she's running

Jewish Republicans eye Haley’s White House bid

Interviews with a handful of conservative Jewish leaders suggest Haley’s campaign is generating excitement among pro-Israel activists, even as some of her traditional backers seem cautious about publicly committing to one particular candidate.

Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Nikki Haley visits "Hannity" at Fox News Channel Studios on January 20, 2023 in New York City.

Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, announced her presidential campaign on Tuesday with robust connections to many prominent Jewish and pro-Israel leaders and activists, whose potential support could lend a crucial boost as she steps up to run against former President Donald Trump in a Republican field that is likely to grow in the coming months.

Haley, who is expected to formally launch her campaign in Charleston on Wednesday, has frequently addressed AIPAC conferences and Republican Jewish Coalition events, where she has burnished her reputation as a darling of the pro-Israel establishment. Past contributors to her political nonprofit, Stand for America, Inc., include such big-name Jewish benefactors as Dr. Miriam Adelson, Bernie Marcus, Daniel Loeb, Ronald Lauder and Samuel Zell, among others. 

But with a year to go until primary season commences, it remains to be seen if Jewish Republicans will soon begin coalescing around Haley’s fledgling campaign or if they are instead taking a wait-and-see approach to the election, as several other GOP heavyweights mull bids of their own.

Interviews with a handful of conservative Jewish leaders on Tuesday suggest that Haley’s campaign, which had been widely expected, is naturally generating excitement among pro-Israel activists, even as some of her traditional backers seem relatively cautious, for now, about publicly committing to one particular candidate.

“I am extremely proud of Nikki Haley for being the first to stand up and announce running against former President Trump,” Fred Zeidman, a Houston-based GOP donor and pro-Israel advocate, told JI. “It appears that with all the folks talking about it there’s been a great reluctance to stand up and face him, and the fact she’s done it shows great courage and leadership.”

Last September, Zeidman, who previously donated at least $10,000 to Stand for America, moderated an RJC event in Houston with Haley and Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas. 

Still, he declined to say for the record if he would support Haley’s campaign at this early stage, notwithstanding his clear reservations over the former president, whom he characterized as “arguably ruthless” toward “anybody who has run” against him in prior elections.

“Now we’re going to find out what it’s like to stand up and run against Donald Trump,” Zeidman ventured. “Who’s going to come behind her, I don’t know,” he said of Haley, the first major Republican challenger to enter the race.

“Nikki has obviously had a very good relationship with the Jewish community and with folks who care about Israel,” Nachama Soloveichik, the communications director for Haley’s campaign, said in an interview with JI on Tuesday. “I’m confident that we’ll see a lot of folks coming out to support her.”

“But how that shakes out,” she added, “we’re going to have to see.”

Loeb, Lauder and Zell all declined to comment through press representatives on Tuesday, while other former contributors to Haley did not respond to email inquiries from JI.

Trump’s status within Republican Jewish circles, meanwhile, has diminished somewhat amid the fallout from his controversial dinner with Ye, the artist formerly known as Kanye West who made a series of antisemitic statements in recent months, and far-right provacateur Nick Fuentes at his Palm Beach residence in November.

Soloveichik, however, indicated that Haley would not be directly addressing those tensions as she embarks on her first presidential campaign. “We’re not focused on anyone else,” she told JI. “Nikki’s focused on running against Joe Biden and putting out her vision. Whatever Trump does, Trump does. I don’t have anything to add on that.”

Haley made no mention of Trump, who announced his third consecutive bid for the presidency three months ago, in her campaign launch video, though some comments were easily construed as aimed at the former president. 

Noting that Republican candidates “have lost the popular vote in seven out of the last eight presidential elections,” Haley, 51, called for “a new generation of leadership” to address a range of social and economic issues, while concluding with a plucky flourish. “You should know this about me: I don’t put up with bullies,” she said. “And when you kick back, it hurts them more if you’re wearing heels.”

Taylor Budowich, who leads MAGA Inc., a Trump-aligned super PAC, was more direct in a statement responding to Haley’s campaign. “Nikki Haley is just another career politician,” he said on Tuesday. “She started out as a Never Trumper before resigning to serve in the Trump admin. She then resigned early to go rake in money on corporate boards. Now, she’s telling us she represents a ‘new generation.’”

Haley was the first female and Asian-American governor of South Carolina as well as the first Indian-American member of a presidential cabinet. For nearly two years, she served as the Trump administration’s ambassador to the U.N., resigning in late 2018 before launching her political advocacy group.

It was during her time at the U.N. that Haley rose to prominence as a stalwart supporter of Israel. Her initiatives included pushing the U.S. to withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council, which she criticized for “disproportionate focus and unending hostility toward Israel,” and blocking the appointment of a former Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, as a special representative to Libya, among other things.

“It’s a new day for Israel at the U.N.,” Haley said in 2017.

The former ambassador was also a staunch defender of relocating the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and reportedly played a key role in persuading Trump to decertify the Iran nuclear deal — efforts she now catalogs in comprehensive detail on her campaign site.

“Haley is a fabulous friend of Israel,” said Mort Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, who has expressed concerns over Trump’s involvement with antisemites, even as Klein approves of the former president’s Middle East policies.

Norm Coleman, the RJC’s national chairman and a former Republican senator from Minnesota, said in an email to JI that Haley “has strong credibility in the Jewish community from her work at the U.N.” and for “being stalwart on challenging” the organization’s “anti-Israel bias.”

Haley’s Jewish outreach, Coleman added, “is significantly enhanced by her continued connection with” her former deputy at the U.N., Jon Lerner, “who serves as a political consigliere for her” and “is extremely well-connected and well respected in the pro-Israel Jewish community.” 

Lerner, a pollster and senior advisor for Haley’s campaign, did not respond to a request for comment from JI.

Prior to her announcement, Haley, who previously claimed she would not run for president in 2024 if Trump did, had been polling in the low single digits. She has raised $17 million through a super PAC formed in 2021.

Among other Republicans weighing primary campaigns are Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In addition to Haley, Pence and Pompeo have both earned plaudits for their pro-Israel credentials.

Sam Markstein, the RJC’s political director, declined to comment on Haley’s campaign but shared a statement in which he described the former ambassador as “a longtime friend of the Jewish community” and praised her “tremendous record of accomplishment on the issues we care about.”

“It goes without saying that she is a very good friend of the Jewish community,” Soloveichik, Haley’s communications director, told JI on Tuesday. “She loves them and they love her.”

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.