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Nikki Haley makes Team Trump nervous as she auditions for the role of Republican party saviour

Republicans increasingly resigned to the idea that former President Donald Trump’s grip on the party’s presidential nomination is super-glued in place, suddenly have a new potential saviour in mind.

Nikki Haley, the former Governor of South Carolina, and Trump’s US Ambassador to the United Nations, is only too eager to audition for the role.

When she announced her candidacy on Valentine’s Day earlier this year, she was not rewarded with much love in return. Throughout the spring and early summer she remained a distant fourth in the race for the nomination behind Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence, and struggled to break through in the battle to become the party’s presidential standard-bearer.

But all that changed after her performance in the Republican Party’s first televised debate last month. Suddenly, Haley is the candidate to watch, with even the Trump campaign indicating that her surge in some polls increasingly worries the runaway frontrunner.

FILE PHOTO: Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum pose together before the start before the start of the first Republican candidates' debate of the 2024 U.S. presidential campaign in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S. August 23, 2023. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
Mrs Haley emerged as a winner from the first Republican debate – skipped by frontrunner Donald Trump (Photo: Reuters)

Haley’s most memorable contribution to the debate was her excoriation of Vivek Ramaswamy, the biotech billionaire who thinks he’s ready for the Presidency despite never serving in any elected role.

When talk in the debate turned to Ukraine, Ramaswamy attempted to justify his argument that Kyiv must be ready to surrender territory to Russia. Haley moved in for the kill: “You have no foreign policy experience, and it shows”, thundered the former diplomat as she accused her rival of risking America’s alliances and its standing on the world stage.

But it was Haley’s reference to Margaret Thatcher during the debate that perhaps should have attracted a little more attention. The only woman on stage channelled Britain’s first female prime minister as she challenged the bluster of her male rivals. “This is exactly why Margaret Thatcher said ‘if you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman”, she told a party that has never nominated a woman for America’s top job.

Thatcher is not the only former British Prime Minister to have won Haley’s admiration. In September 2022, while she was still mulling a presidential bid, Haley raced to London on the very day Liz Truss won the Conservative Party battle to succeed Boris Johnson.

Haley hailed Truss as “a principled conservative who stands up for freedom and against those who threaten it”. Those comments came in an Instagram post accompanied by a picture of the two women that now seems unlikely to feature in Haley’s presidential advertising campaign.

This booking photo provided by the Fulton County Sheriff???s Office shows former President Donald Trump on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, after he surrendered and was booked at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta. Trump is accused by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis of attempting to subvert the will of Georgia voters in a bid to keep Joe Biden out of the White House. (Fulton County Sheriff???s Office via AP)
Donald Trump was booked at the Fulton County Jail over allegations of seeking to overturn the 2020 election result (Photo: AP)

It is testimony to the Republican Party’s drift to the right that Haley is now considered a “moderate” on the campaign trail. She claims the party can win back voters appalled by the far-right’s hard line positions on abortion by softening the language that it uses. Often citing her own difficulties having children, she wants Republicans to “humanise” their stance and to “stop demonising the situation”. What that means in precise policy terms is very hard to divine.

She takes similarly opaque positions in other areas of domestic policy. Immigration law, she says, must be enforced. But as the daughter of immigrant parents from India, she insisted in March 2017 that she would never support a Muslim travel ban even as the President she served was busy introducing one.

The “moderate” moniker also flies in the face of many of her other positions. In recent days she’s pushed back against suggestions that earlier in her career she opposed gay marriage. In television appearances she has falsely linked transgender athletes to an increasing number of suicides among teenage American girls.

In foreign policy, Haley hews to more orthodox Republican positions than some of her rivals. She’s as hard line as the party gets on Vladimir Putin’s tyrannical stewardship of Russia, and calls Ukraine “a war about freedom and… one we have to win”. She claims China is an “enemy” of the United States and “the biggest threat we’ve had faced since Pearl Harbour”.

As she seeks to supercharge her presidential campaign, she doesn’t only have her sights on Trump. Haley, in recent days, has started calling herself President Joe Biden’s “worst nightmare”. The White House is also watching. “If they nominate Nikki Haley, we’re in trouble”, one senior Democratic Party strategist told the website Politico last month.

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