Nikki Haley announces presidential run

After two months of Donald Trump’s lonely candidacy for president, Nikki Haley today becomes the first person to join him in the 2024 race. She enters the race as a long shot — well behind Trump and his current chief rival for the nomination, Florida governor Ron DeSantis. But as a former governor and ambassador to the United Nations, Haley has a mix of executive and foreign-policy experience that certainly makes her a plausible presidential candidate.

Haley’s record as governor was generally conservative. She signed a 20-week abortion ban at a time when she was constrained by Roe v. Wade’s still being on the books. And she advanced gun rights by signing a bill that presumptively allowed licensed individuals to bring their concealed firearms into bars and restaurants (unless explicitly prohibited by the businesses). On fiscal issues, her record was less impressive. She pushed tax cuts, with limited success, but failed to restrain general-fund spending, which rose 38 percent from 2011 to 2016, according to an analysis from the Cato Institute. She became a national name in 2015 when she removed the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capitol in the wake of the horrific shooting at the Mother Emanuel church in Charleston.

Despite the lack of foreign-policy background going into the job, Haley quickly became a voice of moral clarity at the United Nations — often better able to articulate Trump administration foreign policy than Trump himself. She was a forceful advocate for the United States and its allies, unsparing against enemies, and a brutally honest critic of the U.N. itself. She offered a searing indictment of the U.N. Human Rights Council in announcing the U.S. decision to withdraw. As she noted, the council routinely condemned the democratic state of Israel while it overlooked egregious violations of serial abusers and granted membership to the likes of China, Venezuela, and Cuba. “I want to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from human-rights commitments,” she said at the time. “On the contrary, we take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.”

One issue that Haley will have to answer for is her constantly shifting posture toward Trump — before, during, and after his presidency. The most dramatic demonstration of this came after the January 6 Capitol riot. Initially, when it seemed as if Republicans were abandoning the outgoing president, she said that Trump “will be judged harshly by history.” But weeks later, it became clear that Republican voters were sticking by Trump as Democrats pursued a second impeachment. Haley appeared on Laura Ingraham’s show and sang a different tune. “They beat him up before he got into office,” she said. “They’re beating him up after he leaves office. I mean, at some point — I mean, give the man a break.” Last April, she said, “I would not run if President Trump ran, and I would talk to him about it.” She obviously decided to revisit that pronouncement.

When Trump announced he was running for president again last November, our editorial response was a firm, unmistakable, no. There are those who share our view who fear a repeat of 2016, in which a large field of candidates splits the vote and allows Trump to rack up wins in early states with a plurality of core supporters, running away with the nomination even if a majority of voters would prefer a different nominee. We are certainly sympathetic to this concern.

No good purpose is served, and much harm can be done, by pure vanity campaigns. There is no need for two dozen candidates. But in order to avoid nominating a factional candidate unpalatable to the general public, the duty of serious contenders is not to stay on the sidelines, but to know when to quit.

Early polling indicates there is a genuine risk that Haley is just the sort of candidate who doesn’t do nearly well enough to contend for the nomination, but just well enough to help split the vote and put Trump over the top. This is especially a risk if her candidacy doesn’t take off but she decides to stick around until her home state of South Carolina votes. If, as we get close to actual voting, Haley is fizzling, we may well find ourselves urging her to acknowledge it and drop out, for the good of the republic. But early polling won’t determine the Republican nominee, and it remains to be seen what kind of conservatism Haley will campaign on. There is only one way to determine whether Haley can generate sufficient popular support to win the nomination.

It would benefit the eventual nominee to have a robust primary in which all candidates have to prove their mettle. Nobody deserves to be anointed the nominee this far in advance, and Haley deserves the opportunity to make her case.

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