Nikki Haley tries to straddle the GOP’s establishment-MAGA divide on foreign policy

In an interview with JI, the Republican presidential candidate tries to placate both doves and hawks within the party

HUDSON, N.H. – In a Republican Party divided over America’s role in the world and its conduct of foreign policy, there are the traditional GOP hawks and the MAGA-aligned isolationists. 

Two of the hawks, former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, recently spent time in Ukraine to bolster flagging American support for the war effort. Christie, who just returned from Kyiv, has been reminding Americans of the need to continue funding Ukraine’s defense against Russia while outlining Russian atrocities as he makes the rounds on numerous cable news shows. 

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley sits squarely in the hawkish camp. She’s campaigning on foreign policy more than her GOP counterparts, devoting nearly half of her stump speech to the global threat posed by China and underscoring how significant a Ukraine defeat would be to American national security.

But as she tries to broadly appeal to all elements of the fractured Republican Party, she’s also been sounding some notes designed to placate the war-weary GOP faction. 

In an interview with Jewish Insider on Tuesday in Hudson, New Hampshire, Haley emphasized that in her stump speech she doesn’t support “put[ting] cash” into Ukraine, even as she argues that the U.S. needs to send the war-torn country all the weapons it needs to fend off the Russian invaders. 

“You can say you can work with the allies to send equipment and ammunition. You don’t send cash. I just don’t trust – you can’t trust how countries are going to spend cash,” Haley told JI. 

Asked if she would support the proposed supplemental funding the Biden administration is expected to request for Ukraine, Haley said: “I just think America’s gotten burned many times by sending cash to countries. And I just, I will never agree to that. What we need to do is make sure our allies are pulling their weight.” 

Republican presidential candidate former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks to guests during a campaign stop at Wildwood Smokehouse on July 29, 2023 in Iowa City, Iowa.

And as far as a possible Haley trip to Ukraine? Not happening, she says, because she’s too busy on the campaign trail. “I am focused on the people of Iowa, the Granite Staters and South Carolinians, and getting our message out to Americans,” Haley told JI. “I don’t have time to talk to Ukrainians.”

Spending time with Haley at two different town halls Tuesday on the campaign trail in New Hampshire underscored the difficulty she faces in striking a foreign policy balance that will satisfy most Republicans. One of the questioners at a VFW Hall in Derry asked Haley how she would continue to support Ukraine in the face of pockets of opposition from conservative isolationists. 

“The things that the Russians are doing are similar to what Hitler’s Nazis were doing in the 1940s. Will you do everything you can to stop them?” the questioner asked. 

Haley, after blaming President Joe Biden for weakness in failing to deter Russia from invading Ukraine, said: “A win for Russia is a win for China…. If we win, if Ukraine wins, that sends the biggest message to China on Taiwan, it sends a message to Iran trying to build a bomb, it sends a message to North Korea. If we lose, then we’re in a whole ‘nother situation. So yes, I will continue to support Ukraine.” Her response received widespread applause. 

Hours later, as she visited a Huntsman International manufacturing office to meet with several dozen employees, the first questioner asked her how America can afford funding Ukraine when there are so many problems at home.

Haley started her response by focusing on her frustrations during her service as U.N. ambassador, seeing how so many countries that received foreign aid from Washington ended up voting against the United States at the U.N. She said she brought a chart to then-President Donald Trump illustrating the countries’ lack of gratitude — something she said he appreciated. 

IOWA CITY, IOWA – JULY 29: Republican presidential candidate former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks to guests during a campaign stop at Wildwood Smokehouse on July 29, 2023 in Iowa City, Iowa. Yesterday Haley joined 12 other GOP presidential contenders at the Republican Party of Iowa 2023 Lincoln Dinner. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

She then reiterated her support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia, adding that it was a stalwart ally of the United States when she was ambassador. “We are trying to prevent war. The way you prevent war is you make sure that Ukraine wins,” she told the Ukraine skeptic.

Haley’s attempt to find some middle ground in a party that’s polarized from within is the defining feature of her campaign to date. In polls, she still boasts solid favorability ratings among Republicans at a time when Pence, Christie and other traditional-minded Republicans have been rejected by Trump-aligned voters as disloyal. She’s raised a healthy amount of campaign cash, won over some of the party’s pivotal donors and managed to conserve much of it for the upcoming home stretch. 

But she’s also gaining very little ground despite being the first non-Trump candidate to announce her candidacy. She still is stuck in the single digits in both national and statewide polls — lagging far behind Trump and still behind the struggling campaign of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

She’s betting that her focus on retail politics — she emphasized she flies on commercial airlines to meet as many voters as possible in the early states — will pay off, especially as more voters start paying attention with the first debate kicking off later this month.

“I think once the first debate starts and we get post Labor Day, it’s off to the races. I think you’ll see a lot of things change,” Haley told JI. “Everybody’s panicked over how high Trump’s numbers are, while we’re worried about making sure we are touching as many hands, answering as many questions, doing as many town halls as we possibly can.”

Part two of JI’s interview with Haley will run later this week.

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