When Nikki Haley announced on Tuesday that she is running for president, it set the stage not just for a 2024 showdown with her former boss, Donald Trump, but for a test of her political identity.
In 2011, Haley became South Carolina’s first female governor and, as an Indian American, the first nonwhite person to hold the job. By 2017, she had resigned from the governorship to become Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations. Since then, Haley has worked to appear relatively moderate while sticking close to Trump—which has sometimes led to contradictions and reversals. When she stepped down from the U.N. in 2018, it allowed her to distance herself from his administration while still getting a glowing send-off from the then-president. In her announcement video Tuesday, she didn’t mention Trump by name, focusing only on Republicans’ low popular vote numbers and the need for “generational change.”
This knack for shifting with the political winds hasn’t always helped Haley look the most …consistent. (Or, as Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley put it in 2021: What if Nikki Haley doesn’t actually believe in anything?) In an opinion piece for the New York Times this week, Stuart Stevens, a former Republican political consultant, put it even more bluntly: “The 2023 version of Ms. Haley is actively working against the core values that the 2016 Ms. Haley would have held to be the very foundation of her public life,” he wrote.
As Haley’s campaign kicks off, we decided to look back on some of her most striking reversals.
On her relationship with Trump
During the 2016 presidential election cycle, Haley had some sharp criticisms for then-candidate Trump. “I will not stop until we fight a man that chooses not to disavow the KKK,” she said at a rally. “That is not a part of your party. That is not who we want as president.” (Her comment came shortly after Trump said he needed to do “more research” before taking a stance on the KKK). She also said at the time that Trump was “everything a governor does not want in a president.”
A few months later, after Trump won the presidency, she made a complete reversal. “I’m just giddy, and if you talk to any of the governors here, we are so excited at the possibility and the opportunities that are going to be here,” she said at a gathering of GOP governors. She went on to accept Trump’s job offer to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
On the Confederate flag
After the racist murder of Black churchgoers at South Carolina’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015, Haley initially tried to play both sides on the issue of taking down the Confederate flag that flew over the Statehouse grounds. While she ultimately signed a law that removed it, she only did so after intense backlash. She had initially resisted taking it down, arguing that many equate it with “service, sacrifice and heritage.”
On her “friendship” with Trump
Haley said she considered Trump a friend in 2015 when speaking at a National Press Club event. But in 2021, after the Jan. 6 insurrection, Politico asked her whether she still felt that way. She responded: “Friend is a loose term.”
On Trump and #MeToo
Before and during Trump’s stint as president, at least 18 women accused him of varying degrees of sexual assault, harassment, and inappropriate behavior, according to ABC News. The infamous Access Hollywood tape also captured the former president bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy.”
CBS’ Face the Nation asked Haley about these accusations while she was serving in the Trump administration in 2017. “Women who accuse anyone should be heard,” she said—appearing to criticize Trump while being careful not to suggest he should face any consequences.
On Trump and Jan. 6
Days after the insurrection, Haley was critical of Trump’s role in the riots. “He went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him,” she told Politico. “And we can’t let that ever happen again.”
But less than two weeks later, Haley was on Fox News defending Trump’s legacy. “We should not want to go back to the Republican Party before Trump,” she said. She admitted his actions on Jan. 6 were “not his finest,” and rejected the idea Trump should be impeached. “They beat him up before he got into office. They’re beating him up after he leaves office. I mean at some point, I mean, give the man a break. I mean, move on.”