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Exclusive: Nikki Haley says she ‘didn’t ask’ for Trump’s blessing, talks abortion ban and family pressures

Haley tells Craig Melvin that she reversed her decision to challenge Trump in 2024 because she "thought we needed to go in a new direction." She also shared her views on a federal abortion ban.
/ Source: TODAY

Nikki Haley said she “didn’t ask” for a blessing when she spoke to former President Donald Trump ahead of announcing her 2024 White House bid this week, before delving into her views on a federal abortion ban and sharing how her family's support factors into her political career.

“I told him that I thought that we needed to go in a new direction,” she told Craig Melvin of her phone conversation with Trump during an interview that aired Feb. 16 on TODAY.

In her Feb. 14 video announcing her candidacy, the former South Carolina governor called for a “new generation” of leadership to strengthen national pride. Haley, who served in Trump’s administration as a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is the first major GOP candidate to challenge Trump.

In response to her bid, Trump said that Haley once called him “the best president in my lifetime” but wished her luck. He also cited Haley’s previous commitment to not run against him in 2024.

In her interview with Craig, Haley noted her comments were a reflection of a different time for the country.

“When I first said I wouldn’t run against him, Afghanistan hadn’t fallen,” she said. “We didn’t see the rise in inflation, we didn’t see what was happening in our schools where it was, and we didn’t see the results of the midterms that we just had.”

“It is time for a new generation of leaders,” she added. “You shouldn’t have to be 80 years old to get to Washington. We’ve got to start righting the ship. We need new blood, we need new leadership because we have some serious challenges.”

Haley noted Republicans have lost the last seven out of eight popular votes, which she said indicated the party needed to try something different.

"I don’t want just Republicans with me," she said. "I want everybody with me because I believe that everybody wants to be proud about America."

Craig asked Haley if she would support a federal ban on abortion, like one proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), which would ban the procedure after 15 weeks, except when the life of the mother is at risk or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

Haley said she would not support a "full-out federal ban because I don’t think that’s been put on the table."

"I think what Lindsey Graham has put on the table is 15 weeks. And I think if we’re looking at 15 weeks, what we need to understand is we are not OK with abortion up until the time of birth. And so we should at least decide when is it OK," she said.

The former governor added she thinks Americans need to come to a consensus on abortion.

"We need consensus on this because I want to save as many babies as possible and I want to support as many moms as possible," Haley said. "Is that consensus 15 weeks? Is it ten weeks? Is it six weeks? I don’t know what that is, but we need to figure this out for the good of these babies and for the good of the moms."

Haley said she is pro-life because her husband, Michael Haley, was adopted, and because she had trouble conceiving her two children, Rena and Nalin. All three family members appeared in her interview with Craig.

She called her family's support of her political career "everything," and shared how her children reacted to her decision to run for president.

"Nalin has always been very involved in everything I do politically. Rena could care less about politics. That’s not her thing at all," she said.

"So, you know, with Nalin, he of course was like, 'Yes, you should do this.' And Rena’s response was, 'Why do you want to live in someone else’s house again?' That literally was what it was," she added.

Haley, who was governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017, also said her son gives her unsolicited political advice "every day, all day."

"I’m her biggest supporter, but I’m also her biggest critic," Nalin Haley told Craig.

Haley spoke of how tough campaigns can be on her family, and how they push through the negativity.

"Politics is a blood sport. And it’s a shame that it is, but it is," she said. "The key is, you have your faith, you trust in the love we have as a family, and this too shall pass."

"That’s the beautiful thing about campaigns, is there’s a start and an end," she continued. "And the goal is just pray every day and let’s get through it."