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Lessons Learned from Nikki Haley’s Gentle CNN Town Hall

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Nikki Haley, a Republican candidate for the 2024 presidential race, participated in a 90-minute CNN town hall on Sunday night. Haley, who has struggled to gain traction in the polls, was well-versed on policy issues and avoided attacking former President Donald Trump or President Biden. The event was a departure from the combative Trump town hall held last month, with no fact-checking or audience jeers. Haley indirectly referenced Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, both of whom are potential Republican contenders. She criticized DeSantis for his attacks on Disney and reiterated her position on the need for entitlement reform.

In light of the recent report by a recent article on The New York Times, Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and United Nations ambassador under former President Donald J. Trump, had a fresh opportunity to make the case for her presidential candidacy during a 90-minute CNN town hall in prime time on Sunday night. However, despite being well-versed on policy issues, consistently upbeat, and evenly tempered, Haley’s campaign has yet to catch fire.

Haley was the first prominent Republican to announce a challenge to Trump in the 2024 race. However, she has been mired in low single digits in polls. With a growing field of Republicans in the race, Haley needed a standout performance to win headlines and a new look from primary voters.

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During the town hall, an audience member praised Haley’s demeanor as “a breath of fresh air,” earning applause from the house full of Iowa Republicans. However, there were few shoot-out-the-lights moments that could have given her the boost she needed.

Compared with CNN’s explosive, much-criticized town-hall-style event with Trump last month, this one was a throwback to earlier, less combative times. There was no torrent of fact-checking, no audience jeers whipped up from the stage, and no forceful interrogation of the candidate. Jake Tapper, the anchor who moderated, never found the need to correct Haley.

The two big red elephants in the room, Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, were mostly mentioned indirectly, but those two Republican presidential contenders were present nonetheless. Haley repeated her position that in order to save Social Security and Medicare, it would be necessary to raise the retirement age for young workers and to limit benefits for the wealthy. Both Trump and DeSantis, who once supported similar changes, now say they won’t touch the programs.

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“I think it’s important to be honest with the American people,” Haley said. “We are in this situation. Don’t lie to them and say, ‘Oh, we don’t have to deal with entitlement reform.’ Yes, we do.”

Haley also criticized DeSantis for his attacks on Disney as a “woke” company. She had no beef with the Florida governor’s criticism of Disney’s opposition to what he called “election integrity,” but she said he was wrong to call the company “woke” for supporting voting rights.

To tie it all together, Haley’s town hall was a missed opportunity to gain momentum in the 2024 race. Despite being well-versed on policy issues and maintaining a positive demeanor, she failed to have any standout moments that could have given her campaign the boost it needed. With a growing field of Republicans in the race, Haley will need to find a way to stand out if she hopes to gain traction in the polls.

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