Some candidates view Social Security as the deadly “third rail” of American politics. For some Republicans, criticizing former President Donald Trump plays that role. On Friday, former Gov. Nikki Haley grabbed both rails in an aggressive speech about America’s fiscal mess at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.

“Joe Biden is proving that reckless spending is the road to socialism. But he’s not the only culprit. Joe Biden, Donald Trump, and Barack Obama added more to our national debt than the previous 42 presidents combined. They tripled the debt from $10 trillion to $33 trillion. We’re now adding a trillion more every year, with no end in sight,” Haley told the crowd at St. Anselm College.

“Our children will never forgive us for this.”

The speech was billed as a rollout for Haley’s “Freedom Plan,” an economic policy based on traditional Republican tenets like lower taxes, reduced spending, and less private sector regulation. But the former South Carolina governor also used the opportunity to highlight the dangers of the country’s unending deficit spending,

And both parties are to blame, she said.

“Republicans talk a big game, but they’re nearly as reckless as Democrats on spending. Donald Trump added $8 trillion to the national debt. And Republicans in Congress brought back earmarks and pork projects only 10 years after killing them. Republicans put $7.4 billion in special-interest earmarks into the 2024 spending bills. Democrats put in $2.8 billion. Who are the big spenders now? All of them. And I will hold them all accountable.”

It is a message that would have been commonplace from Republican politicians trying to connect with the fiscally conservative “green-eyeshade Republicans” of the Granite State a generation ago. However, concerns about debt, deficits, and tax policy appear to have taken a back seat to culture war issues like ending illegal immigration and the debate over a national abortion law.

In Haley’s telling, the rising tide of debt and the country’s trend toward socialist policies pose a risk to national security, particularly the threat from China.

“Joe Biden is building the biggest government in American history. He’s swapping freedom for socialism. No one is happier than Communist China. Few things are more exciting for Xi Jinping than the prospect of four more years of Joe Biden. America will get weaker; China will grow stronger,” Haley said.

She argued that the way to fight back is to unleash what she called America’s “secret weapon”: Freedom.

“It broke the Soviet Union’s back without firing a shot. And freedom can lift America to new heights, leaving Chinese Communism on the ash heap of history.”

Amherst, N.H. resident Roger Miller and his wife Ming, a native of Taiwan, were in the audience. They wholeheartedly agreed with Haley’s approach.

“Our reckless spending is making America so vulnerable right now,” said Roger, “and nobody knows better than my wife and her family who are still in Taiwan. They know what China will do. Look what they did with the agreement regarding Hong Kong. They’re going to keep taking over everything they can.”

Among Haley’s Freedom Plan proposals:

  • Tax cuts for the middle class.
  • Eliminating the federal gas and diesel tax.
  • Mandating “zero-based budgeting.”
  • Cut the state and local tax (SALT) deductions.
  • Limit federal spending to a fixed percentage of the budget.
  • Impose term limits on members of Congress.

Haley also pledged to “veto any spending bill that doesn’t take us back to pre-COVID spending levels.” After noting that “over the past 40 years, Congress has passed a pathetic four budgets on time,” Haley said if lawmakers couldn’t do their job, they shouldn’t get paid.

“If Congress fails to pass a budget, they will fail to get a paycheck. No budget, no pay – that’s a no-brainer.”

Obviously, a president can’t stop Congress from paying itself or impose term limits on its members. But the audience at the NHIOP told NHJournal they liked what they heard, even if much of it was aspirational.

“I liked her budget approach,” said state Sen. Bill Gannon (R-Sandown). “She wants to do what we’ve done in New Hampshire, making it easier to do business and lowering business taxes. She did the same in South Carolina, and she’ll replicate that in Washington, D.C.”

Haley also called for reforming the Social Security system, which former Trump ruled out.

“I recognize that Social Security and Medicare are the last thing the political class wants to talk about. Well, I just did,” Haley said. “Any candidate who refuses to address them should be disqualified. They’ll take your vote and leave you broke. If we do nothing, Social Security will be bankrupt in ten years. Medicare will be bankrupt in eight years. We need leaders who fight for you – not themselves.”

Her plan includes limiting benefits for wealthy people, expanding Medicare Advantage, and raising the retirement age — “but only for younger people who are just entering the system.”

Jennifer Piacentini of Bedford calls herself “a big Nikki Haley fan. I fell in love with her about eight months ago. She is very intelligent; she’s amazing with foreign policy. I’m a woman who gets a lot done, and she is, too.”

Asked how her fellow Republicans react when they find out she’ is backing Haley, Piacentini said the reaction is either positive or neutral. “It’s either ‘Oh, she’s great’ or ‘Oh, I don’t know that much about her.’ But I haven’t heard any negative.”

Roger Miller said he thinks Haley is in a good spot for Granite State Republicans.

“About half the people I talk to are supporting Trump, and the other half are trying to decide [who to support]. I think Nikki is in the best place because she was part of his team; she was there in the meetings. So, in my mind, she is the best.”

Piacentini said what she hears most about Haley is, “I hope she keeps getting more popular. I hope she can beat Trump.”