Nikki Haley says she would ‘maybe’ consider Ron DeSantis for VP

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said she would “maybe” consider Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as her running mate, saying, “if he wants to join forces with me, I welcome that” in a joint interview with NBC News and The Des Moines Register Friday.

Haley’s comments come as the two Republican presidential candidates have been trading attacks on the campaign trail as they seek to become the primary alternative to former President Donald Trump, who has maintained a wide lead in the polls.

“I am going to defeat Donald Trump on my own. That’s the goal that we have. If he wants to join forces with me, I welcome that,” Haley said when asked about the prospect of joining forces with DeSantis to beat Trump. “But right now, we’ve got a race that we feel good about. We’ve got a surge. We’ve got momentum.”

When DeSantis was asked if he would consider joining forces with Haley in an interview with NBC News and The Des Moines Register Thursday, he answered, “For what?” He also called Haley a “phony” and a “darling of the Never Trumpers,” intensifying his attacks on her as they fight for position in the race.

Haley, by contrast, barely mentioned DeSantis in her interview, in which she also spoke about whether former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie should drop out of the race, attacks on her record from the right, and the racism she experienced growing up.

DeSantis also accused Haley of running to be Trump’s vice president, which the Florida governor has said he would not do. 

Haley did not directly answer on Friday whether she would be Trump’s vice president if asked, dismissing it as a set-up by her opponents. 

“The reason I don’t answer that question is I don’t play my opponents’ games,” Haley said. But she also sought to pour cold water on the idea, adding, “I am not running to be vice president.” 

Christie has left ‘everybody scratching their heads’

Haley has risen to second place behind Trump in most polls in New Hampshire. That has led to growing pressure on Christie, who is courting many of the moderate and independent voters in the state as Haley, to drop out to prevent splitting the non-Trump vote.

Haley wouldn’t call on Christie to end his campaign, but questioned what he would accomplish by staying in the race, noting he is not campaigning heavily in Iowa or South Carolina, the states that vote before and after New Hampshire in the GOP nominating contest. 

“I think it’s left everybody scratching their heads saying, ‘You know, you say you want to defeat Trump, yet you might be the one person that helps him win’,” Haley said of Christie staying in the race.

 With the Iowa caucus just 10 days away, Haley is not setting the expectation to win, but to have a “strong” showing. When asked if a candidate can look strong if they finish double-digits behind Trump, Haley said, “Absolutely. I mean, it’s one of many states.”

 Haley has often told supporters that she plans to “take it” in her home state of South Carolina, but she refused to commit to dropping out if she loses there on Friday. She instead said that she is “fighting every day to make sure” Trump doesn’t win the state, where he is leading in polls by a wider margin than in New Hampshire.

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley during an interview in Des Moines, Iowa, on Friday. Jamie Kelter Davis for NBC News

Defending her record as a conservative

In light of her rivals attempting to paint her as a moderate, Haley called herself a “hardcore conservative” Friday, but said the Republican Party can only win if it focuses on “trying to win the majority.”

“The only way we’re going to save our country is if we go after everybody, if we focus on lifting up everybody, not just a select few, and that’s what I’m going to do,” she said. “And so yes, is that conservatives? Yes. Is that moderates? Yes. Is that Independents? Yes. I want them all.”

After the Trump campaign attempted to tie Haley’s stances on immigration to President Joe Biden’s border policy in a new ad in New Hampshire this week, the former U.N. ambassador said Friday that Trump didn’t do enough to secure the border when he was president.

“When Trump says that I didn’t want the border wall. That’s not what I said,” she said in response to the ad, which claims Haley opposed building the wall. “What I said is, a border wall is not enough. You have to do more than that.”

Haley said she would support sending U.S. special operations into Mexico to “take out the drug cartels and those that are trafficking,” adding that “if Mexico doesn’t deal with it, we’ll deal with it.”

Personal ‘hardships’ dealing with racism

Haley also discussed growing up “in the deep South as a brown girl” in the interview, saying she knows “the hardships, the pain that come with racism.”

While addressing the criticism she faced over her omission of slavery as the cause of the Civil War at a New Hampshire town hall last month, Haley shared her own personal experience, saying she was “teased every day for being brown” while growing up in rural South Carolina.

“If you want to know what it was like growing up, I was disqualified from a beauty pageant because I wasn’t white or Black because they didn’t know where to put me,” she said. “So look, I know the hardships, the pain that comes with racism.”

Haley has been attempting to clarify her Civil War comments, now saying she didn’t include slavery in her answer because she thought it was “automatic.”

Speaking about her experience with race and her Civil War comments during a CNN town hall Thursday, Haley said, “I had Black friends growing up.”

When asked about those comments in the Friday interview, Haley said, “Saying that I had Black friends is a source of pride.”

Jan. 6 a ‘terrible day’

Ahead of the three- year anniversary of the attack on the Capitol, Haley called Jan. 6th, 2021, a “terrible day” that she said can never happen again. She drew a distinction between those that broke the law and those that didn’t, saying, “not everybody did something wrong.”

“But the ones that went in, the ones that broke the law, those are the ones — you have to hold them accountable,” she said. “You have to make sure that they pay the price to show that it will never happen again.”

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks with reporters during an interview in Des Moines.
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley during an interview in Des Moines, Iowa, on Friday.Jamie Kelter Davis for NBC News