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Nikki Haley's Strong Debate Performance Put Her on the Voters' Radar

AP Photo/Morry Gash

Former South Carolina governor and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley has been toiling in relative obscurity on the GOP presidential campaign trail since February. Her only “moment” came when Haley made mention of Joe Biden’s age and that he’s unlikely to live to see the end of his second term.

“I think we can all be very clear and say with a matter of fact that if you vote for Joe Biden, you really are counting on a President Harris because the idea that he would make until 86 years old is not something that I think is likely,” Haley said on Fox News in April.

That roused former CNN morning show host Don Lemon to utter the gaffe that probably led to his ouster at the network. Lemon said that Haley wasn’t “in her prime.”

“Nikki Haley isn’t in her prime, sorry,” Lemon said, explaining why he was “uncomfortable” with the age discussion. “When a woman is considered to be in her prime — in her 20s, 30s and maybe her 40s.”

Bye, bye Donny. Lemon was fired in April.

While she made a good point about Biden, unfortunately, she angered a lot of senior citizens who don’t think 86 years old is too old at all. Trying to split hairs, Haley told Bloomberg News that the U.S. retirement age was “way too low” and that politicians still needed a cognitive test at age 75.

But the debate gave Haley an opportunity to “reintroduce herself” to the American voter. And judging from the preliminary response, she succeeded in getting some attention.

The Dispatch:

Since Wednesday evening, online engagement with individuals, organizations, and social media platforms supporting Haley’s 2024 bid spiked 1,500 percent. That included a 700 percent increase in interactions on X, formerly known as Twitter, both during and following the primetime debate hosted by Fox News; a doubling of viewership on Haley’s YouTube channel; and increased visits to her campaign website equaling 10 times normal traffic.

The Haley campaign shared these figures with The Dispatch Thursday evening, less than 24 hours after the conclusion of a prime-time debate aired by Fox News and viewed by an average of nearly 13 million people across the country.

“Voters saw Nikki Haley’s toughness and readiness to be president in last night’s debate. The response is overwhelming. We’ve raised more online in the last 24 hours than on any day since the campaign started,” says Haley’s campaign spokeswoman Olivia Perez-Cubas.

The campaign isn’t saying exactly how much it raised in the 24 hours after the debate — probably because it’s not really that impressive. But there are other metrics that may point to a surge for Haley in polling.

Indeed, search engine queries have often proven particularly reliable in gauging support for presidential candidates following a crowded primary debate, and Haley was the second most Googled participant during the event, outpacing all but one of seven competitors on the stage. (Vivek Ramaswamy was first.) Haley couldn’t have picked a better time to impress Republican primary voters. She has been campaigning since mid-February and still trails significantly—nationally and in Iowa, New Hampshire, and her home state of South Carolina.

Haley recently received the kiss of death — an endorsement from the New York Times’s David Brooks. But Brooks wasn’t wrong in pointing out who the real adult was in the room on Wednesday.

Republicans have been unable to take down Trump because they haven’t been able to rebut and replace the core Trump/Ramaswamy ethos — that politics is essentially a form of entertainment. But time and again, Haley seemed to look at the Trump/Ramaswamy wing and implicitly say: You children need to stop preening and deal with reality. She showed total impatience for the kind of bravado that the fragile male ego manufactures by the boatload.

Indeed, the Wall Street Journal editorial board all but endorsed Haley for her truth-telling. Haley has been gently telling Republicans for months that the idea of a 15-week abortion ban is nuts. That, like the fantasies advanced by the Freedom Caucus, would require a Republican super majority in Congress and a Republican president to pass into law.

Ms. Haley’s honesty didn’t stop there. “Donald Trump added $8 trillion to our debt,” she said. “You look at the 2024 budget: Republicans asked for $7.4 billion in earmarks. Democrats asked for $2.8 billion. So you tell me who are the big spenders.” Those figures are backed by a Roll Call story last month: “House Republicans have so thoroughly stacked the earmarking deck in their favor in appropriations bills for the upcoming fiscal year that the top Democratic recipient doesn’t even appear in the top 60.”

It’s not just “establishment” Republicans riding the earmark train. It’s the whole damn hypocritical party, and Haley is absolutely right to call them out.

Nikki Haley is not going to be the Republican nominee. But hers is a voice that needs to be heard because it’s one of the truly authentic voices running for president.

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