CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Few have navigated the turbulent politics of the Trump era like Nikki Haley.
In early 2016, the then-South Carolina governor said she was “embarrassed” by candidate Donald Trump and decried his reluctance to condemn white supremacists. Nine months later, she agreed to join his Cabinet, serving as a key validator as Trump sought to win over skeptical world leaders and voters at home.
And shortly after Trump left the White House, Haley, whose resume by then included an ambassadorship to the United Nations, vowed not to step in the way if he ran for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Yet on Wednesday, she is poised to become the first major Republican candidate to enter the race against him.
“It’s going to be quite the high-wire act,” said veteran Republican strategist Terry Sullivan. “She says she’s always been an underdog. She will be again."
The 51-year-old Haley may be the first to take on Trump, but a half-dozen or more high-profile Republicans are expected to join the GOP's 2024 presidential nomination contest over the coming months. Some would-be competitors may be more popular than Haley even in South Carolina, where she lives and has established a campaign headquarters.
Likely rivals include Sen. Tim Scott, a fellow South Carolinian and perhaps the most celebrated elected official in a state where Trump has already locked up endorsements from the governor and its senior senator, Lindsey Graham. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence could also be formidable foes should they run, as widely expected.
Indeed, on the eve of this week's announcement, there is broad agreement that Haley — the only Republican woman of color expected in the 2024 contest, a politician who loves to remind people that she has never lost an election — is about to be tested as never before. Trump, for instance, has already stepped up his attacks on Haley.
But allies describe the former governor, who is the daughter of Indian immigrants, as a savvy executive uniquely positioned to lead a new generation of Republicans. They understand that the fight ahead could get ugly.
“She took the bull by the horns and said, ‘That doesn’t matter to me, I’m going to run,'" said longtime supporter Gavin J. Smith. "She did that when she ran for governor, and that’s what you’re going to see when she runs for president.”
Perhaps more than anyone this young presidential primary season, Haley personifies the Republican Party's shifting views on Trump. Her reversal on whether to challenge the former president was based less on concerns about his divisive leadership or policy disagreements than the growing belief within the GOP that Trump is losing political strength.
New York-based Republican donor Eric Levine says he's convinced that another Trump Republican nomination would lead to his party's destruction. Haley, he said, is among the three favorite Trump alternatives.
“I think as a woman of color and a daughter of legal immigrants from India, she'd give the Democratic Party no reason to exist. All their woke crap goes out the window,” Levine said. “I think she's a spectacular candidate.”
Haley's announcement will take place Wednesday in Charleston, the historic coastal city where her campaign will be based. Almost immediately, she'll travel to meet voters in New Hampshire and Iowa.
She's entrusted her campaign to a collection of senior staff led by longtime aides. Betsy Ankney, who heads up Haley's PAC, will manage the campaign, with the PAC's development director, Mary Kate Johnson, as finance director, Haley’s team told The Associated Press.