To Beat Trump, Nikki Haley Is Trying to Speak to All Sides of a Fractured G.O.P.

Ryan Williams, a Republican strategist and a former aide to Mitt Romney who has known Ms. Haley since she was a state lawmaker first running for governor, said she “has always been a pragmatic conservative.” “She is comfortable in her own skin, and she is going to win or lose based on her own values and beliefs,” he said. Still, the difficulty for her, as for all the candidates attempting to emerge as a Trump alternative, is that “what a conservative is has been redefined by Trump himself,” he said.

Mr. Trump’s lead over the field is dominant nationally and in every early state polled, and it remains uncertain that Ms. Haley could peel away enough of his faithful, no matter her approach, to come out on top. And what has so far propelled her could also become a liability, should she alienate one or more faction. Her rivals, including Mr. Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, have sought to portray her as insufficiently conservative and as someone who panders to Democrats. Jaime Harrison, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, labeled her a “snake oil salesman” who “will say whatever she needs to say to get power.”

Her campaign officials and surrogates argue her politics have stayed the same, with the country and the world changing around her. “Nikki has always been a tough, anti-establishment conservative,” said Olivia Perez-Cubas, a spokeswoman for Ms. Haley.

Ms. Haley’s attempt to thread the needle on abortion is already being tested, as she has faced skepticism from Iowa’s evangelical community, a critical voting bloc. Addressing a conservative Christian audience in Iowa, Ms. Haley said she would have signed a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy as governor.

Democrats seized on Ms. Haley’s remarks as proof that, despite her tone, she is no moderate on the issue. The influential evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats, who previously indicated that clear-cut abortion opposition would be the driving factor for his support, went on to endorse Mr. DeSantis. But just days earlier, Ms. Haley had received a seemingly impromptu endorsement from Marlys Popma, the former head of the state Republican Party and one of Iowa’s most prominent anti-abortion activists — who indicated she was comfortable with Ms. Haley’s stance.

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