Haley, the former South Carolina governor and former ambassador to the United Nations, has seen her campaign sparked by massive donations of late, but the sources of that giving have come under scrutiny by the more conservative wing of the party.
Wednesday night was another GOP debate without polling frontrunner Donald Trump, the former president who appointed Haley to the U.N., but it didn’t lack for firepower largely due to the event’s host: NewsNation, a Nexstar Media Group property.
Former Fox News host Megyn Kelly was the lead moderator and was joined by NewsNation’s Elizabeth Vargas and Washington Free Beacon editor Eliana Johnson.
Trump maintains a giant lead in GOP polling. There’s much less separation between DeSantis at 12.7%, Haley at 10.6% and Ramaswamy at 4.9%.
Debate hosts made a difference
“NewsNation really, for the first time, provided a format that made sure the questions got asked that the base cares about, and then it permitted Megyn Kelly to really spearhead this," Steve Deace, a Blaze TV host and DeSantis supporter, said on American Family Radio Thursday.
"The GOP does not like its candidates critiqued from the right because a lot of times the people that it would prefer to win fall apart," Deace said. "Megan indirectly by the framing of the questions permitted that to occur. Almost all of the conversation last night was from the right. You were either speaking from the right or being critiqued from the right."
In that environment, at the University of Alabama, Haley wilted under flaming arrows from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and political newcomer Vivek Ramaswamy.
A debate review by four CNN analysts said Haley was the center of attention for the first hour of the debate – a sure sign of her rise in the race.
Haley has received funding from billionaire Charles Koch, described by some as a Republican In Name Only, and from LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, a noted supporter of anti-Trump candidates and causes as well as President Joe Biden.
Her social positions have come under fire of late, particularly her response to a CBS News interviewer that the government should have no role in outlawing gender mutilation surgery for minors.
Haley actually got the ball rolling on social issues when she challenged DeSantis for being “hypocritical” in his stance as governor.
“When he was running for governor, and they asked him about that, he said he didn't think bathroom bills were a good use of his time,” she said.
DeSantis’ response was quick and brutal.
“I signed a bathroom bill in Florida so that's obviously not true. I signed it, you didn't. You killed it, I signed it. I stood up for little girls, you didn't do it,” DeSantis said.
'I don't believe it's necessary'
TownHall.com reported that when Haley was governor of South Carolina, then-Republican state Sen. Lee Bright introduced a bill that would require people to use bathrooms that aligned with the gender on their birth certificate. When asked about the bill, Haley said it was unnecessary simply because the issue hadn't occurred in the state yet.
"I don’t believe it’s necessary," she said at the time. "Because I think if you look at everything that we’ve had happen — there’s not one instance that I’m aware of."
Haley later addressed her stance on the bill, which did not have enough votes to pass out of the state senate. She told Fox News in 2022 she opposed the bill because it did not provide a separate bathroom for transgender students and that left them subject to bullying by peers.
DeSantis contradicted Haley’s statement that boys were not trying to use girls’ bathrooms in South Carolina.
“I was actually just in South Carolina. Some of the legislators told me at the time, there were boys going into the girls (bathrooms). That's the whole reason why they did it,” he said.
'She has no idea'
Ramaswamy challenged Haley on her support for funding Ukraine in its continuing war against Russia. He called Haley’s two-year stint at the U.N. inconsequential as it relates to her foreign policy expertise.
“Foreign policy experience is not the same as foreign policy wisdom. I want everybody at home to know that I was the first person to say we need a reasonable peace deal in Ukraine. One thing that Joe Biden and Nikki Haley have in common is that neither of them could even state for you three provinces in Eastern Ukraine that they want to send our troops to actually fight for,” Ramaswamy said.
“She has no idea what the names of those provinces are, but she wants to send our sons and daughters and our troops and our military equipment to go fight it," he continued. "So, reject this myth that they've been selling you that somebody had a cup of coffee stint at the UN and then makes 8 million bucks after has real foreign policy experience."
Deace told show host Jenna Ellis that the line of questioning quickly revealed Haley’s weak conservative positions.
“The minute she stopped talking and other people started talking to her, and about her, she completely collapsed," he said. "She could not hold up to any level of vetting or scrutiny on any level whatsoever. At one point, she basically kind of just gave up, and the so-called strong woman in the race needed Chris Christie, the big strong man there, to come to her aid at the end.”
Christie jumped into the Ukraine province discussion and accused Ramaswamy of bashing Haley’s character.
“What we’ve learned from that lengthy answer is Chris Christie doesn’t know the names either,” Ramaswamy shot back.
Haley also suggested said DeSantis and Ramaswamy were “jealous” of her recent fund-raising success.
“They wish (Koch and Hoffman) were supporting them,” she said.