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Nikki Haley: Principled conservative or establishment sell-out?

The Hill logo The Hill 3/30/2023 Justin Haskins and Chris Talgo, Opinion Contributors
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Is Nikki Haley a true conservative, an establishment politician or something else entirely?

That’s the question many conservatives have been asking since Haley officially announced she is running for president in February. Haley served as governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017 and as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Trump.

We can’t recall another Republican politician who has garnered such a mixed response from conservatives. Almost everyone in the conservative media and public policy world seems to have an opinion about Haley. But once pressed to explain the reasons behind those opinions, very few seem prepared to provide a detailed answer. And most of those we spoke with seemed willing to quickly change their minds.

Fortunately, conservatives don’t have to guess when it comes Haley. She has a long track record as governor of South Carolina. And since leaving her post as UN ambassador, she has developed a policy platform for her presidential campaign and made numerous statements on pressing issues that provide a clear look at how she would likely govern if she were to be elected president in 2024.

We have reviewed Haley’s domestic record and believe she is a champion of policies that limit the size of government (especially the federal government), cut taxes, reject socialism and promote individual liberty. The following is a summary of our findings, broken down by category.

The Economy

While serving South Carolina, Haley’s priority was to make the state economically competitive after years of stagnant growth and high unemployment. To do this, she cut taxesreduced burdensome regulations, offered tax incentives to major manufacturers and sought to make life easier for small businesses.

In Haley’s final year as governor, she proposed across-the-board tax cuts for all brackets and corporations. In total, the plan would have reduced taxes by more than $1.1 billion.

After two terms as governor, Haley’s economic reforms paid off. By the time she left office, South Carolina had transformed into a dynamic economy, with record job growth and a bright future. When Haley started her first term as governor, the unemployment rate was well over 10 percent. By the time she left office, it had dropped to 4.4 percent.

Education Reform

Haley is a champion of school choice. As governor, she signed bills that expanded school choice, rejected the federal government’s Common Core Standards and launched the Original Six Foundation, a non-profit that provides educational funds to low-income South Carolinians.

Limiting the Federal Government

Haley rejected Medicaid expansion, fought to maintain her state’s right-to-work laws and clashed with the Environmental Protection Agency (and many other federal agencies) concerning carbon dioxide emissions.

Gun Rights

While leading the Palmetto State, Haley took several steps to protect gun rights, including signing legislation that reformed the state’s anti-gun laws and expanded concealed carry rights. Haley also supported the Constitutional Carry Act.


Haley is an outspoken pro-life advocate. As governor, she talked about her struggles having children and why she is a firm believer in pro-life values. She signed several pro-life bills as governor, such as the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act and the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. She also backed legislation that sought to decrease the historically high infant mortality rate among low-income rural South Carolinians.

Woke Corporatism, ESG

One of the few areas in which Haley has yet to clearly articulate a clear policy proposal is related to battling woke corporations and environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics.

Declared presidential candidates Donald Trump and Vivek Ramaswamy as well as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis

(who is widely expected to join the 2024 race later this year) have all launched detailed campaigns against ESG. But Haley doesn’t appear to have an established plan yet.

When we reached out to Haley’s campaign requesting more information about ESG, the campaign provided us with this statement: “Let’s call ESG what it really is: corporate socialism. What we need is capitalism and not businesses caving to the left. When they do, everyone loses.”

It’s an open question whether Haley will attract enough support to win the Republican nomination for president. But on the question of whether Haley is a principled conservative or establishment sell-out, it’s clear she falls well within the mainstream of conservative thought.

Justin Haskins ( is director of the Socialism Research Center at The Heartland Institute and a New York Times bestselling author. Chris Talgo ( is editorial director and a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.

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