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Nikki Haley in Iowa: ‘I Don’t Play for Second’
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Nikki Haley in Iowa: ‘I Don’t Play for Second’

Plus: RNC releases qualification rules for August primary debate.

Former ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley during the Joni Ernst's Roast and Ride event on June 03, 2023 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Happy Monday! Dispatch summer interns start today, so we’re thinking we’ll probably just hand this thing over to them for the next few months. Don’t worry—we’ll check in every week or two to see how they’re doing.

Up to Speed

  • With just days left on the shot clock, President Joe Biden on Saturday signed bipartisan legislation suspending the debt ceiling through the end of 2024 while curbing some future federal spending. “No one got everything they wanted, but the American people got what they needed,” Biden said during a speech Friday, his first major address from the Oval Office. “Both sides kept their word.”
  • The Republican National Committee announced Friday that the first Republican presidential debate will take place on August 23 in Milwaukee, with a second to follow the next day “should enough candidates qualify to make it necessary.” The organization also released the debate’s candidate qualification criteria—more on that below.
  • The first major cattle call of the Republican nominating contests took place Saturday in Iowa at Sen. Joni Ernst’s annual “Roast and Ride” fundraiser event. Eight current or likely candidates made appearances: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former U.N. Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, radio host Larry Elder, and businessman Perry Johnson. Only Pence rode a motorcycle. Former President Donald Trump did not attend.
  • Vivek Ramaswamy called over the weekend for ending the war in Ukraine “on peaceful terms” that “make some major concessions to Russia.” “By fighting further in Russia, by further arming Ukraine, we are driving Russia into China’s hands, and that Sino-Russian alliance is the top threat we face,” Ramaswamy said on ABC’s This Week.

Nikki Haley Preaches That Old-Time Republicanism

With Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis striving to corner the market on MAGA voters, Nikki Haley is wooing a different demographic: old-school Republicans who aren’t inclined to see the politics of punishment as a plus.

That strategy was on full display during Haley’s Sunday night CNN town hall in Des Moines, Iowa, where she criticized politics driven by “all this vendetta stuff” and drew sharp contrasts between herself and the frontrunners for the nomination on political philosophy and policy.

The vendetta remark came as Haley rebuked DeSantis, who has been far and away her most frequent target so far in the race, over his “hypocritical” ongoing feud with Disney, which she argued had arisen not over ideological differences but because Disney had criticized one of his bills.  

But Haley, who said she doesn’t “play for second,” also made some careful criticisms of former President Trump. At one point, moderator Jake Tapper asked her about Trump’s recent social media post congratulating North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un on his country’s admittance into the World Health Organization. “There’s nothing good or decent about Kim Jong-un,” Haley replied. “I don’t think we ever should congratulate dictators. Congratulate our friends, don’t congratulate our enemies. It emboldens them when we do that.” (“We” hadn’t been congratulating our enemies, but Trump had.) And she called the January 6 capitol riot, which Trump has openly praised in recent months, a “terrible day.”

Haley also set herself apart from her opponents on the war in Ukraine—“it’s in the best interest of our national security for Ukraine to win”—and on entitlements: “I know that Trump and DeSantis have both said we’re not going to deal with entitlement reform. Well, all you’re doing is leaving it for the next president, and that’s leaving a lot of Americans in trouble.”

But there was one early primary flashpoint issue on which she didn’t carve out a clear stance: whether the federal government should pass any restrictions on abortion. It’s a dangerous issue in the primary, one that was a clear GOP loser in the last midterms but which still drives enthusiasm for plenty of Republican base voters.

Haley’s strategy so far has been to try to pivot from questions about where federal abortion limits should be to answers about where they can be, with a dollop of media criticism mixed in to help it go down smoother. So it was Sunday night: “Don’t let anyone in the media, don’t let any political party tell you that a Republican president can ban abortion laws in our country, because they can’t any more than a Democrat president can ban our state laws,” Haley said, calling for lawmakers to focus on “what we can do with consensus,” like banning late-term abortions and giving conscience protections to pro-life doctors and nurses.

But did she support laws like the six-week ban recently passed in her home state of South Carolina? “I will answer that when you ask Kamala and Biden if they would agree to 37 weeks, 38 weeks, 39 weeks,” Haley said. “Then I’ll answer your question.”

Haley’s CNN town hall came almost a month after a much more explosive one involving Trump, which drew wide criticism in the media for providing a friendly platform for the former president to air his stolen-election claims and other lies. “Congratulations to Nikki Haley for following President Trump’s lead and doing a CNN town hall,” the Trump War Room rapid response team tweeted Sunday night. “Ron DeSanctimonious is too chicken to ever do something like this.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who is expected to announce his own presidential bid Wednesday in Iowa, will follow with a CNN town hall of his own that evening.

RNC Releases Debate Rules 

On Friday the Republican National Committee released their participant requirements for the first 2024 primary debate, scheduled to be held August 23. To make the stage in Milwaukee, candidates must poll at 1 percent or higher in two qualifying national polls this summer and show that they’ve received donations from at least 40,000 individual donors across a broad range of U.S. states.

The RNC’s rules are not exactly forbidding—you’re going to need a lot more than 1 percent support if you want to pull a single convention delegate, let alone the presidential nomination. The announcement nonetheless still drew complaints from some candidates on the bubble.

“The RNC should have minimal criteria for the debates in the early stages of the campaign. More choices are better,” former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a Friday statement. “The 40,000 donor threshold will keep some candidates from being on the debate stage and benefits candidates who generate online donations through extreme rhetoric and scare tactics.”

The rules also give some lower-polling candidates an opportunity to flex. Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy isn’t hurting for campaign cash: He’s already poured $10 million of his personal fortune into the race and could spend up to $100 million eventually. This makes soliciting grassroots donors extra easy: We don’t need a monthly $20 donation from you to keep us afloat, but why not throw us a dollar to help get us on stage? Ramaswamy spokesperson Tricia McLaughlin told The Dispatch last week the campaign has already received donations from more than 43,000 individual donors.

Organizing a presidential primary debate is a balancing act for a political party. You don’t want to smother long-shot candidates in the cradle by denying them the chance to make a splash on the big national stage. But you also don’t want to dilute the debate by clogging up the dais with candidates who don’t have the supporters or resources to stick around long into the race.

There’s one more little criterion from the RNC for getting on stage: A candidate must also pledge to support the party’s eventual nominee. Back in 2015, then-insurgent candidate Donald Trump balked for weeks before signing such a pledge. Today, with Trump the current undisputed frontrunner, the pledge will put more pressure on his critics in the race. Here’s Hutchinson again: “I have always supported the party nominee, but I have never supported a party loyalty oath. The pledge should simply be that you will not run as a third party candidate.”

Eyes on the Trail

  • Dispatch politics writers are too powerful to contain fully within the Dispatch Politics newsletter. Over the weekend, David reported from Iowa on Ron DeSantis’ new grassroots events campaign strategy, and Mike Warren took a broad look at the obstacles ahead for the “Also Runnings”—the mass of GOP presidential candidates not named Ron or Don. And why not: Here’s one more plug to read Andrew’s Friday trail profile of biotech wunderkind turned presidential contender Vivek Ramaswamy. Also, check out Mike’s interview with veteran GOP strategist Mike Murphy on this weekend’s Dispatch Podcast.

Notable and Quotable

“I want to commend Senator—Speaker McCarthy. You know, he and I, we—and our teams—we were able to get along and get things done. We were straightforward with one another, completely honest with one another, and respectful with one another. Both sides operated in good faith. Both sides kept their word.”

—President Joe Biden’s on the debt-ceiling suspension bill, Friday, June 2

Also Notable and Quotable

“He is not going to negotiate on the debt ceiling. Been very clear. That is not going to change.”

—White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, Tuesday, May 2

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.