MANCHESTER, New Hampshire—When Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley stepped onstage Wednesday morning at a campaign event at Saint Anselm College, she had a question for the crowd.
"Everybody know about Dylan Mulvaney?” Haley asked. “Bud Light? That is a guy, dressed as a girl, making fun of women.”
To the GOP’s hardcore base, Dylan Mulvaney needs no introduction. The transgender content creator who partnered with Budweiser has been the target of vicious attacks and sustained indignation for weeks, largely thanks to a seemingly endless stream of segments on Fox News.
But in the crowd at Saint Anselm College’s “Politics & Eggs” event, packed with New Hampshire’s famously independent voters, this anti-transgender broadside was not met with applause but silence.
Voters in the room appeared largely unaware of the Bud Light controversy. When Haley waited for applause, they didn’t clap.
It wasn’t the only moment during Haley’s stop at the seminal New Hampshire campaign event when her conservative culture war messaging seemed out of place.
Earlier in her stump speech, for instance, Haley declared she was “unapologetically pro-life,” a staple GOP applause line that received a muted response from the crowd.
It distilled a key challenge for the former South Carolina governor, who wants to appeal to Republicans and independents turned off by Donald Trump but is leveraging other issues, like abortion and all things “woke,” to maintain her credibility with the party base.
Still, Haley’s positioning made news on Wednesday. When asked by a younger voter directly if she would support a national abortion ban, Haley did not specify a specific restriction—like ending abortions at six weeks or 15 weeks—but said she would sign it if it reached her desk.
Given the virtually non-existent chance the GOP would command 60 votes for an abortion ban anytime soon, Haley’s answer was largely theoretical, something she herself acknowledged.
“We have maybe 45 pro-life senators,” Haley said, speculating that only “one or two” more might join the ranks after the 2024 election.
Even so, Haley’s answer was more than many of her GOP presidential rivals have been willing to provide on the issue. Other contenders, like Trump, have given elusive answers in similar settings; Trump has openly said that backlash to the Dobbs decision last year hurt the GOP in the 2022 midterm elections.
Haley seemed to allude to those politics—and the dissonance of her message in this independent-leaning state—when she said she “can't suddenly change my pro-life decision because I'm campaigning in New Hampshire.”
“Can’t we all agree that we don’t want to see late-term abortions?” she said at another point. “Can’t we agree there should be more access to contraception?”
To close out her answer, Haley said more reporters should ask President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris if they’re in favor of abortions at 36 weeks of pregnancy.
But when it comes to her own red lines, Haley said a precise number of weeks for a national ban is merely a distraction.
“No one has been honest with you,” said Haley, “about what the real debate is.”