Nikki Haley has quickly ascended in the polls, becoming the most likely Republican candidate to serve as the alternative to former President Donald Trump in the 2024 race – albeit still a long way behind the frontrunner.
Ms Haley boasts experience in foreign policy – at a time of extreme international instability – served as UN ambassador in the Trump administration and left, allowing her to align herself on some policies while putting just enough distance from the frontrunner, and served as the governor of South Carolina, an early voting state.
The 51-year-old differs from the bulk of the GOP field when it comes to abortion, social security, and foreign policy.
After three impassioned debate performances, the spotlight continues to shine on her.
Here is a glance at where she stands on the issues:
As the only woman in the race, Ms Haley offers a unique stance on abortion compared to her all-male Republican rivals. She has added a personal touch to her views: “I am unapologetically pro-life, not because the Republican Party tells me, but because my husband was adopted, and I live with that blessing every day.”
Her stance is debatably softer than some of her competitors, who have offered hard-line cut-offs for when the procedure can be performed.
Speaking in Virginia in April, she called for a national “consensus” on abortion.
Expanding on this need for a consensus, she enumerated the number of points at a CNN town hall in June that she believed most people would agree on: banning late-term abortions, encouraging adoptions, not forcing doctors who don’t believe in the procedure to perform it, making contraception accessible, and preventing those who obtain abortions from being jailed.
“It’s about saving babies and supporting moms. I am fighting for all of them,” Ms Haley said.
Strategists have pointed out Ms Haley’s foreign policy experience is particularly handy at a time when there is so much international turbulence. Regarding the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Israel, she has vocalised unambiguous stances.
She is unequivocally pro-Ukraine. “This is a war about freedom. And it’s one we have to win,” Ms Haley said during the CNN town hall. She has also called Russian President Vladimir Putin an “evil tyrant” who “cannot be trusted.”
By contrast, some of her rivals have been at least lukewarm on the prospect of continued US support for Ukraine with some, notably entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, suggesting Russia should even be allowed to keep much of the land it has conquered.
Mr Trump has repeatedly claimed he could solve the crisis “in one day” but has refused to revel details of how he thinks he could achieve this, or what any such resolution would look like.
Ms Haley has also cited her experience in the Middle East on the subject of the Israel-Hamas war. She mentioned on CNN in November that she had “seen those tunnels,” when talking about the landscape where Hamas fighters could be hiding out.
She also confronted President Joe Biden’s comments on the matter. Just one day after the president called for a humanitarian “pause” in fighting, she said: “I don’t think we need to tell Israel to take a pause. We need to let Israel do what Israel needs to do, which is defeat and eliminate Hamas because Hamas is going to come after us too. Iran is going to come after us.”
During her campaign kickoff, Ms Haley referred to China as the US’s ââ“strongest and most disciplined enemy.” She added, “China’s dictators want to cover the world in communist tyranny. We are the only ones who can stop them.”
During the third Republican primary debate, she tacked onto this hardline stance, calling for the US to “end all formal trade relations with China until they stop murdering Americans from fentanyl.”
However, this comment prompted Florida Gov Ron DeSantis to drudge up her past, highlighting her different attitudes toward the country over time. Specifically, he was alluding to her dealings with China as South Carolina governor.
At the 8 November debate, he accused Ms Haley of sending “the Chinese ambassador a love letter,” referring to a 2014 letter she wrote to the ambassador referring to China as a “friend.” Mr DeSantis also referred to the fact that in 2016, she brought in a partly China-owned fibreglass manufacturing plant to her home state.
“This unholy alliance between Russia, Ukraine and China is real,” she said on debate night. “There is a reason the Taiwanese want us to support the Ukrainians; it’s because they know that China’s coming after them next. There is a reason Ukrainians want us to support Israelis because they know that if Iran wins, Russia wins.”
Ms Haley has called for Social Security reform; she outlined wanting to raise the retirement age and wanting to limit Social Security benefits from wealthy retirees.
“Any candidate that tells you that they’re not going to take on entitlements is not being serious. Social Security will go bankrupt in 10 years. Medicare will go bankrupt in eight,” she said. The ex-South Carolina governor then called out Democrats and her rivals in one breath: “Right now you have Ron and Trump joining Biden and Pelosi saying they’re not going to change or do any entitlement reform.”
She has clarified that her changes would only affect system newcomers.
“We’ll keep these programs the same for anyone who’s in their 40s, 50s, 60s, or older, period. And we’ll preserve Social Security and Medicare for the next generation,” Ms Haley said in September.
Ms Haley, the daughter of two Indian immigrants, has backed most of former President Trump’s immigration agenda.
She expressed a desire to return to his “Remain in Mexico” policy and said she wanted to expand on his “catch and release” practice by calling it “catch and deport.”
In August, she vowed to “defund sanctuary cities,” in line with Mr Trump’s executive order that tried to deny federal funds being granted to sanctuary cities (the Justice Department later repealed the policy).
Ms Haley broke with Mr Trump on one of his signature stances: the family separation policy. “We should not be separating families,” she told CBS in May, before adding, “but we shouldn’t be taking families that we don’t have any control over.”
She has also tied the conflict in the Middle East with the US border crisis. Last month, following the outbreak of war in the Middle East, she said she feared that “Iran has said the easiest way to get into America is through the southern border. We have an open border. People are coming through; they’re not being vetted.”
Ms Haley has struck a balance of praising the Trump administration’s legacy while distancing herself from the 2024 frontrunner. During the third GOP debate, she said Mr Trump “was the right president at the right time. I don’t think he’s the right president now.”
She has also condemned his foreign policy – calling his view on Ukraine “weak in the knees” – but celebrated his foreign policy stance as president.
This balancing act has proceeded long before she ran for president. When Mr Trump ran in 2016, she supported Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz; when Mr Trump became the nominee, she said she would support him – only in an effort to defeat Hillary Clinton.
Once Mr Trump was elected, he tapped Ms Haley to serve as the US ambassador to the UN, a position she served through 2018. Years later, when the 2020 election rolled around, she advocated for Mr Trump.
However, her support was not unwavering, as Ms Haley condemned his inaction during the Capitol riot on January 6. “He was badly wrong with his words yesterday. And it wasn’t just his words. His actions since Election Day will be judged harshly by history,” she said.
In the years since, the South Carolina Republican has rarely mentioned her views on the many federal and state indictments against the former president.
Days after Special Counsel Jack Smith handed down the superseding indictment against Mr Trump, related to his handling of classified documents, in July, Ms Haley tiptoed around the subject, saying if the allegations are true, then the claims are “incredibly dangerous to our national security.”
In the wake of the superseding indictment, she also suggested the focus should be on “how to stop China” and “how to close the border” rather than “putting a 77-year-old former president in prison.”
Still, Mr Trump and Ms Haley have yet to go head-to-head on the debate stage since the former president refuses to participate. Still, he maintains a massive lead in the polls — one that his former UN ambassador appears to be closing in on ever so slightly.