Her announcement video didn’t light the world on fire, but it was well done, and displayed her skills as a communicator.
She used her Indian American background to position herself as transcending the nation’s traditional white-Black racial divide. She defended America’s founding principles and history in a way that got some welcome pushback from the left. She touted her economic record as governor in South Carolina and her unifying response to the shooting at Mother Emanuel. She noted that Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections (Sub-text: former President Donald Trump failed to do it in both his runs). She hit the Washington establishment. And she talked of kicking bullies with her high heels.
The tone was firm, yet upbeat, and a good summation of the case for her campaign.
With Trump having announced and everyone else still on the sidelines, she’s taking advantage of the phony-war phase of the Republican nomination battle to get an extra increment of media attention as the second official candidate in the ring.
It’s a sign, though, that Trump doesn’t feel threatened by her candidacy that he — focused solely on Meatball Ron aka DeSanctimonious, aka Florida Governor Ron DeSantis — didn’t personally blast her upon her entry.
If the video is any indication, hers will be a highly conventional campaign. In all likelihood, she’s going to rely on her potentially history-making background as an Indian American woman and her youth to make her campaign stand out. The problem is that biography only goes so far — unless, say, you’re Dwight D. Eisenhower and won World War II — and there will be a number of other candidates with as strong or a stronger case to represent generational change.
Then, there’s her shifting position within the party. As an upstart gubernatorial candidate in 2010, she was a tea party favorite; then, as an incumbent governor who strongly opposed Trump, she was aligned with the establishment; then, as Trump’s first ambassador to the United Nations, she gained some MAGA credibility; finally, as a critic of Trump in the immediate aftermath of Jan. 6, she lost that MAGA credibility.
Of course, her tone quickly changed when it became clear that the party wasn’t abandoning Trump.
The rule of thumb here should be: If you are going to follow the crowd, keep your head down until you know which way it is headed.
She also made herself a hostage to fortune by saying that she wouldn’t run if Trump ran again in 2024, apparently banking on him not getting in. When it became clear that this bet wouldn’t pay off, she came up with reasons — the need for generational change, Biden’s mis-rule — why it no longer applied.
She can look forward to getting asked about this statement at every Pizza Ranch in the state of Iowa.
On paper, someone who hasn’t been particularly offensive to any of a party’s factions should be in a good position. By seeking to avoid the enmity of anyone, though, politicians often earn the indifference of all. That’s the risk for Haley.
The mood in the GOP is also not primed for conventional politics, which many Republicans will consider overly timid and not attuned to the urgency of the moment. On top of that, Haley doesn’t have a distinctive issue. She always could develop one as she’s out on the trail, but an amalgam of the GOP’s current positions is probably not going to break through.
There are more or less two models for winning a major party’s presidential nomination. One is to be the establishment frontrunner, like George W. Bush in 2000, Mitt Romney in 2012 or Hillary Clinton in 2016, with the institutional advantages to bulldoze upstart opponents. Another is to be an off-the-charts charismatic politician, like Barack Obama in 2008 or Donald Trump in 2016, who, by force of personality and with an intensely committed following, forges a unique, unexpected path to the nomination.
Haley isn’t the former and doesn’t look to be the latter, either. Her path has to be Trump and/or DeSantis being much weaker than they appear or blowing one another up in a GOP Ragnarök that creates an opening for her. This is going to be the hoped-for path of any number of other candidates, as well, adding yet another layer of difficulty.
She deserves to make her case, though. If fortune doesn’t always favor the bold, no one has ever won a presidential race by not entering it.