Election 2024

Nikki Haley Burned Trump and Her Fellow Republicans for Blowing Up the Debt. She's Right.

"Donald Trump added $8 trillion to our debt," Haley said during the opening moments of Wednesday's first Republican primary debate.


When it comes to runaway federal spending, unsustainable levels of borrowing, and the inflation that those first two things have helped unleash, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Wednesday that Republicans better look in the mirror.

"The truth is that Biden didn't do this to us, our Republicans did this to us too," Haley said during the early moments of Wednesday's Republican primary debate. She pointed specifically to Republican support in Congress for COVID stimulus bills and other recent spending packages. "They need to stop the spending, they need to stop the borrowing, they need to eliminate the earmarks that Republicans brought back in," she said.

Then she delivered the hammer blow: "And Donald Trump added $8 trillion to our debt, and our kids are never going to forgive us for this," Haley said.

She nailed it.

Trump promised to pay off the national debt within eight years when he was running for office in 2016. When he got to the White House, the national debt was a little less than $20 trillion. He, uh, didn't pay it off. Instead, federal spending climbed each of the first three years that Trump was in office—from $3.98 trillion in fiscal year 2017 to $4.45 trillion in 2019—then exploded in 2020 due to emergency COVID-19 spending. (For the first two years of Trump's term, Republicans also had full control of Congress, so there is a lot of blame to go around.)

When he left, the national debt was nearing $28 trillion. Today, it stands at $32.7 trillion.

Republicans have predictably swung back to a message of fiscal restraint during President Joe Biden's time in office, seemingly forgetting that the fiscal years of 2017 and 2018 ever existed.

Haley shining a spotlight on the bipartisan role of borrowing and spending in recent years was a welcome moment—and a powerful one for Haley, who stood out during Wednesday's sometimes chaotic debate. And it's critical for whoever wins next year's presidential election to be clear-eyed about the seriousness of the debt problem facing the federal government.