WAUKEE, IA – Braving an Iowa snowstorm, Nikki Haley stood in the middle of Mickey’s Irish Pub on Tuesday morning and made her last-ditch pitch to Iowans on the fence about her bid for president, ramping up one part of her stump speech in particular: That she’s the one they should vote for — not Donald Trump.
Throughout her campaign, Haley’s pitch against Trump has grown more pointed. In recent months, amid some polling showing she’d win by much wider margins in a general election matchup against President Joe Biden, the pitch has solidified, becoming part of her list of talking points as she vies for a solid showing in the Hawkeye state. She criticized Trump during her CNN town hall on Monday night for “wanting to be an isolationist” and snapped back at his team’s attacks on her over immigration.
“Just because President Trump says something doesn’t make it true,” Haley told voters that night, adding that the former president is “good at breaking things” but that the country now needs someone who can come in and “fix them.”
On Tuesday morning, Haley told voters that if they “want to do something different,” they’ll “have to acknowledge some hard truths,” pointing to the fact that Republicans “have lost seven out of eight popular votes for president” and arguing that her strong hypothetical showing against Biden would result in more than just a conservative in office.
“That’s bigger than the presidency,” Haley said. “That’s governorships, that’s the house, that’s the Senate, all the way down to school boards. That’s a mandate to win by double digits going into DC. That’s a mandate to get our economy on track and stop the wasteful spending. That’s a mandate to get our kids reading again and going back to the basics on education. That’s a mandate to secure our borders with no more excuses. That’s a mandate to have law and order back in our country, and that’s a mandate for a strong America that we can all be proud of. Don’t you want that again?”
The former South Carolina governor also argued that she’d “be a president that makes” voters proud — and reiterated her now-common stance that it’s time for America to “go forward with a new general leader that leaves the negativity and the baggage in the past.” Trump, she told the group of Iowans who had driven through the snow to hear her short speech, was good for the time. But “chaos follows him,” she added: “We can’t have a country in disarray and a world on fire and go through four more years of chaos. We won’t survive it. You don’t defeat Democrat chaos with Republican chaos.”
Haley’s team is arguing that this is now a one person race between her and Trump, but she’s still walking a fine line between criticizing the former president and praising him. It’s a struggle that all of the non-Trump candidates have grappled with throughout this presidential primary: How to express why they’re different, and better, than Trump, while also not alienating the large swath of voters who still feel protective over him. The electability argument is one we’ve seen candidates go to time and time again — but it remains to be seen if voters on the ground are buying the pitch that Trump isn’t the best person to beat Biden, particularly as the current president struggles with his own polling numbers.
The View From An Iowa Voter
58-year-old John Weihs plans to caucus for Nikki Haley, and told Semafor that he’s drawn to her “character,” and isn’t convinced Trump would surround himself with similarly qualified people in a second administration. He added that he wished she’d emphasize her distinctions from the former president a bit more.
“She hasn’t been real forceful about it,” he said. “She doesn’t have to say Trump has bad character…I think she should say he’s got fluid character.”
- Nikki Haley’s pitched herself as the drama-free alternative to Trump, but in recent weeks has stumbled with a number of gaffes. Her opponents have honed in on the missteps, but it’s not clear that it’ll make a major difference at this point in the race, Semafor recently reported.