Top Nikki Haley official: The GOP is going through ‘a midlife crisis’

In interview with JI, Haley communications director Nachama Soloveichik sounds an alarm about the growing isolationism within the party

Nikki Haley’s defiant pledge to continue her campaign after Saturday’s primary in her home state of South Carolina, where she faces a likely defeat to former President Donald Trump, was just the latest demonstration of her estrangement from the ascendant populism now dominating Republican politics.

But even as Haley’s long-shot bid for the nomination and frequent jabs at Trump stoke speculation over her future, the former U.N. ambassador’s refusal to drop out also underscores the parallel challenges rank-and-file operatives on her struggling campaign are now confronting as the primary reaches its end.

Nachama Soloveichik, a veteran GOP strategist who serves as Haley’s communications director, is one of several like-minded Republican operatives advising the campaign, which in many ways has positioned itself in opposition to the growing neo-isolationism that is animating the party as Trump reasserts his influence.

Her unique background, pugilistic social media personality and outsider status help illustrate the frustrations of many conservatives who remain loyal to the Republican Party even as their values have come under assault over the past eight years.

“I think the Republican Party is definitely going through a midlife crisis of some sort,” Soloveichik, 43, said in an interview with Jewish Insider on Wednesday. “You see really good, solid people like [retiring Wisconsin Rep.] Mike Gallagher and [former Pennsylvania Sen.] Pat Toomey, my former boss, who are just like, ‘Peace out, I don’t want to have anything to do with this dumpster fire,’” she added. “And who can blame them?”

But while she now finds herself in an uphill battle on her first presidential campaign, Soloveichik claims she isn’t ready to concede the fight. “Listen, we get that we’re the underdog,” she said, citing a quote from Haley’s speech on Tuesday in which the former South Carolina governor likened her bid to a matchup between David and Goliath. “But she relishes being the underdog. She’s always been the underdog. She’s a fighter. She likes fighting. She believes this fight is worthwhile and that energizes her — so when she’s energized, we’re energized.”

More broadly, however, the seasoned campaign operative, on hiatus from her job as a partner with ColdSpark, a Republican consulting firm, expressed concern over the GOP’s recent turn to isolationism, particularly after a vote earlier this month in which more than half of Senate Republicans opposed aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, including some of the party’s most dependable foreign policy hawks.

“I have real concerns that Israel will be thrown under the bus,” said Soloveichik, reiterating a comment she posted to X, formerly Twitter, where she rarely hesitates to voice her discontent with the direction of the Republican Party. “To me, it’s like, if you don’t think Ukraine is worth helping, if you don’t think that Vladimir Putin is evil and needs to be condemned, then why is Israel so different?”

For Soloveichik, such questions are personal. The scion of a rabbinic dynasty whose great uncle is considered the founder of Modern Orthodox Judaism, Soloveichik, an Orthodox Jew, has several extended family members living in Israel, including relatives called up to fight in the ongoing war against Hamas.

But she also believes that a robust foreign policy is core to what she calls her “hardcore” conservative values, arguing that the party’s new commitment to an “America First” mindset is bound to fail, even as she refrains from predicting just when that will be.

“It’s definitely concerning to see smart people and people who are supposed to be principled in the party just jumping on the bandwagon,” she said. “If it persists, it will eventually collapse on itself like it always does.”

“It would be nice if it would be a wake-up call for Republicans and people who actually care about what it means to be conservative,” Soloveichik said of the Republican foreign policy shift. “Will everyone just go back to going on Tucker Carlson’s YouTube or Twitter show when he comes back from Russia? I don’t know. I sure as hell don’t want to.”

Scott Jennings, a longtime adviser to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), was more positive in his assessment of the foreign policy divide now fueling tension in the GOP, which he described as a “healthy debate” that “goes back” several decades. “There is an isolationist strain running through both parties, in my opinion,” he said in an email to JI. “That view is ascendant in the GOP these days, but the more hawkish among us are still numerous.”

“I think traditional Republican hawks are an endangered species, but they’re not extinct yet,” Charlie Sykes, a conservative pundit in Milwaukee and frequent Trump critic, told JI in a phone call. “In GOP primary politics, isolationism isn’t yet an absolute litmus test but it seems like it’s heading that way.”

Still, he said, “the fight isn’t over yet, and I guess that’s the point.”

If Soloveichik is now alienated from prevailing GOP sentiment, she clarifies that she is used to feeling like something of an outsider. “I came up in the Republican Party sort of as a renegade,” she said, recalling her first campaign in 2006 against a liberal Republican incumbent in Rhode Island. “I always felt like I was fighting from the outside in.”

“I still feel like a renegade fighting against the establishment. It’s just the people who are the establishment have changed,” she continued. “Right now, it’s Trump and his minions, and the word conservative has become kind of meaningless. A lot of the people that I remember from the old Tea Party days, they’ve all become part of Trump world. It’s a very weird place to be, but what can you do?”

Soloveichik, whose past roles include a stint at the Club for Growth and as an adviser to Toomey, relocated from Maryland to Charleston, S.C., with her husband and two children to join Haley’s longshot campaign a year ago this month.

She had been an admirer of Haley at least since her high-profile tenure as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under Trump, where she became a close ally of the pro-Israel community. But they first met in early 2019, when Soloveichik helped launch Haley’s nonprofit, Stand for America, presaging her bid for the presidency. “I had always wanted to do a presidential campaign for a candidate I believed in,” Soloveichik told JI, calling Haley a “fighter” and a “ballbuster,” which “definitely” appealed to her.

“I like her outspokenness,” Soloveichik said of Haley. “She’s consistent. It’s not just about Israel. Like, standing up for Ukraine — that’s not personal for me, but as a principle it is very meaningful.”

Despite her aversion to Trump, Soloveichik concedes that she largely approved of his “actual foreign policy actions” while in office. “Getting out of the Iran deal. Great,” she said. “Moving the embassy to Jerusalem. Great. Standing up for Israel. Great. He even gave missiles to Ukraine. Great.”

But she maintains that because Trump is so unpredictable there is no assurance that he will continue to promote similar policies if reelected. “It’s not even clear to me what Trump believes,” she said. “We shouldn’t leave our foreign policy up to a coin toss about how Trump is feeling that day or who his 17th chief of staff happens to be. That is a pretty disquieting thing.”

Like Haley, who has claimed she has no interest in joining a second Trump administration, Soloveichik confirmed she harbors no secret hopes of working for the former president. “You want to work for people who believe in the same things that you believe, but you also want to work for just good, normal people,” she explained. “Putting aside the policy side of it, Trump world is too chaotic. I don’t think I would ever want to work in that kind of environment.”

Even as Soloveichik acknowledges that Haley is facing long odds in seeking to deny Trump the nomination, she says she is “very proud” of the campaign and believes it has “exceeded people’s expectations.”

“When I came here, we always knew that Trump was the juggernaut,” she recalled. “I said to my husband that we could be moving for three months or we could be moving for a year and a half. I don’t know what this is going to look like.”

From a personal standpoint, Soloveichik, who grew up in Chicago, has enjoyed her time in Charleston, home to the oldest Jewish community in the South. “There are some folks who are 10th-generation Charlestonians,” she marveled. “They have been Jewish Americans living here in Charleston going back to the 1700s, while my family was being slaughtered in Poland.”

“We actually go to synagogue more here than I ever have in my entire life,” Soloveichik told JI. “I was not a big synagogue person.” Her husband regularly reads from the Torah, while her children “think that going to synagogue means going to play with trucks and eating lollipops,” she joked. “They’re going to be sorely disappointed when they grow up.”

Observing Shabbat, she said, has not been too challenging this cycle since she doesn’t travel with the campaign. Because the South Carolina primary is held on a Saturday, she was planning to vote early when she spoke with JI on Wednesday. “It’s just par for the course,” she said of the balancing act that her faith requires.

Notwithstanding her pedigree, Soloveichik, who is one of seven siblings, said that she had never felt pressure to pursue a career tied to Judaism, noting that her parents encouraged her to pursue her own interests as long as she was “not joining the circus.” 

“I like to say that I’m the most conservative person in the family,” she claimed, “but I think some of our brothers might take issue with that.” Her brother in New Jersey, she said, “is going to be a delegate for Nikki, if she makes it.”

But that’s a major if at the moment, even as Haley has pledged to remain in the race. “I am with Nikki until she decides that she’s done,” Soloveichik said, expressing shock that most voters have sided with Trump. “I look at Nikki and I think, ‘We could have this normal, real human being as our Republican nominee and president or we could have that? Like, what are we doing?”

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