WASHINGTON – Nikki Haley told fellow Republicans Tuesday that they have an urgent mission to renew their conservative convictions, the latest in a series of high-profile speeches by potential GOP presidential candidates maneuvering in the shadow of former President Donald Trump.
"A large portion of our people are plagued by self-doubt or even by hatred of America. It’s a pandemic much more damaging than any virus," Haley said in a heavily promoted speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute in Simi Valley, Calif.
Like former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie before her, Haley joined a "Time for Choosing" speaker series sponsored by the the institute dedicated to a Republican icon, President Ronald Reagan.
Many of the speeches are seen as overtures to possible presidential campaigns in 2024.
Stressing her experience as governor of South Carolina and then ambassador to the United Nations, Haley said Republicans also need to confront enemies abroad and face down Democratic pessimists at home.
Haley made few direct references to Trump – she defended him against media criticism of his Russia policy – but spent more time attacking President Joe Biden and the Democrats as well as foreign antagonists like China and Iran.
Many political analysts say other Republicans probably hope Trump does not run again, given his fundraising, his high name recognition and his remaining support among Republican voters despite the tumultuous ending of his presidency in January.
"If Trump runs, they probably don't have a chance," said Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California.
If Trump doesn't run in 2024, Pitney said, the other would-be candidates "want to be ready for a window of opportunity that will open and close very quickly. Otherwise, somebody else will seize the moment, leaving them behind, probably forever."
Haley told The Associated Press in April that she would support Trump if he ran again and not run herself.
Citing China, Russia, Iran and Islamic terrorists as formidable adversaries, Trump's ambassador to the United Nations said the U.S. is engaged in a "clash of civilizations" and that "the bad guys think the good guys lack the will to win."
As for Biden and the Democrats, Haley hit them on points ranging from the Afghanistan pullout to the claims of some that the United States is a racist nation.
"The most important mission of our time is to stop our national self-loathing and to regain our courage and renew our convictions," Haley said.
Arguing that Democrats "don't even believe in America" and have "given up on America as a colorblind society," Haley said that they "see America’s flaws as more profound than its strengths. They deny the massive progress we’ve made, and they punish anyone who disagrees."
The daughter of Indian immigrants and a businesswoman before entering politics in South Carolina, Haley said: "I haven’t just seen the American story. I’ve lived the American story."
"Where we lead, the world follows," Haley said. "When we speak, the world listens. What we are, the world wants.”
Haley also discussed her decision in 2015 to remove the Confederate battle flag from the top of the South Carolina State Capitol less than a month after a white man killed nine Black people at a church in Charleston in a racially motivated mass murder.
Urging Republicans to expand their political coalition nationwide, Haley said "we cannot ignore minorities and women."
Since Trump left the White House on Jan. 20, Haley has offered mixed messages on the former president.
Shortly after the Jan. 6 insurrection by Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol, Haley told Politico that Trump "let us down" and added that "he went down a path he shouldn't have, and we shouldn't have followed him, and we shouldn't have listened to him. And we can't let that ever happen again."
Just months later, Haley told The Associated Press that "I would not run if President Trump ran, and I would talk to him about it."
In an interview published Tuesday before her speech, Haley told The Wall Street Journal that she disagreed with Trump's claim about a "stolen election" in 2020, saying that "there was fraud in the election, but I don’t think that the numbers were so big that it swayed the vote in the wrong direction."
Haley also told the Journal: "We need him in the Republican Party. I don’t want us to go back to the days before Trump.”
Other potential Republican candidates have navigated the Trump question in their speeches at the Reagan institute.
Last month, New Jersey's Christie said Republicans "need to renounce the conspiracy theorists and truth deniers." He also urged Republicans to face the "realities" of the 2020 election: "Pretending we won when we lost is a waste of time and energy and credibility."
Pence, Trump's vice president, praised Trump in his speech in June and compared him favorably to Reagan. Pence also touted his decision to reject Trump's demands that he spike or delay certification of electoral votes that sealed Biden's victory in the Electoral College.
"There's almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president," Pence said.
Former House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is not running for president in 2024, offered the most anti-Trump speech in the Reagan speakers series.
"If the conservative cause depends on the populist appeal of one personality, or of second-rate imitations, then we're not going anywhere," Ryan said in his remarks in May.
Keeping his own eye on 2024, Trump has resumed his political rallies, including an event Saturday in Iowa. He and his political action committees are raising money at campaign-style rates. While he remains banned on Twitter and Facebook, Trump is issuing a steady stream of written statements attacking the Biden administration and other critics like Ryan.
In a series of interviews, Trump has taken aim at potential Republican rivals.
Asked last week about the prospects of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump told Yahoo Finance: "I think most people would drop out. I think he would drop out. And, if I faced him, I would beat him like I would beat everyone else, frankly."
Trump also said he hasn't formally declared a 2024 election run: "I said that if I do run, I think that I'll do extremely well, and I'm looking not only at polls, I'm looking at the enthusiasm."
The former president does have potential headwinds, including an investigation by prosecutors in New York into past financial dealings. Prosecutors in Georgia are investigating his efforts as president to pressure local officials into altering the election results in the state.
The Reagan institute will continue the speakers series in 2022. On Tuesday, it announced a speakers' list that includes prominent critics of Trump but not Trump himself.
The list of speakers includes Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., one of 10 House Republicans to vote for impeachment of Trump over Jan. 6 and now the target of a Trump-backed primary challenger; and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who also has said he wants the party to move past Trump.
Other speakers include Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, both of whom have questioned Trump's leadership of the party.
Trump enjoys high approval ratings from Republicans, many of whom believe his false claims about the election. Many observers believe Trump will run again, barring health or legal problems.
Said Pitney: "Unless he is in a hospital bed or jail cell in 2024, he’s running."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nikki Haley plots the Republican Party future (with or without Trump)