Light Wave


Gritty Nikki Haley emerges as a top GOP candidate after debate

By Jake Beardslee · September 29, 2023

In brief…

  • Nikki Haley stood out in this week's GOP debate by criticizing rivals and promoting mainstream conservatism.
  • She clashed with Vivek Ramaswamy and Sen. Tim Scott while positioning herself as an alternative to Trump.
  • Haley also went after DeSantis on energy policy.
  • Haley has risen in the polls, emerging as a leading non-Trump candidate.
  • The second debate had few breakout moments and did not reshape the race where Trump remains dominant.
Nikki Haley (above, center) cemented her status as the leading mainstream conservative alternative to Donald Trump in this week's GOP presidential debate.  Bill Clark (Roll Call)/Wikimedia

Nikki Haley emerged as the leading mainstream conservative alternative to Donald Trump in this week’s Republican presidential debate. The former South Carolina governor and UN Ambassador stood out by offering pragmatic policy stances and sharply criticizing her rivals.

In one instance, Haley sharply chastised businessman Vivek Ramaswamy for using TikTok, saying, “Every time I hear you I feel a little bit dumber.” She also clashed with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) over her record as governor, telling him to “bring it.”

Haley advocated for lowering healthcare costs and scrutinizing China more on intellectual property theft than trade deficits. While she refrained from lambasting her former boss Trump for ducking the debate, Haley subtly critiqued his foreign policy. Her momentum was further evidenced by improved polling and a direct post-debate rebuttal from Trump’s team.

Haley also went after Ron DeSantis for the first time, accusing him of being anti-fracking and anti-offshore drilling as Florida’s governor. DeSantis denied the claims but struggled to respond effectively.

The debate featured few standout moments and is unlikely to shake up the race with Trump still the far-and-away frontrunner. But Haley showed her political chops by navigating conflict smoothly and offering a compelling case for a pragmatically conservative platform.