Of all Donald Trump’s distant challengers for the GOP nomination, Nikki Haley has emerged as perhaps the most viable alternative—rising in the polls and raking in donor dollars on the strength of debate performances in which she registered as more reasonable than most of her rivals. But in an appearance in Iowa over the weekend, the former South Carolina governor made clear she’s cut from the same cloth as her fellow Republicans, including on abortion.
Asked by the influential Iowa Evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats Friday if she would sign a six-week abortion ban like the kind Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds approved if she were still governor of South Carolina, Haley replied: “Yes.”
“Whatever the people decide,” Haley continued, describing herself as “unapologetically pro-life.” “This was put in the states—that’s where it should be. Everyone can give their voice to it.”
It was another attempt by Haley to thread the needle on an issue that has vexed the GOP since the fall of Roe last year. But it mainly served as a bleak reflection of what passes for “reasonable” in this incarnation of the GOP.
Haley, a former Trump administration official, had a stand-out moment in the third GOP primary debate when she called to “find consensus” on abortion: “As much as I’m pro-life, I don’t judge anyone for being pro-choice, and I don’t want them to judge me for being pro-life,” Haley said. “We don’t need to divide America over this issue anymore.”
Of course, Haley has good reason to want the issue to be less charged: The day before that Miami debate, voters in off-year races across the country once again expressed their displeasure with the GOP’s anti-abortion extremism at the ballot box, in what President Joe Biden and the Democrats hope is a preview of next fall’s general election. Haley’s comparatively soft rhetoric around abortion on November 8 wasn’t a statement of principle so much as it was an effort to find less politically-damaging ways to talk about the issue.
But gesturing toward moderation is not actual moderation, as her support for a heartbeat bill at the state level underscores. “Nikki Haley is no moderate—she’s an anti-abortion MAGA extremist who wants to rip away women’s freedoms just like she did when she was South Carolina governor,” the Biden campaign said in a statement, pouncing on the remarks at Friday’s candidate forum in Des Moines.
She’s not alone: Trump, Ron DeSantis, and other Republicans have each sought to repackage their anti-abortion agendas as the issue proves politically-toxic for their party. But Democrats aren't letting them get away with it. “It’s time for Democrats to take this fight directly to the people,” said Illinois Governor and top Biden ally J.B. Pritzker this month after the party put in another stronger-than-expected performance at the ballot box. “Let’s make the choice for voters in 2024 crystal clear.”