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Haley says US has ‘never been a racist country’

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley claimed the US has “never been a racist country” during an interview with Fox News on Tuesday.

Haley’s remarks were in response to MSNBC host Joy Reid’s comments on whether Haley could win the GOP nomination as a woman of color. Haley suggested Reid “lives in a different America than I do,” pointing to her own rise from the daughter of immigrants to governor of South Carolina and ambassador to the United Nations.

“I mean, yes, I’m a brown girl that grew up in a small rural town in South Carolina who became the first female minority governor in history, who became an UN ambassador and who is now running for president. If that’s not the American dream, I don’t know what is,” she said, a day after she came in third in the Iowa Republican caucuses. “You can sit there and give me all the reasons why you think I can’t do this. I will continue to defy everybody on why we can do this. And we will get it done.”

When asked by host Brian Kilmeade if the GOP is a racist party, Haley made a broader point that the US has “never been a racist country.”

“We’re not a racist country, Brian. We’ve never been a racist country,” she said. “Our goal is to make sure that today is better than yesterday. Are we perfect? No. But our goal is to always make sure we try and be more perfect every day that we can.”

“I know I faced racism when I was growing up. But I can tell you, today is a lot better than it was then. Our goal is to lift up everybody. Not go and divide people on race or gender or party or anything else. We’ve had enough of that in America,” she added.

Her campaign later affirmed Haley’s statement.

“America has always had racism, but America has never been a racist country,” a campaign spokesman said. “The liberal media always fails to get that distinction. It can throw a fit, but that doesn’t change Nikki’s belief that America is special because its people are always striving to do better and live up to our founding ideals of freedom and equality.”

Haley previously faced criticism for failing to mention slavery when initially asked by a voter about the cause of the Civil War during a town hall last month. Following mounting backlash, Haley said “of course” slavery was the cause of the Civil War, adding she assumed it was a “given.”

The former South Carolina governor on Tuesday said her motivation for running for the White House bid is to prove gender or race don’t act as a deterrent.

“That’s why I’m so passionate about doing this. I don’t want my kids growing up where they’re sitting there thinking that they’re disadvantaged because of a color or a gender. I want them to know that if they work hard, they can do and be anything they want to be in America,” she said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is vying with Haley to become the top alternative to former President Donald Trump, was asked to respond to the former governor’s comments at a CNN town hall on Tuesday night. Though he did not initially address the claim directly – instead touting his opposition to diversity, equity and inclusion programs that he says promote unfair racial bias – he went on to say the US “is not a racist country.”

“The US is not a racist country, and we’ve overcome things in our history,” he said.

“I think the Founding Fathers, they established a set of principles that are universal. Now, they may not have been universally applied at the time but I think they understood what they were doing,” he continued. “They understood that those principles would be the engine for progress for generations to come and that’s what happened.”

This story has been updated with additional details.

CNN’s Piper Hudspeth Blackburn and Aaron Pellish contributed to this report.

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