On the trail: Nikki Haley’s ‘hard truths’ appear to be working with GOP voters


For the Monitor

Published: 09-12-2023 7:29 PM

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley appears to be on to something.

The former two-term South Carolina governor who later served as ambassador to the United Nations in then-President Donald Trump’s administration has seen the size of her crowds grow in recent weeks on the campaign trail here in New Hampshire as well as in Iowa and her home state, two other crucial early voting states in the GOP presidential nominating calendar.

And Haley’s seen her support edge up in some of the latest Republican nomination polls, even though she and the rest of the large field of Republican White House hopefuls remain well behind Trump, who’s the commanding front-runner.

Haley says her apparent upward trajectory in the 2024 race comes down to telling voters some things they may not want to hear.

“I think we’ve spoken a lot of hard truths and I think that Granite Staters appreciate that,” Haley said last week as she returned to New Hampshire for a busy two-day swing. The Granite State campaign stops were the latest evidence that Haley’s gained momentum since her well-regarded performance in the first Republican presidential primary debate on Aug. 23 when she hit the other candidates on federal spending.

"You have Ron DeSantis, you've got Tim Scott, you've got Mike Pence — they all voted to raise the debt. And Donald Trump added $8 trillion to our debt. Our kids are never going to forgive us for this," Haley said. 

"At the end of the day, you look at the 2024 budget, Republicans asked for $7.4 billion in earmarks. Democrats asked for $2.8 billion," she said. "So you tell me, who are the big spenders? I think it's time for an accountant in the White House."

Asked last week what she’s doing right, Haley answered that she’s treating voters like adults.

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“Whether it’s hard truths about the fact that Republicans and Democrats have spent like drunken sailors, whether it’s hard truths on the fact that national security matters and you can’t just say crazy things and not go and protect Americans in the process, whether it’s the facts that we’re talking about parents’ rights, those things matter to Americans so we’re going to keep speaking hard truths and we’re also going to talk about what the solutions are to fix those things,” she said.

The “hard truths” is a line Haley likes to showcase.

“I’m going to tell you my hard truth, because I don’t think Americans get the hard truth on this,” Haley said two hours later at a town hall at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Merrimack.

Tim Scott stays on course

Haley wasn’t the only Republican presidential candidate who hails from the Palmetto State campaigning in New Hampshire.

Sen. Tim Scott also returned to the Granite State, with campaign stops on Thursday and Friday.

Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate and a rising star in the GOP, has been spotlighting an uplifting conservative message as he seeks his party’s presidential nomination. And because he mostly avoided the verbal fistfights at the first debate, he stayed mostly out of the primetime spotlight.

But Scott showcases that he was the adult in the room and that the crossfire between the other candidates on the stage only helps the Democrats.

“The loudest voices too often say too little. So having an optimistic, positive message, I think is necessary not only for us to be successful in a primary but for us to be successful in the general election,” Scott said on Thursday.

Scott pledged to stay the course and not go negative.

“We’re going to have a conservative who’s optimistic, positive, anchored in conservatism, that has a backbone,” he said. “That is the recipe to persuade not only our base but also independents to join the team and save the nation from the road to socialism.”

Pence aims at Trump

Former Vice President Mike Pence argues that Trump “and some of his imitators in the Republican primary” are walking away from core conservative values.

It’s a charge the former vice president made repeatedly during his Monday through Wednesday swing through the Granite State that included a highly billed speech at Saint Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics titled “Populism vs. Conservatism: Republicans’ Time for Choosing.”

“I think we have a very clear choice that’s emerging, not just between candidates but between a philosophy of governance, and Republicans are facing a Republican time for choosing,” Pence told this reporter on the eve of his address.

“Time for choosing” is a clear nod to the late President Ronald Reagan, who famously used the line in a 1964 speech in support of conservative Barry Goldwater’s presidential bid. That address has long been seen as a key moment in Reagan’s transformation from Hollywood actor to politician, and eventually president and conservative icon.

Pence’s speech in New Hampshire comes three weeks ahead of the second GOP presidential nomination debate, which will be held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

“I really do believe that we’re in the midst of a healthy debate in the Republican Party today – whether or not we’re going to continue to hue towards that time-honored conservative agenda of a strong national defense, American leadership in the world, limited government, fiscal responsibility, traditional values, and the right to life, or whether we’re going to follow the siren song of populism away from many of those same timeless conservative principles,” Pence argued.

Pence, a former representative and Indiana governor whom Trump picked as his running mate seven years ago, highlighted that “when Donald Trump ran in 2016, he ran on a promise that we would governor as conservatives. And we did. For four years we rebuilt our military, we cut taxes, we rolled back regulations, unleashed American energy, and appointed conservatives to our courts at every level.”

“But now, the former president and some of his imitators in the Republican primary make no such promise,” Pence said, as he pointed to Trump and some of the other 2024 GOP presidential contenders.

Presidentialcandidate traffic

Multi-millionaire biotech entrepreneur and culture wars crusader Vivek Ramaswamy, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and former Rep. Will Hurd of Texas were among the other Republican presidential candidates campaigning in New Hampshire earlier this week.

Ramaswamy returns to the Granite State this weekend. Next week former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie campaigns in New Hampshire, as does environmental activist and high-profile vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who’s running a long-shot Democratic primary challenge against President Joe Biden.

Sununu teams up with 2024 contenders

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu was very visible on the presidential campaign trail in recent days, teaming up or huddling with all of the GOP candidates.

The governor, who seriously mulled a White House run of his own before announcing in June that he wouldn’t seek the presidency, discounted recent polls in New Hampshire that indicate Trump lapping the rest of the field.

“Everything’s wide open and will stay wide open in New Hampshire for quite a while,” Sununu, who’s long been a vocal GOP Trump critic, told this reporter.

Sununu’s said he’ll make an endorsement ahead of next year’s presidential primary, but reiterated that “I’ve got no idea who I would endorse and I don’t think my endorsement means a whole lot. Frankly, I think it’s a little overrated. In a place like New Hampshire people make their decision and their minds up on their own. They’re really engaged with the candidates. They ask the right questions.”

“When someone strikes my fancy... I’ll let everybody know,” the governor added.

Sununu was interviewed at Monday’s Salem GOP Labor Day picnic, which also attracted a bunch of the presidential contenders.

It was at the same Salem GOP Labor Day picnic eight years ago that Sununu first announced his campaign for governor.

“I come here every single year. It’s my hometown. I did announce my candidacy for governor right here. Probably the worst speech I ever made, by the way. But apparently, it was good enough,” he said.

Sununu went on to narrowly win election to the corner office in 2016, won a single-digit re-election in 2018, a landslide victory in 2020, and a very comfortable double-digit re-election last year. The governor announced earlier thi s summer that he wouldn’t run next year for what would have been an unprecedented fifth two-year term in office.