Nikki Haley’s dedicated supporters continuously highlight a recurring theme that has become central to her campaign: her consistent underestimation. The former governor of South Carolina and ambassador to the United Nations, Ms. Haley, recounted the recent remarks made by former CNN anchor Don Lemon during a Thursday evening event, causing the crowd of hundreds gathered to erupt in applause.
Haley, who has anchored her campaign message in a call for “a new generation of leaders,” urged the crowd to leave behind the past drama—a thinly veiled reference to the previous administration of Donald J. Trump. She reiterated her advocacy for term limits and mental competency tests for elected officials, expressing a willingness to be flexible regarding age ranges.
Addressing the audience in Greer, South Carolina, Haley emphatically stated, “We must ensure that these individuals are ready to fight—and I don’t care if it applies to those aged 50 and over. Because, yes, I am in my prime.”
With a touch of gratitude, she added, “God bless Don Lemon. I just want to say, ‘Who’s in their prime now?'”
Haley, aged 51, alluded to a February incident where Lemon expressed feeling “uncomfortable” about Haley raising the question of age and mental competency among political leaders. Lemon commented, “Ms. Haley isn’t in her prime, sorry. A woman is considered to be in her prime in her 20s and 30s and maybe 40s.”
Lemon later apologized for his remarks and was subsequently ousted from CNN. The line resonated, particularly with women in the crowd, and several attendees viewed Haley’s response to Lemon as a clever means of highlighting and mocking a moment of sexism.
However, despite the electrifying energy Haley can generate in a room, such as the one in Greer, she faces challenges in gaining national momentum within an increasingly crowded Republican primary field. In the near future, she will likely have to contend with the entry of fellow South Carolinian Senator Tim Scott into the race, alongside the two frontrunners who dominate polls and garner the bulk of attention: Donald J. Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Following her stump speech, while Haley greeted supporters and posed for photos, Rachel Dankel, a real estate agent in her 50s from Greenville, South Carolina, expressed her deep appreciation for Haley’s defiance against Lemon’s words. Upon initially hearing his comment, Dankel confessed, “I felt nauseous.”
“To me, that was the most disrespectful thing someone could say,” she remarked. “It’s degrading. Are men in their 80s not considered capable? Are they not too old?”
Haley, as the first Republican presidential candidate to challenge Trump in the current campaign, has endeavored to distinguish herself from the pack by taking early stances on issues like age limits among political leaders. In a recent Fox News interview, she even suggested that if re-elected, 80-year-old President Biden would not survive until the end of his second term.
Additionally, Haley has seized the opportunity to raise funds through Lemon’s comments. Her campaign website offers a beverage koozie with the slogan, “Past my prime? Hold my beer.”
Nikki Haley’s campaign is banking on her strong roots in South Carolina to boost her chances in the Palmetto State. With her extensive experience as a longtime State House member and being the first female governor, Haley’s in-state bona fides are expected to enhance her standing among local voters. The South Carolina primary, following Iowa and New Hampshire, holds strategic importance for the Haley campaign, as they believe the support of her home-state electorate will propel her to the forefront of the primary field.
While national surveys currently show Haley polling in the low single digits, an April poll conducted by Winthrop University revealed that she enjoys 18 percent support in her home state. Although trailing behind figures like Mr. Trump, she remains within striking distance of contenders like Mr. DeSantis.
Chip Felkel, a South Carolina Republican political strategist, acknowledged that there is a certain segment of the population enthusiastic about Haley’s candidacy. However, he also noted the presence of hard-core Trump supporters who are discontented with her decision to run. This divide within the party adds an intriguing dynamic to the political landscape as the campaign progresses.
At a recent rally, Christy Willis, a 50-year-old teacher who is yet undecided on her 2024 support, discovered the context of Mr. Lemon’s comments through Haley’s repetition. Willis found the exchange stimulating and believes it sparks a vital conversation about ageism, sexism, and feminism. She observed that President Biden, given his age, has the latitude to engage in activities that a woman likely wouldn’t be able to pursue, highlighting the gender disparities that persist in politics.
As Haley continues to navigate the campaign trail, her deep connections to South Carolina and the resonance of her message within the state could prove pivotal in shaping her political fortunes, even as she faces challenges on the national stage.