• D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG
rotating globe
  • D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
Semafor Logo
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG

In today’s edition, a dispatch from Nikki Haley’s campaign launch and a look at Donald Trump’s respo͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
thunderstorms Washington
sunny Charleston
sunny Palm Beach
rotating globe
February 16, 2023


Sign up for our free newsletters
Steve Clemons
Steve Clemons

Nikki Haley launched her campaign for the presidency in South Carolina yesterday, telling the crowd that Republicans needed to move on from the “faded names of the past” after losing the popular vote “in seven out of the last eight presidential elections.” She didn’t attack Donald Trump directly, but her point was clear. Shelby Talcott and David Weigel write about how Haley appears to be running on a promise to deliver competent conservatism, in contrast to the former president. And as Shelby and Benjy Sarlin point out, Trump’s counterattacks against Haley are already providing clues about how he’ll go after other rivals, as well.

I spoke with Elizabeth Whelan, sister of Paul Whelan who is currently detained in Russia, and Diane Foley, mother of the ISIS-murdered journalist James Foley, at an Atlantic Council event yesterday. They told me that while the U.S. has gotten better at supporting the growing number of Americans wrongfully detained abroad, it’s still not the priority it should be.

PLUS, Morgan Chalfant receives One Good Text from former Bernie Sanders foreign policy adviser Matt Duss on Ukraine.

Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here!


White House: Biden is planning to deliver a speech on the Chinese surveillance balloon and other unidentified objects shot down over the U.S., according to the Washington Post.

Chuck Schumer: The Senate majority leader is planning a stop in Israel with other Senate Democrats on an upcoming overseas trip, according to Axios, as the country’s government faces growing criticism over its judicial reform plan.

Mitch McConnell: It looks like Republicans have found their ideal challenger for Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. A poll commissioned by the Senate Leadership Fund showed Gov. Jim Justice beating Manchin 52-to-42 in a would-be 2024 matchup. Justice has said he is “very, very seriously” considering a run.

Kevin McCarthy: The Speaker is leading a congressional delegation to Cochise County, Arizona where they’ll receive an aerial tour of the border from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Reps. Juan Ciscomani, R-Ariz., Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer, R-Ore., Rep. Jen Kiggans, R-Va. and Rep. Derrick Van Orden, R-Wis. will accompany McCarthy.

Hakeem Jeffries: The minority leader was in Houston, Texas Wednesday for a town hall hosted by Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas. Minority Whip Katherine Clark was also in attendance.

Need to Know

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is facing pressure from both the left and right over the train derailment that launched a toxic plume of smoke into the sky above East Palestine, Ohio. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. demanded a congressional inquiry and “direct action” from the Transportation secretary, which Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas retweeted in agreement. “Glad to see newfound bipartisan agreement here. We could start by discussing immediate steps Congress could take to address rail safety & reduce constraints on USDOT in this area,” Buttigieg tweeted in response. Republican Sens. J.D. Vance and Marco Rubio also wrote to Buttigieg with questions about the Transportation Department’s oversight of the freight rail system. In an interview on Fox Business, Vance said that the agency’s failure to label the locomotive a “high hazard flammable train” was likely a “screwup.” Meanwhile in Ohio, residents are struggling to find answers about the health threats posed by the disaster, The New York Times reports.

The Congressional Budget Office said in a new projection that the U.S. will default on its obligations between July and September without a debt ceiling hike, and that the country is on course to add $19 trillion to its debt in the next 10 years unless something changes.

The Justice Department told attorneys for Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. that he will not face charges in connection with its investigation into alleged sex-trafficking, his lawyers and office said in separate statements.

World Bank President David Malpass announced plans to step down from his post at the end of June — about a year early — after facing growing criticism for his statements and work on climate change. The White House rebuked Malpass, who was appointed under the Trump administration, after he refused to say during a conference last year that he accepted the scientific consensus that humans cause climate change (he later walked back the comments). He’s also faced growing pressure from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to speed up the organization’s work freeing up money to address climate change in developing countries. Malpass said he has decided to “pursue new challenges.”

Morgan Chalfant

Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: Some Senate Democrats are urging the White House to prioritize diversity in their selection of the next Fed vice chair, noting that the central bank has never had a Hispanic governor.

Playbook: Some Democrats are still fretting behind the scenes about Biden’s age as he gets ready to mount a reelection bid, but don’t see Kamala Harris as a viable backup option.

The Early 202: Republicans are considering proposing cuts to the food stamp program to reduce the federal budget.

Shelby Talcott and David Weigel

Nikki Haley’s pitch: Conservative policies, minus the Trumpy chaos

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

CHARLESTON, S.C. – Nikki Haley launched her campaign on Wednesday with a smoothly choreographed rollout that emphasized her electability, her patriotism, and her conservative anti-establishment credentials in equal measure.

“If you’re tired of losing, then put your trust in a new generation,” the former South Carolina governor told a crowd of around 2,000 supporters at Charleston’s Downtown Shed. “We won’t win the fight for the 21st Century if we keep trusting politicians from the 20th Century.”


In Haley’s case, the medium was the message. Everything about her first day as a candidate screamed competence, deliberation, and self-discipline. There was a streamlined, traditional campaign video followed by a key endorsement, and then a well-executed announcement event on Wednesday in the heart of Charleston, South Carolina.

Haley walked onstage to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” and walked off to Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” part of a playlist dominated by Golden Age MTV hits from her youth. John Hagee, a controversial pastor and founder of Christians United for Israel, recited the Prayer of St. Francis onstage, which Margaret Thatcher, an icon for female conservatives, delivered after becoming prime minister. Haley, after thanking her endorsers for their remarks, gave a prepared 2,341-word speech and nailed every key phrase.

It all made for a mighty contrast with Trump, who famously resists the exact kind of focus that Haley seems to strive toward, and stumbled into scandal after a haphazard November campaign launch, thanks to his dinner with Ye and white supremacist Nick Fuentes.

The former U.N. Ambassador didn’t explicitly distance herself from Trump, thanking him for her 2017 appointment (“people said I didn’t have the experience”). But she soon followed that up with a proposal for “mandatory mental competency tests” for politicians over 75.

That was about Joe Biden, and, not subtly, about Trump. She was young, he wasn’t. He’d “lost the popular vote” in 2016 and 2020, and she wouldn’t.

Haley said that she did not believe in “identity politics,” but her speech leaned hard into race and gender, invoking her experience as “a brown girl, growing up in a black-and-white world” and the need to send “a tough-as-nails woman to the White House.” While Haley was vague on what her “new generation” of conservatism entailed, she was clearly setting herself up as the one to sell it in diversifying and upwardly mobile parts of America, something Trump struggled to do.

The launch also reintroduced Haley as an establishment-smashing rebel, an appeal to Republicans who know her better as an occasional Trump critic than a conservative ex-governor. Rep. Ralph Norman, one of the Republicans who refused to support Kevin McCarthy’s bid for House Speaker until he made conservative concessions, called Haley a “kindred spirit” who “would have been right along with me, had she been in Congress.”

Haley hadn’t commented on the speaker fight before, but in Charleston, she told Norman that “you know I would have been right there with you in Congress holding them accountable.”

With dozens of cameras filming and five rows of reporters typing on their laptops, Haley was staking out a popular position among conservatives — one of many. She endorsed nationwide voter ID (“like we did in South Carolina”), called for more “police and border patrol,” and mentioned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an example of Biden’s weakness, sidestepping conservative arguments about whether America should keep funding the country’s defense.

Like Trump in his November 2022 announcement, Haley made no mention of abortion rights, noteworthy in the first presidential primary since the end of Roe v. Wade.


One Republican campaign consultant told Semafor that for all her outward poise, Haley seemed to lack focus with her message, and was simply running through “a laundry list of boilerplate issues that matter to Republicans.” It would “be good for her to find a big idea that fits on a podium placard like ‘MAGA’ or ‘CHANGE,’” the consultant, who is not aligned with any 2024 hopefuls, said.

During an appearance on Fox’s “Hannity” Wednesday night, Haley notably sidestepped questions about how she would differ from Trump when it came to policy, saying, “I don’t kick sideways.”


Trump’s revealing attacks on Nikki Haley

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Donald Trump’s campaign issued a memo on “The Real Nikki Haley” after her announcement on Wednesday, but it may be more notable for what it said about his broader strategy in the race.

Confirming Semafor’s prior reporting, the opposition research suggested Trump plans to attack his rivals from the right on social issues and from the left on Social Security and Medicare. And some of the talking points could apply to multiple candidates — most notably Ron DeSantis.

The campaign memo prominently cited Haley’s praise for Paul Ryan’s proposals to rein in entitlement spending and convert Medicare into a program that subsidizes private plans. Trump broke with party orthodoxy in opposing Ryan’s budgets in 2016 and has indicated he plans to raise the issue again in 2024. DeSantis’ record in Congress is even more deeply entangled with tea party-era calls for cuts and changes to Medicare and Social Security, putting the two candidates on a collision course.

The memo also included hits against Haley over her past opposition to a “bathroom bill” targeting transgender people in schools and public facilities, which she said was unnecessary in 2016. In fact, Trump also criticized a “bathroom bill” in North Carolina in 2016 and said Caitlyn Jenner could use any bathroom she chose on Trump properties. Inconsistency never slowed Trump down before, though, and he’s moved hard to the right in recent months on transgender issues, even promising a law banning any federal recognition of transitions. Expect this to come up more often, along with his more familiar attacks on immigration and crime.

Finally, the Trump release cited recent comments by Haley where she voiced support for giving Ukraine “what they’ve asked for,” including planes. It’s the latest signal that the internal debate in Trump World over Ukraine aid is tilting against further support.

—Benjy Sarlin and Shelby Talcott

Adam Frisch is in for a rematch against Lauren Boebert

Adam Frisch, who surprised the country by nearly ousting Rep. Lauren Boebert in Colorado’s 3rd congressional district last year, says he’s running against the Republican firebrand again because she “hasn’t changed.”

“She continues to focus on the angertainment of the job,” Frisch told Semafor in an interview Wednesday. “All the stuff I talked about that resonated with a lot of people last time — it’s still resonating now.”

Frisch also criticized Boebert’s fundraising efforts during Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s 15-vote speaker’s election as “cynical ploy” that came across “very shallow” to people in the district.

Frisch, who came within 546 votes of flipping the seat with little to no help from national Democrats, announced his plans for a rematch on Twitter Tuesday. But he’s been making the rounds in his district since December to court both Democrats and Republicans.

He believes he has two new advantages going into a second run. First, he’ll have a year-long head start to campaign. Second, this time everyone assumes the race will be close, which could help with things like fundraising. “Before, left, right and center literally laughed at us,” he said.

Kadia Goba

One Good Text

Matt Duss is a visiting scholar at the American Statecraft program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is a former foreign policy adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.


Stories that are being largely ignored by either left-leaning or right-leaning outlets, according to data from our partners at Ground News.

WHAT THE LEFT ISN’T READING: The World Health Organization is reportedly not moving forward with the second phase of its COVID-19 origins investigation.

WHAT THE RIGHT ISN’T READING: Transgender teens and their parents demonstrated outside the Mississippi Capitol in opposition to a measure considered by state lawmakers that would prohibit gender-affirming healthcare for those 18 and under.

How Are We Doing?

If you’re liking Semafor Principals, consider sharing with your family, friends and colleagues. It will make their day.

To make sure this newsletter reaches your inbox, add principals@semafor.com to your contacts. If you use Gmail, drag this newsletter over to your ‘Primary’ tab. You can also reply with a hello. And please send any feedback our way, we want to hear from you.

Thanks for getting up early with us. For more Semafor, explore all of our newsletters.

— Steve Clemons