After Donald Trump called 2024 soon-to-be presidential rival Nikki Haley “overly ambitious,” she took to Twitter to revive a proposal she floated over a year ago that every person serving in public office be required to take a cognitive test.
Her message was clear: It’s time for the GOP to move beyond the creaky old leadership that’s left it struggling for victories over the last three national elections.
Ms. Haley, 51, wants to lead that shift to a new generation but first, she’ll have to topple her former boss, the 76-year-old Mr. Trump, whom she served as ambassador to the U.N. and who remains the fundamental force in Republican politics.
She first broached the idea of a cognitive test in 2021 and reminded voters of her call in the wake of Mr. Trump’s dismissive affront, posting on Twitter a link to her 2021 proposal.
“We seriously need to have a conversation that if you’re gonna have anyone above a certain age in a position of power — whether it’s the House, whether it’s the Senate, whether it’s vice president, whether it’s president — you should have some sort of cognitive test,” she said. “This shouldn’t be partisan. We should seriously be looking at the ages of the people that are running our country and understand if that’s what we want.”
Mr. Trump during his presidency claimed to have “aced” cognitive tests in the past, telling reporters the test he took had him identify things such as an elephant.
Ms. Haley is expected to launch her presidential campaign on Feb. 15 with a claim that she will be the change candidate in the race. It will put her on a crash course with Mr. Trump and test whether the GOP is ready for its first female nominee for president.
The Des Moines Register reported she plans to fly straight to the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire before making a three-day swing through Iowa, the first stop on the nomination calendar.
“When you are looking at a run for president, you look at two things,” Ms. Haley said in a recent interview on Fox News. “You first look at does the current situation push for new leadership. The second question is, am I that person that could be that new leader? Yes, we need to go in a new direction.”
“Can I be that leader? Yes, I think I can be that leader,” Ms. Haley said, before lamenting how Republicans have lost seven out of the last eight popular votes for president.”So I think it’s time that we bring in a new generation that can bring in more people to our party.”
It can be a powerful message — though perhaps not for GOP primary voters, said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center.
“Trump’s biggest problem is independent women and Nikki Haley appeals to that,” Mr. Paleologos said. “The age issue probably will have less punch in a Republican primary because a Republican primary electorate is older, and it is whiter — and that is in Trump’s wheelhouse.”
It’s also true that many Republicans are ready to put Mr. Trump out to pasture.
The University of New Hampshire released a survey late last month showing half of likely GOP primary voters in that state don’t want Mr. Trump to run for president, marking a 15-point jump from the summer of 2021.
Mr. Trump garnered just 30% support in a hypothetical GOP primary. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis led with 42%, while Ms. Haley came in third at 8%.
Mr. Trump has attacked Mr. DeSantis, saying it would be “disloyal” if he ran
Ms. Haley, daughter of Indian immigrants and married mother of two children, was elected governor of South Carolina in 2010 and reelected in 2014.
As governor, she was a critic of Mr. Trump and backed Sen. Marco Rubio in the 2016 presidential primary. She then joined Mr. Trump’s administration as ambassador to the U.N. Once out of government, she broke with Mr. Trump over the events of Jan. 6, 2021.
“I think he’s lost any sort of political viability he was going to have,” Ms. Haley told Politico at the time, saying he would not run for federal office again. “I don’t think he’s going to be in the picture,” she said.
That prediction proved wrong.
Mr. Trump cannonballed into the 2024 Republican presidential race in November. He has since flexed his muscle in Ms. Haley’s political backyard, rolling out a state leadership team that included Gov. Henry McMasters, Sen. Lindsey Graham, and members of the congressional delegation.
Responding to the news of Ms. Haley’s presidential bid, Mr. Trump also shared a video clip on social media in which she vowed to support Mr. Trump if he ran in 2024 and said she would not run if President Trump ran.
Former South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer said Ms. Haley has an impressive resume and has built a strong following over his political career.
“But at the end of the day President Trump’s following will be substantially stronger,” Mr. Bauer said, claiming her attempt to make the race about generational change will not be enough to stop Mr. Trump. “A lot of folks who have taken the fight to Trump have found themselves bruised, battered and regretful.”
“This is like trying to hit Mike Tyson in the jaw,” he said.