Jan 23, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Nikki Haley tears into Trump's "fellas"

Illustration of a vote pin in the shape of the female symbol

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

MANCHESTER, N.H. ā€” With just two people left, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley is dropping not-so-subtle reminders that she is the only woman in the GOP presidential race.

Why it matters: While she is not asking voters to choose her because she is a woman, Haley uses the phrase "fellas" to brush off the behavior of her male opponents, shrug off unfavorable endorsements and set herself apart.

What we're watching: Haley in recent weeks has emphasized gender as one of several differentiators between her, former President Trump and the rest of her former rivals who have mostly lined up behind him.

  • "There were 14 people in this race, a lot of fellas. All the fellas are out, except for this one," she said referring to Trump after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis dropped out over the weekend.
  • "This is what fellas do," Haley said about being blindsided by DeSantis' move yesterday, adding he did not call her beforehand.
  • "The fellas are going to do what the fellas are going to do," Haley said of Sen. Tim Scott's endorsement of Trump.
  • "These fellas don't know how to talk about abortion," Haley said at an Iowa debate against DeSantis, arguing that Republican rhetoric on abortion is too focused on fear and judgment.
  • "I love all the attention, fellas, thank you for that," she said at a GOP debate in December.

Between the lines: Republican voters historically have not been motivated to vote for a candidate because of their race or gender.

  • For 86% of Republicans, electing a woman president in their lifetime is not at all or not too important, per Pew Research.
  • "That's just not how they look at politics. It's just not something that motivates the conservative base of the party," Jennifer Horn, a former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party, told reporters at a Bloomberg roundtable.
  • In her campaign launch, Haley explicitly said she explicitly rejects identity politics. "I don't believe in that ... I don't believe in glass ceilings either."

Zoom out: Haley's emphasis on gender goes hand in hand with her argument that Republicans need a new generation of leadership and an oft-repeated stat in her stump speeches: that 70% of Americans don't want a Trump-Biden re-match this November.

  • "I have dealt with the old guard and the fellas for a long time," Haley said this week of her time in the "bloodsport" of South Carolina politics.
  • Haley served two terms as governor of South Carolina.

The details: While Haley rarely mentions her own gender on the campaign trail, her campaign is fully cognizant of the precedent she would be setting.

  • The playlist at her watch party in Iowa included "Woman in the White House" by Sheryl Crow and the campaign has handed out pink "Women for Nikki" t-shirts at her events and appointed "Women for Nikki" chairs in all fifty states.

The bottom line: "It's one of the contrasts, especially with Trump whose brand is bad behavior. No other strategy has worked, so use what you have, "GOP strategist Dave Kochel told Axios.

  • "You sound different, look different, have a different style."

Alex Thompson contributed reporting.

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