Kaufman: Haley denounces Democrats, boosts stature in RNC speech

The state’s first female governor was an exceptional leader for six years under difficult circumstances.

Image credit: Twitter via @NikkiHaley

“America is a story that’s a work in progress. Now is the time to build on that progress, and make America even freer, fairer, and better for everyone. That’s why it’s tragic to see so much of the Democratic Party turn a blind eye toward riots and rage.” — Nikki Haley, August 24

If Nikki Haley unofficially began her 2024 presidential run Monday night, it was in fine fashion. 

I don’t get ecstatic over pre-written convention speeches, as many sycophants do, and Haley has made some very strong ones — whether at AIPAC or the United Nations — but her presentation was smooth, personal, uplifting and not esoteric, nor riddled with racial bromidesor a dishonest lecture.

We’ve all been made to remember Barack Obama’s 2004 DNC speech. Too bad “hopenchange” recently became a lugubrious sermonNikki Haley is more than a decade younger than Obama but is not new on the scene. She has vast experience and success going back 15 years.

Unlike Kamala Harris, Haley wasn’t raised cavorting around Berkeley protests with her left-wing mother, but rather in a 3,500-person town in rural South Carolina. Hers was the only Indian family. Haley also didn’t stay single until age 50 and get appointed to lucrative positions by philandering with a powerful man 30 years older; she married young and, at age 48, has two college-age children. 

Haley’s father worked three decades as a professor at Voorhees College, a historically black institution. Her mother, who taught for several years in public schools, ran her own clothing shop, and young Nikki helped with the bookkeeping.

After graduating from Clemson University with an accounting degree and working in small business, Haley moved on to politics. She improbably won a seat in the South Carolina Legislature while still in her early 30s, after defeating the state’s longest-serving legislator. Haley won re-election with 83 percent of the vote in 2008, the highest percentage earned by any lawmaker that year.

A few years later at age 37, she audaciously ran for governor. Endorsed by Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney and others, Haley prevailed over Vincent Sheheen, whom she also beat in 2014. The state’s first female governor was an exceptional leader for six years under difficult circumstances. During her governorship, South Carolina also recruited nearly 100,000 new jobs and over $20 billion in capital investment. 

Haley earned national attention during the Confederate flag battle after the 2015 Walter Scott and Charleston church shootings. Unlike in other locales where mayhem prevails after a tragedy, Haley’s leadership defused a tense situation to avoid unrest and further violence.

“After that horrific tragedy, we didn’t turn against each other,” she said last night. “We came together black and white, Democrat and Republican. Together, we made the hard choices needed to heal, and removed a divisive symbol, peacefully and respectfully.“

Haley then became the best UN ambassador since Jeane Kirkpatrick. In an arena where the U.S. and Israel are often considered irredeemable, she defended policies like the intrepid decision to move our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. An indefatigable supporter of America’s chief ally, Haley bravely told the General Assembly she was “taking names” of countries voting for a resolution condemning the move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Despite doomsday predictions from ideological partisans, the move hasn’t hindered “the peace process.”

After two years, Haley resigned from her role in late 2018 as one of the few Trump officials to leave on good terms. A few months later, she released a valuable, informative memoir.

Along with her background, recitation of beliefs, and critiques of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy — “degrading our standing in the eyes of friends and enemies,” while “making the world a less safe place” are two comments I recall  —  Haley wrote about refusing former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former Chief of Staff John Kelly’s efforts to undermine President Trump. She claims Tillerson said people would die if Trump wasn’t checked, and Kelly, suspicious of Haley’s access to the president, was trying to “save the country” (mainly by staying in the flawed Iran Deal and Paris Climate sham).

Another famous episode came in 2018 when she pushed back against an effort to embarrass her. A tough critic of Vladimir Putin, Haley announced new sanctions on Russia during an interview. When Trump decided he wasn’t ready, National Economic Director Larry Kudlow blamed Haley instead of admitting the president changed his mind. Kudlow claimed there “might have been some momentary confusion about that.” Haley memorably hit back, responding “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.”

Though she was a critic during the 2016 primaries — she endorsed Marco Rubio and criticized Trump’s demeanor, adding he’s “everything a governor doesn’t want in a president”— Haley supported Trump in November 2016, saying“I have great respect for the will of the people, and as I have always said, I will support the Republican nominee for president.” 

Haley running for the Oval Office in 2024 partially depends on whether the current president wins this fall. If Trump is re-elected, she likely sits tight for at least two years; but if Biden wins, she can be an outspoken critic of the administration and parlay that publicity into her campaign.

“She has a strong résumé of actual governance and international experience, would likely appeal to female suburban voters who Republicans desperately need to attract to win future elections, and has a solid conservative record from her time as governor,” Republican strategist Jon Thompson said last month.

Haley has been more circumspect and pensive.

“I’m thinking more of, we need to do all we can to get the president reelected. And then, from there, deciding how I will use the power of my voice,” she recently said. “I know that I need and want to be involved in some way that’s helpful. If God has another door for me, He will show it.”