Nikki Haley Talks Trump, Ukraine, Polls at Campaign Stop in New Hampshire
Nikki Haley Talks Trump, Ukraine, Polls at Campaign Stop in New Hampshire

By Ross Muscato

At a town hall-type campaign stop in Rye, New Hampshire, on the evening of May 24, Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley fielded a question from a town resident who wanted to know how she was going to handle the inevitable, dealing directly with the former president and 2024 GOP frontrunner and a politician who does not play nice.

“I’m wondering, what is your game plan to punch the bully in the nose?” the man asked the two-term governor of South Carolina.

Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration, started to respond, getting laughs, when she said, “Hi … how are you?”

She continued: “Look, I think there are many things that President Trump did that I agree with.  I was proud to serve in his administration. And the reason I got out of there without a tweet was because I told him the truth.

“When he was doing something right, I fought for him. I worked hard, and I did things that would make America proud. When he did something wrong, I showed up in his office or called him and said you can’t do this, but instead, you could do XY or Z. And I always gave him options, and he would say, ‘Well, how do you see that playing out?’”

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Oct. 9, 2018. (Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)

Haley said that she and Trump had a “great working relationship” and that when she decided to run for president, she called him for “two reasons—one because he gave me the job and it was the right thing to do. Two, because I wanted him to know I was in it to win it.

“And I told him we needed a new generational leader. We needed to leave the baggage behind. We lost the last seven out of eight popular votes for president. And we need to win this.”

In addressing an area of disagreement between her and Trump, Haley said, “He thinks that January 6 was a beautiful day. I think that January 6 was a terrible day.”

Former US Senator Hosts Event

Haley made the appearance, her sixth that day in the first-primary-in-the-nation state, at the event hosted by Scott Brown, the former U.S. senator from Massachusetts, who served in the Trump administration as ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa.

An estimated crowd of more than 400 overflowed the main room where Haley kicked off Brown’s “No BS Backyard Barbecues” series for Republican candidates bidding to take back the White House in 2024.

The informal candidate-and-voter get-togethers are a reprise of those of the same name Brown held in 2016 in Rye—where he and his wife, TV journalist Gail Huff live–for the large field of Republican presidential primary candidates.

Sixteen of the 18 Republicans who vied for the party nomination that year participated in the barbecues.

At the most recent No BS Barbecue, Brown was busy, moving through the crowd and handing the microphone to those who posed questions to Haley.

A Quinnipiac 2024 Republican primary poll of announced and potential candidates posted on May 24 has Trump leading with 56 percentage points, followed by Florida governor Ron DeSantis at 25, with Haley in third place with three points, and former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, and Tim Scott, the U.S. senator from South Carolina, tied for fourth place with two points.

A May 24 CNN poll looked better for Haley, with her tied for third with Pence at 6 points. The poll had Trump leading DeSantis, 53-26.

Haley’s Support for Ukraine

Haley explained her support for Ukraine in its war with Russia, a nation she regards as an adversary to America, saying that backing Ukraine strengthens the United States in opposing and protecting itself from the bad international actors of Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea.

She told the crowd that America’s aid to Ukraine should not involve putting Americans on the ground in the conflict or giving the country money. She said the United States should work with its allies to ensure Ukraine has the equipment and munitions to defeat Russia.

“This is bigger than just a war on Ukraine and Russia; this is a war for freedom, and it’s one that we have to win,” she said.

Haley related how Ukraine has surprised the world with its tenacity, effective fighting, and commitment to freedom and that Russia knows it’s “in trouble.”

Russia is “getting drones from Iran; they’re getting missiles from North Korea,” said Haley. “That’s as bad as it gets. They’ve raised the draft age in Russia to 65.  Think about that. Two weeks ago, they were pulling Russians off the streets and giving them shovels.”

Haley said, “Russian and China are unlimited partners, and Iran is their junior partner. We need to believe tyrants when they say something.

“Russia said they were gonna invade Ukraine. We watched it. China said they were going to take Hong Kong. They did. Russia said Poland and the Baltics are next. We better believe them. And if that happens, we’re talking about World War III.”

Playing a Long, Strategic Game

Haley referenced the polls and said it was apparent to everyone that the polls would change, that the polls of May 24 would not be the “polls we see on the day of this primary.”

When asked to respond to Tim Scott, another South Carolinian, entering the race, Haley said, “I’m here; he’s not,” which drew light chuckles from the audience. “Not only that, but I will put my record up against any candidate in this race. So I’m not worried about anything,” she said.

In making her case at the No BS Barbecue, Haley may have intentionally and strategically positioned for her advantage the size of the crowds she will play to during the campaign, which, at least in the short term, will be much smaller than those her former boss Trump commands.

“You can judge how I’m gonna lead by how I’m campaigning,” Haley said. “I have been on the ground in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina over and over again.

“You’re not gonna see me take shortcuts. You’re not gonna watch me come into a rally and leave. You’re gonna see me touch every hand, answer every question and take every picture until I have earned your trust and I have earned your support.”

Haley added: “No one will outwork me in this race. No one will outsmart me in this race.”

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