Former UN ambassador Nikki Haley excoriated President Joe Biden’s handling of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan on Tuesday, becoming the latest potential 2024 contender to grace the stage at the Ronald Reagan Library as the GOP looks to chart its course after the defeat of former President Donald Trump.
Haley, who served as UN ambassador under Trump, barely mentioned him Tuesday night as she leaned into foreign affairs, charging that the US is engaged in “a clash of civilizations” and “the bad guys think the good guys lack the will to win.”
She attacked Biden’s leadership, saying, “America is in greater danger today than we were just three months ago” and that “Joe Biden thinks retreat is a sign of strength.”
“Make no mistake. Our enemies are not just people with a different view about how best to govern. They are barbaric,” Haley said. “And now they’re done waiting. The fall of Afghanistan has every one of them thinking America’s era has ended and theirs has arrived.”
The former South Carolina governor, whose husband Michael Haley deployed with the US National Guard in Afghanistan for 11 months in 2013, called the Taliban victory in Afghanistan “a total disgrace that leaves America weaker in the world and less safe at home.”
“President Biden has thrown away what Michael and his military brothers and sisters fought for,” she said. “He’s thrown away what more than 2,300 Americans died for.”
In the summer of 2018, the Trump administration said it was ready to enter negotiations with the Taliban and, after much tumult, signed the February 2020 agreement with the Taliban for the US to remove troops in Afghanistan by the start of May 2021. Haley resigned from her post in the administration in October 2018.
‘That message was our message first’
Pivoting to domestic affairs, Haley said to applause that the “most important mission of our time is to stop our national self-loathing and to regain our courage and renew our convictions.”
Haley argued that Democrats no longer believe in America and offered her take on so-called cancel culture. Alluding to the Black Lives Matter protests and the debate over systemic racism and the removal of Confederate statues last year, Haley said progressives are denying the “massive progress” that America has made in becoming a more “colorblind” society.
After reading a quote from former President Barack Obama stating that “we are one American family,” Haley said Democrats have abandoned Obama’s “unifying message on race and national identity.”
“Republicans cannot make the same mistake,” she said. “That message was our message first. We must once again take it to the American people.”
Noting her own history as the first female and first minority governor of South Carolina, she said — as she often does in public remarks — that she has personally lived the American story and can attest that America is “not a racist country.” She recounted her decision to take down the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds in 2015, and said that America is still setting the standard for progress: “Where we lead, the world follows. When we speak, the world listens. What we are, the world wants.”
A chance to reset
The recent series of speeches at the Ronald Reagan Library have provided potential White House hopefuls an opportunity for a reset in the post-Trump era as they wrestle with how deep their criticisms of the former President should cut — often resulting in awkward contortions when they try to recalibrate later. Haley largely avoided that space on Tuesday night, a reflection, perhaps, of the blowback she got after chiding Trump’s conduct following the January 6 attack on the US Capitol and her subsequent walk-back of those comments.
Earlier this year, during a closed-door speech at the RNC winter meeting a day after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, Haley said Trump had been “badly wrong with his words about the January 6 attack and that “his actions since Election Day will be judged harshly by history.” She also told Politico Magazine’s Tim Alberta that she was “disgusted” by Trump’s treatment of then-Vice Mike President Pence, whose life was threatened that day as he tried to oversee the certification of the election results.
The former South Carolina governor later softened her criticisms in a February Wall Street Journal op-ed. In April, she said that she would support Trump if he runs for President again in 2024 and would not launch her own White House bid if he did so.
Haley did not allude to the January 6 attack on Tuesday night, instead focusing on where she believes the Republican Party needs to go.
“Now is the time to remind our fellow citizens that America deserves our hard work and our love,” Haley said. “Students need to hear that message; businesses need to hear it; and we should take that message to communities where Republicans don’t go nearly enough.”
“We cannot ignore minorities and women,” she said. “The left is feeding them a false narrative about our country, and more often than not, it’s all they hear. It’s up to us to provide the truth about America. The sooner we lead a new awakening of patriotism, the quicker we’ll stop the decaying belief that our country is systemically racist.”