What Nikki Haley has said about politicians' mental competency, abortion, foreign policy and more

The GOP presidential hopeful and ex-governor says voters want younger leaders.

September 14, 2023, 2:19 PM

Nikki Haley, a former U.N. ambassador and governor of South Carolina now running for president, believes she's gaining momentum.

Haley has said her campaign received a boost after her performance in the first Republican primary debate, last month, and a FiveThirtyEight/Washington Post/Ipsos survey also showed likely GOP voters gave her high marks based on what they saw.

Adding to the momentum was a poll released by CNN last week that found -- even though the general election is still 14 months away -- Haley was the only major GOP candidate to beat President Joe Biden in a hypothetical matchup: 49% to his 43%.

Nonetheless, she is still polling in the primary in the single digits nationally, according to FiveThirtyEight, far behind front-runner Donald Trump. She is faring little better in most polls of key early voting states like Iowa.

She has touted the poll against Biden.

"The majority of Americans don't want to see a rematch between Trump and Biden," she said on "State of the Union" in response to the CNN poll.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley attends a town hall in Indian Land, S.C., Aug. 28, 2023.
Sam Wolfe/Reuters, FILE

Her pitch that America needs younger leadership has been front and center in her 2024 campaign, as have her stances on abortion, transgender issues, foreign policy and more.

Here's a closer look at Haley's comments on the campaign trail.

Age, mental competency tests

Haley, 51, has gone further than other presidential candidates on the issue of age for elected officials. She equated the Senate to a "nursing home" and often suggests Biden wouldn't finish a second term if reelected, which his administration disputes.

"A vote for Joe Biden is a vote for [Vice President] Kamala Harris," Haley said on "Good Morning America" last month, to which anchor George Stephanopoulos pushed back: "How do you know that Joe Biden is not going to finish his term? What is that based on?"

"Ask Americans, do you think he's going to finish his term?" Haley replied, adding: "We can't have an 81-year-old president."

Another hallmark of her campaign is a proposal for politicians over the age of 75 to take mental competency tests. After vague references to such tests at the start of her campaign, she wrote an op-ed for Fox News elaborating that the exam would be the Montreal Cognitive Assessment Test -- a screening meant to detect mild cognitive impairment that may be related to dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

The test was scrutinized by several news organizations after Trump touted that he "aced" it back in 2018.

Haley proposed political candidates submit the results of their tests when they file paperwork to run for office. She said the tests would only be for transparency not for disqualification or removal from office. Such a requirement would likely raise legal concerns, given that the U.S. Constitution lays out specific qualifications to be a member of Congress or president.

She doesn't want to be "disrespectful," she's said. "What I'm saying is this is somebody who is deciding the national security of our country, this is somebody who deciding what happens with our debt," she said in March.

She's also said she "wouldn't care" if they did the tests for those over the age of 50, which would include herself.

S. Jay Olshansky, a professor of public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, criticized Haley's comments as ageist and her choice of the age of 75 for mental competency tests as "arbitrary." (Both Trump and Biden are older than 75. No other 2024 candidates are.)

Her remarks "completely ignore the reality of the great variation that exists in aging," Olshansky said.

Transgender issues

Some of Haley's most controversial comments have come while talking about trans youth. She's repeatedly said she believes trans women competing in girl's sports is the "women's issue of our time."

Earlier this year, she was rebuked by LGBTQ advocates and experts when she linked transgender athletes to a rise in teen girls' suicide ideation.

"How are we supposed to get our girls used to the fact that biological boys are in their locker rooms?" Haley said during a CNN town hall in June. "And then we wonder why a third of our teenage girls seriously contemplated suicide last year. We should be growing strong girls, confident girls."

Republican presidential candidate, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley participates in the first debate of the GOP primary season hosted by FOX News at the Fiserv Forum, Aug. 23, 2023 in Milwaukee.
Win Mcnamee/Getty Images, FILE

Haley was citing a statistic from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report in 2021 which found about 30% of female high school students said they seriously considered attempting suicide. That study, however, didn't ask what was behind the suicidal ideation. It also found that more than half of LGBTQ students experienced poor mental health and 22% had attempted suicide in the past year.

Haley discussed the issue further while laying out her education agenda earlier this month with the group Moms for Liberty in New Hampshire.

"If an adult decides that they want to transition, they are welcome to do that. But we're talking about kids. You can't even get a tattoo until you're 18. You have to have parental permission for that. So let's be really careful before we even get -- I think it's such a slippery slope that parents don't want that part talked about at school," she said, adding she doesn't think the issue should be a part of K-12 schooling "at all."

GLAAD's president sharply challenged Haley's view in June, telling The Advocate, an LGTBQ news outlet, in part: "The record reflects that politicians like Nikki Haley lie about transgender people to score political points and avoid discussing real threats to all women and girls."


Haley, the only woman in the Republican field, has taken a different approach than many of her opponents on the issue of abortion access. She's called for a national "consensus" and to stop "dehumanizing" the issue.

"Can't we all agree that we should ban late-term abortions? Can't we all agree that we should encourage adoptions? Can't we all agree that doctors and nurses who don't believe in abortion shouldn't have to perform them?" she said at the first primary debate. "Can't we all agree that contraception should be available? And can't we all agree that we are not going to put a woman in jail or give her the death penalty if she gets an abortion?"

As governor, she signed a 20-week abortion ban in South Carolina but during the GOP debate declined to raise her hand in support of a nationwide 15-week prohibition on the procedure. She's been criticized by some anti-abortion advocates for not committing to a specific limit for abortion access.

She engaged in a fiery back-and-forth with former Vice President Mike Pence on the issue of a federal ban, telling him to "be honest" with the public that it's not currently possible to get such legislation through the Senate, where it would need 60 votes.

Haley’s also tried to flip the script, asking the media to ask Democrats up until what point are they’re willing to support abortion.

She has offered some broad ideas about the role the federal government can play in abortion, including making adoption easier, protecting “rights of conscience” for doctors and health care providers and banning “late-term” abortions. She advocates for making contraception more available and not criminalizing women who have abortions.

Foreign policy

Haley has consistently drawn on her experience as a former ambassador as she's heavily discussed foreign policy issues on the trail.

In one debate highlight, she went after political newcomer Vivek Ramaswamy over his stance on Israel and the Russia-Ukraine war. Ramaswamy has said he believes supporting Kyiv is less important to the U.S. than facing China and that while he wants more normalized relations between Israel and other Middle Eastern countries, Israel should get to a place where it doesn't need U.S. aid.

"You have no foreign policy experience and it shows," Haley told him on the debate stage.

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign town hall meeting in Claremont, N.H., Sept. 5, 2023.
Brian Snyder/Reuters, FILE

She's offered a full-throated defense of continuing aid to Ukraine, arguing the outcome of that war will have broader consequences.

"A win for Russia is a win for China," she's often said. She has referred to China as the biggest threat to the U.S. and has pledged to support Taiwan if it is invaded by Beijing.

She’s proposed pushing Congress to both end normal trade relations with China if the flow of fentanyl doesn’t decrease and to ban all lobbying from the ruling Chinese Communist Party. In a foreign policy speech this summer, she criticized both Trump and Biden’s record when it came to China.

Haley argues: "The American president needs to have moral clarity. They need to know the difference between right and wrong. They need to know the difference between good and evil."


Haley served in Trump's administration as the ambassador to the U.N. and later became the first major Republican candidate to challenge him when she launched her presidential campaign back in February, though she previously said in 2021 that she wouldn't do so.

She maintains that she had a good working relationship with Trump when he was in office, and is not afraid to voice when she agrees with his views or differs from his opinion, but believes new leadership is needed.

"I think he was good then, I don't think he's going to be good going forward," she said in July.

She's been critical of how he allegedly mishandled government secrets while out of office. He denies wrongdoing and has pushed back on her.

At the Republican debate, Haley was one of six candidates to raise their hands when asked if they would support Trump as the party's nominee if he is found guilty in a court of law. Haley was questioned about her position the next morning on "Good Morning America."

"I don't even think it's going to get to the point that Donald Trump becomes president," she said in defense. "I think that I'm going to be the nominee and I think that we are going to win."

Asked to further clarify why she'd support Trump if convicted, she said she would rather back him because she's "not comfortable with a President Kamala Harris."