CHARLESTON, South Carolina — Thousands of people gathered in downtown Charleston on Wednesday morning as former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley formally entered the fray of the 2024 GOP presidential primary with a call for a “new generation” of GOP leaders in a speech here.
Haley, who announced her campaign on Tuesday via a social media video, previously served as governor of South Carolina and later as then-President Donald Trump’s U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
“We’re ready… ready to move past the stale ideas and faded names of the past,” she said in her speech, per prepared remarks. “And we are more than ready for a new generation to lead us into the future.”
Haley’s speech came in a crowded open-air covered room in downtown Charleston, in the visitor center’s “The Shed Downtown,” a building with short brick walls and tall windows above them up the high ceiling over its concrete floor. More than a hundred media personnel–reporters, cameras, and more–packed the back of the long and narrow historic venue while thousands of Haley supporters grouped at the front and outside as well. Event organizers estimated the crowd size at around two thousand people.
A sunny mid-60s February morning in the South Carolina low country meant attendees did not need jackets, a warm start to Haley’s presidential campaign before she heads north to New Hampshire and west to Iowa this week. The impressive crowd would suggest she maybe has a point when in her speech the former governor bashed those who underestimate her.
“When I ran against the longest-serving legislator in the state, no one said I had a shot, but together we won,” Haley said. “When I ran for Governor, people said, ‘Nikki who?’ But together, we won.”
When discussing her time as governor, Haley declared “we cut taxes, created thousands of jobs, and revitalized our economy.”
Then she noted how her time in the Trump administration shocked the world when she represented the United States at the United Nations.
“When President Trump nominated me for Ambassador to the United Nations, people said I didn’t have the experience,” Haley said. “Then I went to work. I told the world that America would have the backs of our allies, and for those who did not have our backs, we were taking names. The dictators, murderers, and thieves at the UN didn’t know what hit them.”
Hundreds of people lined the Charleston sidewalk outside more than an hour before Haley’s speech, a sizable crowd waiting to get in to see her launch her campaign.
Haley’s speech was packed with applause lines, and shots at the left. “Every day, we’re told America is flawed, rotten, and full of hate. Joe and Kamala even say America is racist,” Haley said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. The American people know better. My immigrant parents know better. And take it from the first minority female Governor in history: America is not a racist country.”
The crowd roared.
Moments later, she ripped Biden–and presumably other politicians too–for his age.
“When America is distracted, the world is less safe,” Haley said. “And today, our enemies think the American era has passed. They’re wrong. America is not past our prime. It’s just that our politicians are past theirs.”
The crowd cheered again.
She ripped Biden repeatedly for his age throughout the speech, also saying she would seek requirements for mental competency tests for any politician over 75 years old.
“In the America I see, the permanent politician will finally retire,” Haley said. “We’ll have term limits for Congress – and mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75 years old.”
Haley also called for the national implementation of E-verify to stop employers from hiring illegal aliens. This is something she accomplished in South Carolina as governor through her signing of Senate Bill 20, which was something that infuriated then-President Barack Obama’s administration because it was a major illegal immigration crackdown that included among other things statewide implementation of E-verify.
“In the America I see, we stop the surge of drugs and illegal immigration,” Haley said. “That means having a real border and mandatory e-verify, like we got done in South Carolina. Businesses must hire Americans – not illegals.”
Watch – Crowd waiting in line for Haley’s campaign kickoff:
Haley ripped Democrat President Joe Biden and other leaders having “put too much trust in big government and too little trust in the American people,” something that she said has sent “us spiraling toward socialism, with a new trillion-dollar spending bill every few months, and a national debt over 30 trillion dollars.”
She said that while the U.S. must “stop socialism, before it’s too late” because “it’s weakening America from within,” that is not the only major national problem.
“There’s something else eating away at our national core,” Haley said. “On Biden and Harris’s watch, a self-loathing has swept our country.”
She also later in the speech described her “purpose” as one of saving the country “from the downward spiral of socialism and defeatism.”
“I aim to move America upward toward freedom and strength,” Haley said.
She also said that “most of all, I see a strong America because I see a proud America.”
“Strong and proud – not weak and woke – that’s the America I see,” Haley said.
Haley leaned heavily into her background, too, both personal and professional.
“I stand before you as the daughter of immigrants – as a proud wife of a combat veteran – and as the mom of two amazing children,” Haley said. “I’ve served as Governor of the great state of South Carolina – and as America’s ambassador to the United Nations… And above all else, I’m a grateful American citizen who knows our best days are yet to come, if we unite and fight to save our country.”
Haley is the second major candidate to enter the 2024 field, with Trump having been the first with his entrance back in November right after the 2022 midterm elections. Several more are expected to jump into the race in the coming weeks and months.
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC), one of South Carolina’s current U.S. Congressmen, introduced Haley at the event, a huge endorsement for her in her home state. Norman compared Haley to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and said that while he thanks Trump for his service in the White House and that Trump was exactly what the GOP needed in 2016 that he thinks a new leader is needed with the qualities of fighting back that Trump taught Republicans. Norman argued that Haley is that leader.
Before Norman spoke to introduce Haley, Cindy Warmbier–the mother of Otto Warmbier, an American killed by the North Korean regime during the Trump administration–spoke about how she thinks Haley is the right candidate for the country as well.
Haley, in her speech, argued that if she is the GOP nominee for president in 2024 that the party will win the popular vote again.
“We’ve lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections,” she said in a portion of the speech directed at Republicans. “Our cause is right, but we have failed to win the confidence of a majority of Americans. Well, that ends today. If you’re tired of losing, then put your trust in a new generation. And if you want to win – not just as a party, but as a country – then stand with me.”