he wrote. "Most of those resigning will advertise this as a brave decision. But it’s tough to pin a medal on spending the remaining two weeks of the president’s term trying out for a job on CNN... But wanna-be President Haley isn’t focused on such tiny ambitions, nor is this her first time earning quick points condemning Trump. The New York businessman is ‘everything a governor doesn’t want in a president,’ she’d told a reporter before South Carolina’s 2016 Republican presidential debate.

"She made sure to glare for the cameras when they came around for the big day. But circumstances and opportunities change," he said. "This is why, two weeks before the 2016 election, Haley told reporters she’d be voting for the Republican nominee even though his campaign was 'embarrassing' and had 'turned [her] stomach upside down.' Her decision, she publicly lamented, was not an 'easy' one, despite it being precisely the easiest and safest decision available to a professional Republican who still wanted to be president someday. By the end of November, she’d said she’d accept his nomination to ambassador to the United Nations — a job that gave her the foreign policy experience and spotlight she needed to keep her name in the running for future president."

What the left is saying.

  • The left is critical of Haley's flip-flopping, and curious to see if she can win over any Trump voters.
  • Some worry that another big field of Republican candidates could ultimately help Trump.
  • Others lament the possibility that Haley could become the first female president.

Stephen Collinson wrote about the potential historic nature of her candidacy, but also that a divided field could help Trump.

"Increasingly clear indications of several forming campaigns are notable because they appear to show that Trump, who has been the most influential force in the GOP ever since 2016, is not so prohibitively formidable that he cannot be challenged by serious rivals," Collinson said. "Still, having multiple rivals would help Trump, as it did in 2016, since the winner-take-all nature of most Republican primaries allows a candidate with a mere plurality of votes to build up big delegate leads in a crowded field. In other words, if Trump can split the opposition, he can win the primary, but that’s no guarantee for the general election given that the twice-impeached former president left Washington in disgrace after trying to steal an election and fomenting a mob attack on the US Capitol.

"Haley’s expected campaign launch will highlight a political persona with considerable appeal as Republicans wonder how to broaden their coalition after their general election loss in 2020. Haley has an advantage as the former governor of a southern state that could be one of the most decisive primary battlegrounds, and her career has long been on a trajectory to a presidential race," he said. "Her candidacy would bring the historic potential of the first woman in the Oval Office and her South Asian heritage could help the GOP win back women and more moderate voters. She added some foreign policy experience to her resume with a spell as the US ambassador to the United Nations under Trump... Unlike many of his Cabinet members, she engineered a smooth exit from the Trump administration on her own terms."

In The Washington Post, Aaron Blake examined her 2024 prospects.

"Haley departed as governor to become Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations. And, in that role, she could craft a uniquely independent — and popular — brand. A 2018 poll showed she was the rare Trump administration official who was well-regarded on both sides of the political spectrum," he said. "Thanks to Democrats’ approving of her job performance 55 percent to 23 percent, her overall approval split was 63-17 — better even than that of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. But that role also allowed Haley to pick her spots, largely avoiding the glaring spotlight that followed many top Trump administration officials and congressional Republicans. And even as that tenure set Haley up for a presidential run, she’s struggled to capitalize on her stature, offering very conflicting signals about her path forward.

"There is, of course, Haley’s remarkable flip-flop on Trump after Jan. 6, 2021. In a lengthy profile by Politico’s Tim Alberta, she essentially declared in the insurrection’s aftermath that Trump was done and that the GOP should be done with him, but then rather swiftly realigned herself with the former president," Blake said. "She even said at one point in 2021 that she wouldn’t run in 2024 against him — a pledge that has obviously gone by the wayside... It’s almost a cliche at this point to note such conflicting messages from Haley. But running for president means presenting your case to voters on an extremely regular basis and expounding on your vision at length in a way Haley has yet to do — even in two campaigns for governor."

In Jezebel, Caitlin Cruz criticized Haley's candidacy and bemoaned the idea she could be the first woman president.

"Personally, I will always remember Haley for her steadfast belief that 'women don’t care about contraception.' When on The View in 2012, Haley made that bold statement to a room full of women who...seemed to disagree. Haley said: 'All of my policy is not based on a label. It’s based on what I’ve lived and what I know: Women don’t care about contraception. They care about jobs and the economy and raising their families and all of those things.' When host Joy Behar pushed back (because obviously people care about contraception, whether you want to plan for having children or not), Haley backpedaled," Cruz said.

"Haley’s more recent, public statements will not inspire any more confidence in her ability to be the leader of the free world," she added. "Let’s roll the tape... While supporting eventual failed Senate candidate Herschel Walker last year, Haley said that his opponent, Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Black pastor, should be 'deported.'... Then there was the time that Haley claimed, 'We’ve never, in the history of this country, passed any laws or done anything based on race or religion.' What? Huh? A person who has seriously claimed this and ignored the entirety of American history should not be allowed near public office. Needless to say, it would be incredibly ironic if this ended up being the woman who broke that big glass ceiling."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. You can reply to this email and write in. If you're a subscriber, you can also leave a comment.

  • We don't endorse candidates in any race, but there are some interesting storylines here.
  • One is the fact Haley is entering without much fight from Trump, which could be an opportunity for her.
  • Still, her pros and cons accounted for, I think her chances are slim.

As always, it is Tangle policy not to endorse candidates in any race, so I won't be doing that here. Instead, I’ll note some interesting elements of Haley’s candidacy.

For starters, Haley worked for Trump and has somehow managed to remain on good terms with him. The vast majority of the people who had high-ranking positions in the Trump White House (that weren't his family) have very publicly broken with him. His vice president is almost certainly going to run against him and has flamed him over and over in public. His first three chiefs of staff, Reince Priebus, John Kelly and Mick Mulvaney, are now some of his harshest critics. Mike Pompeo, the former CIA Director and Secretary of State, looks ready to run against him, too, and has mocked Trump's claims of victimhood. The list goes on.

Yet Haley, who has gone back and forth between criticizing and praising Trump, has managed to enter the race with his blessing and with practically no blowback. That might be because Trump doesn't view her as a serious threat, or it might be because he understands that more candidates is better for him (he’ll want a larger field to divide up the anti-Trump vote). But I still wouldn't underestimate the value of this when you consider she needs to win over a good chunk of Trump's supporters to win the Republican nomination.

On paper, this alone makes her intriguing. She has the very rare triad of support from Trump voters, positive sentiment from establishment Republicans, and lower disapproval ratings from Democrats. That's probably a sign she can win over a lot of independents, too. That’s the encouraging news for Haley.

Personally, what I like about Haley is that she has at least paid lip service to turning the temperature down on the national stage. As Aaron Blake noted in The Washington Post, Haley used the peak of her popularity to deliver a speech to conservative students where she made the case against the "own the libs" mentality. That brand of politics, one obsessed with finding new ways to embarrass or shame your opponents rather than working on policy solutions, is actively destructive. Haley seemed to have seen, at least at one point, the poisonous nature of it.

“I know that it’s fun and that it can feel good, but step back and think about what you’re accomplishing when you do this — are you persuading anyone? Who are you persuading?” she said. "We’ve all been guilty of it at some point or another, but this kind of speech isn’t leadership; it’s the exact opposite.”

The less encouraging news is that we don’t really know what she believes. Her actual positions are pretty hard to pin down, even on something as basic as "do you support Donald Trump?" Aside from an "America-first" foreign policy, which is a perfectly fine framework to build on, where has she been consistent? Her rhetoric on issues like race and immigration will give you whiplash (her calling for a Democratic senate candidate to be deported was a particularly cringeworthy low), and we've seen her go from insisting on bipartisan cooperation, to claiming Democrats were mourning the death of an Iranian general, in nearly the same breath.

As for her odds for success, I'd rate them as "slim," but I've been plenty wrong before. Whether she has a real shot or not, this is probably going to function as the starter’s pistol at the track meet, and you can expect a Republican stampede to follow.

Your questions, answered.

Q: Given what we have seen with the murders of George Floyd and Tyre Nichols, I have been wondering at what point a citizen could step in to interfere with the police. Is using force against a police officer ever warranted? Legally? Morally?

— John from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania

Tangle: We're getting dangerously close to stepping outside of the kinds of questions I think are appropriate to answer in this newsletter, but this one is pretty straightforward.

Legally? No. Police in the United States have wide latitude on what they can do during an arrest, and if you intentionally get in their way you'd be guilty of obstruction and probably end up getting seriously hurt (or getting someone else seriously hurt, either the officer or the person being arrested). I would never, ever, try to physically intervene in an arrest or a physical altercation between a cop and a suspect.

The same goes for using force against an officer if they are detaining you. As discussed in yesterday’s reader question, the best thing you can do is comply and do what you are told. Deciding to use force against an officer could make the officer believe they are in physical danger, which literally gives that officer the legal right to kill you. So unless that is a can of worms you’re willing to open, I wouldn't.

Whether it is morally justified is, of course, a completely different question that ties directly to whatever situation you are trying to intervene in. I can think of some hypotheticals to blow the doors off my points above. For instance, some police officers have been arrested for sexually assaulting women in their custody. If I somehow were to witness such a heinous act, I would obviously attempt to intervene in some way, even knowing the risks cited above. But that is a very extreme example, and it’s possible that even then the best intervention would not be physical.

All this being said, I think the absolute best route you can take, if you believe you are really witnessing a crime unfold in front of you, is simple: Record it, call for more witnesses, and do whatever you can to de-escalate the situation with your presence and your words.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

Hunter Biden's lawyers are employing a new strategy: Attacking his critics. Legal counsel for the president's son have been urging federal prosecutors to launch investigations into Rudy Giuliani, Steve Bannon and others for accessing and disseminating his personal information. The lawyers claim about a half-dozen people violated various statutes like making restricted private information public, disseminating stolen property and making false statements to Congress. They even threatened Fox News host Tucker Carlson with a defamation lawsuit if he does not correct alleged falsehoods he has uttered on air. The letters mark "the start of a new and far more hard-hitting phase" of the President’s son's defense, just as House Republicans plan to launch investigations into the Biden family. The Washington Post has the story.


  • 75-9. In 2018, during her time as UN ambassador, Haley's approval-disapproval rating among Republicans.
  • 55-23. In 2018, during her time as UN ambassador, Haley's approval-disapproval rating among Democrats.
  • 63-19. In 2018, during her time as UN ambassador, Haley's approval-disapproval rating among independents.
  • 48%. The percentage of Republican voters who said they would vote for Trump in a primary race, according to a newly released Morning Consult poll.
  • 31%. The percentage of Republican voters who said they would vote for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in a primary race, according to a newly released Morning Consult poll.
  • 3%. The percentage of Republican voters who said they would vote for Nikki Haley in a primary race, according to a newly released Morning Consult poll.
  • 44%. The percentage of Republican voters who said they have yet to form views about Haley.

The extras.

Have a nice day.

An animal shelter in Tennessee picked up a stray dog off the street that came with an unusual attachment: A note. "Please love me. My mom can't keep me and is homeless with two kids. She tried her best but can't get help - I cost too much for her. She really loves me and I'm a great dog," the note said. The shelter staff posted about the dog, Lilo, on social media and hoped to discover her owner. About 24 hours later, they got a call from someone saying they were Lilo's mom. The woman was homeless, and the shelter offered to help provide resources to continue caring for the dog, who she clearly wanted to keep as a companion. Now they are connecting her with services, too. CBS News has the reunion story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.