What Nikki Haley Can Teach Us About the Republican Party

What might say the most of all is if she could successfully attack Mr. Trump — but, realistically, she is probably not going to directly do so very often. She was a former Trump administration official as U.N. ambassador. Indeed, Mr. Trump appeared to bless her run, perhaps in hope that she will siphon away votes from Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.

In an interview with the Fox host Sean Hannity last month, Ms. Haley didn’t seem eager for a fight. When asked what policy differences she had with Mr. Trump, she said she “totally” agreed with “most of the policies that he did.” When Mr. Hannity followed up by asking the question a second time, she pivoted to the baby formula shortage.

This nonconfrontational approach is emblematic of a broader challenge for her in today’s populist, pugnacious Republican Party. She appears to be temperamentally moderate, regardless of her views on the issues. And some of her views really have been relatively moderate. As governor, she famously removed the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House. She wouldn’t support a bill blocking transgender people from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity. She’s sympathetic to a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. This is no culture warrior.

In today’s Republican Party, Ms. Haley will have no choice but to try to tap into the culture wars. In her announcement video, she recast her Reagan-like belief in American greatness as a counter to what she said was the left-wing view that America’s founding principles are “bad” or “racist.” Her race and gender might make her an especially strong proponent for this kind of position, especially if she more explicitly embraces conservative views.

But while American exceptionalism may be at odds with the left, it doesn’t channel the anger and resentment that fuels large elements of the conservative base. In this important respect, a reincarnated Reaganism will not be like the original. Reagan was the leader of the conservative movement at the time; Ms. Haley and those who would resurrect Reagan today are not. Reagan was not simply running on the views of previous conservatives like Goldwater, or Taft, who opposed big government, including foreign intervention. A Taft Republican on foreign policy would have seemed very moderate on the Soviet Union in 1979, and an older Goldwater would have seemed moderate on abortion. Today, Reaganism is out of step with conservatives in many important ways.

The new generation of conservatives who rose to prominence after Mr. Trump, including governors like Mr. DeSantis or even a Glenn Youngkin, might have an easier time figuring out how to channel today’s right-wing energy into something more like traditional conservatism than Mr. Trump’s populism. They have a record of doing so. Ms. Haley does not.

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