Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said on Tuesday that she will seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, putting her at odds with one-time boss Donald Trump, the ex-president also seeking to win back the White House.
"I'm Nikki Haley and I'm running for president," Haley said in a video that her team sent out by email.
Haley, a former South Carolina governor who served as US ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, will lay out her campaign plans in a speech in Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday.
She became Trump's first direct challenger in a Republican field expected to grow in coming weeks and months. Her announcement was a sign the Republican nomination race is picking up steam.
Other high-profile Republicans looking at a 2024 run include Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, US Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, among others.
“It’s time for a new generation of leadership – to rediscover fiscal responsibility, secure our border, and strengthen our country, our pride and our purpose," Haley, 51, said in her video.
She also harked back to her foreign policy experience with a folksy flair.
"China and Russia are on the march. They all think we can be bullied, kicked. You should know this about me: I don’t put up with bullies. And when you kick back, it hurts them more if you’re wearing heels," she said.
Trump, 76, whose own campaign has gotten off to a slow start, on Feb. 2 mocked Haley on his Truth Social platform, noting she had earlier said she would support Trump if he ran in 2024.
“Nikki has to follow her heart, not her honour. She should definitely run!” he wrote.
South Carolina is expected to host one of the first Republican nominating primaries in 2024 and will play an important role in picking the eventual candidate.
A day after Haley's event, Scott will kick off a "listening tour focused on Faith in America" in Charleston, according to a campaign advisory. He will then swing through Iowa, another key early voting state.
DAUGHTER OF IMMIGRANTS
The daughter of two Indian immigrants who ran a successful clothing store in a rural part of the state, Haley has gained a reputation in the Republican Party as a solid conservative who has the ability to address issues of gender and race in a more credible fashion than many of her peers.
Haley has pitched herself as a stalwart defender of American interests abroad, having served as US ambassador to the United Nations under Trump from 2017 to 2018. During that time, the United States pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, which was signed under Democratic President Barack Obama and was highly unpopular among Republicans.
One Haley associate said she chose to launch her campaign this early to try to grab voters' attention and shake up the race.
Many key Republican donors and elected officials in South Carolina have been looking for alternatives to Trump amid concerns about his electability, according to conversations in recent weeks with more than a dozen party officials and strategists.
Several prominent Republicans, including Haley and Scott, opted to skip a Trump campaign appearance in Columbia last month, which was intended to showcase his support in the state.
Among Haley's major challenges will be nailing down a consistent message. Even in a field where most candidates have changed their mind about key issues multiple times, Haley is particularly chameleonic.
She has distanced herself from Trump several times, only to later soften her rhetoric, saying he has an important role to play in the Republican Party.
While she has criticised Republicans for baselessly casting doubt on the results of the 2020 presidential election, she campaigned on behalf of multiple candidates who supported Trump's false election fraud claims during the 2022 midterms.