New Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley did not mention former President Donald Trump by name during her campaign kickoff event in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday morning — but there was little mistaking what she meant when she said that the country’s politicians are past their primes.
“It’s not that America is past her prime, it’s just that our politicians are past theirs,” Ms Haley told the crowd in Charleston. “We won’t win the fight for the 21st Century if we keep trusting politicians from the twentieth Century.”
Ms Haley is grounding her bid for the Republican nomination for president in an argument that the party needs generational change to boost its chances of re-taking the White House in 2024 — something that the 76-year-old Mr Trump cannot offer.
“If you’re tired of losing, then put your trust in a new generation,” Ms Haley said.
Ms Haley noted in her speech that Republican candidates have lost the popular vote for president in seven of the last eight elections. Mr Trump lost the popular vote in both of his bids for the presidency, winning election in 2016 only because of the party’s built-in advantage in the Electoral College, though Ms Haley did not explicitly highlight that fact in her speech.
Mr Trump’s campaign, meanwhile, did not shy away from attacking Ms Haley directly following her announcement.
In a press release issued on Wednesday, the Trump campaign linked to stories in which Ms Haley expressed her admiration for Hillary Clinton, supported Paul Ryan’s plans to cut programmes like Social Security and Medicare, and opposed ending birthright citizenship, among other items.
The Trump campaign’s approach to Ms Haley suggests that even candidates who do not explicitly attack the former president risk being targeted for criticism by him.
Ms Haley served in the Trump administration and has not broken with him on any major issues — instead choosing, at least at this early stage, to cast her candidacy as an opportunity for Republican voters to select a younger candidate to advance the same kinds of right-wing, pro-corporate policies that Mr Trump supported as president.
Whether there is a significant appetite for that approach from Republican voters remains to be seen. Mr Trump and Gov Ron DeSantis of Florida, who has not yet announced his 2024 plans, have led prospective polls of the 2024 nominating contest. Ms Haley and a number of other potential candidates have lagged far behind.