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Nikki Haley, Authoritarian-in-Waiting

When it comes to traditional American freedoms, Donald Trump’s sole remaining competitor for the GOP nomination has little to recommend her.

Credit: Gage Skidmore

New advertisements from the Nikki Haley presidential campaign are touting the former South Carolina governor as the “better choice” for America. In a season in which the Biden re-election campaign is openly comparing Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler, Haley is increasingly portrayed as someone who would be reasonable, restrained, and maybe even moderate as president. 

In reality, Haley is far more bellicose than Trump and became the darling of much of the media thanks to championing foreign interventions. Haley’s defenders insist that, although she might start more wars abroad, she would be more respectful of freedom on the homefront than either Biden or Trump. Yet there is nothing in Haley’s record to bolster such hopes. 


Nikki Haley might support freedom as long as it didn’t cost her any votes or spur any criticism from prominent newspaper editorial boards. When Biden visited South Carolina earlier this month, Haley tweeted: “Let me make something clear: we don’t want you taking away our cars, our stoves, our dishwashers, and our freedom.” Perhaps Haley’s pollsters did focus group testing to confirm that she would not lose any votes by standing up for the right to own gas stoves. 

The glove on Haley’s iron fist slipped during a November interview in which she demanded that social media companies “verify every single person on their outlet, and I want it by name.” She claimed that permitting people to comment online without confirming their identity is “a national security threat.” She touted de facto government licensure of speech as a way “to get some civility when people know their name is next to what they say.” Haley also asserted that when commenters were forced to identify themselves, “all of a sudden people have to stand by what they say.” After controversy erupted from her licensing plan, however, Haley denied that she had made the proposal. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky scoffed that Haley’s scheme “flies in the face of a free American Republic whose founders anonymously wrote the Federalist Papers and routinely posted newspaper articles and pamphlets under pseudonyms.” While Haley is spooked by anonymous private critics, she apparently has no problem with the federal government blindfolding the American people by creating trillions of new pages of secrets each year.

Haley has sent other signals that she would be a First Amendment minimalist. In late October, she declared during a television interview: “There should be freedom of speech, but you don’t get freedom of hate.” The notion that hateful speech is exempted from the First Amendment is a favorite delusion of liberals who want to suppress any criticism of transgender people or other sacred cows. 

Haley’s faith in arbitrary government power shines through in other recommendations. After a school shooting in Iowa earlier this month, Haley tweeted, “We have to secure our schools the same way we secure our airports.” So the Transportation Security Administration is Haley’s model for public service and trust? Haley did not explain why she glorified a federal agency that fails to discover weapons and mock bombs in 95 percent of its own undercover tests. Nor did she did not explain how pointlessly groping millions of kids each day would make children safe. (Thanks to windfalls from defense contractors and other military industrial complex beneficiaries, Haley is a multimillionaire who likely rarely if ever experiences TSA indignities.) 

Haley’s early record as a South Carolina legislator also raises alarms. During her second term as a state representative in 2007, Haley co-sponsored a bill to compel all young girls to get injected with a HPV vaccine barely a year after the Food and Drug Administration approved the shots. That bill contained no “opt-out” provision for parents who did not want their daughters to get the new vaccine. There are currently several lawsuits claiming injuries from the vaccines. As of 2019, most teenagers were not getting the HPV vaccine. 


The New York Times conducts a quadrennial “Executive Power Survey” to garner presidential candidates’ views on presidential authority, including freedom of the press, commander-in-chief prerogatives, federal secrecy, and emergency powers. Haley refused to respond to the questionnaire, unlike other Republican candidates including Mike Pence, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Asa Hutchinson. Haley, unlike Trump, ducks interviews with savvy reporters who would push her to defend her positions. 

Nevertheless, even unprompted, Haley sounds as illiterate regarding American history as any other presidential candidate—she simply doesn’t seem to understand what America is all about. On President’s Day 2021, Haley whooped on X, formerly known as Twitter, that “George Washington turned an army of ragtag troops into an unstoppable force that defeated the British & secured America’s independence.” Apparently, she missed the recaps of the 1776 Battle of Brooklyn. Washington’s army was whipped plenty of times before partnering with the French army to defeat General Cornwallis’s army at Yorktown in 1781. 

Haley followed her fairy tale about the American army in the Revolutionary War with a Trump-caliber howler on the nation’s founding. She hailed George Washington: “As President, he oversaw the creation of our Constitution & showed the world what it looks like to govern by the people and for the people.” Historians ridiculed Haley’s ignorance about the sequence between the Constitution and the election of the first president. Princeton’s Professor Kevin Kruse scoffed: “As President, [Washington] traveled back in time?” Nor did Haley elucidate how the trademark phrase from Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address retroactively became the 1790s lodestar. 

Haley’s George Washington blunders were forgotten after her Civil War revisionism. For Haley, invoking “freedom” provides a license to blather. When a New Hampshire town hall attendee last month asked Haley about the causes of the Civil War, she replied, “I mean, I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was going to run the freedoms and what people could and couldn’t do.” The runaway slaves targeted by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 would not have applauded Haley’s spin. Her comments provoked more outrage than practically anything since the January 6 Capitol clash. The following day, Haley declared during a radio interview that “of course the Civil War was about slavery.” And, following her No Piffle Left Behind tactic, she added, “freedom matters. And individual rights and liberties matter for all people.”

If Haley is elected president, her scorecard on civil liberties would likely parallel that of President George W. Bush. As a candidate in 2000, Bush mostly avoided the issue of freedom, preferring to bloviate about “compassionate conservatism.” But after Bush committed the nation to crusading against terror after 9/11, his administration quickly seized vast powers and sought Total Information Awareness surveillance on the American people. White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales dismissed concerns about whether the U.S. government was violating laws or the Constitution by concocting the “Commander-in-Chief override power.” 

Unfortunately, Haley’s record on freedom is par for contemporary politicians. Donald Trump curbed a few federal agencies while president but was mostly oblivious (or worse) on the freedom front. President Biden only respects the ‘freedom’ to terminate pregnancies and to default on federal student loans. 

Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign was the last time that a major party presidential candidate sincerely sought to curb federal power. Barack Obama made noises on this score during his 2008 campaign, but quickly heaved his civil liberties pretenses overboard after taking office. As the government has intruded further into citizens’ lives, freedom has faded as a supreme value for voters. Decades of politicians bidding for votes with promises of new government handouts has eroded many citizens’ comprehension of the danger of unleashing their rulers. 

There is no reason to expect Haley to be more devoted to freedom than she is to peace. And there is no reason to expect Haley to show more fidelity to the Constitution than she has to any other cause that hasn’t showered her with riches.