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Nikki Haley Made a Surprise SNL Appearance in the South Carolina Primary Cold Open

The Trump town hall sketch featured Host Ayo Edebiri asking Haley about comments she made on the real-life campaign trail. 

By Samantha Vincenty

Since Saturday Night Live's inception, real-life political figures have appeared in sketches: During Season 1, President Gerald Ford himself delivered the "live, from New York, it's Saturday night!" line in a pretaped clip. It's become tradition over the decades, as politicians and presidential hopefuls from Bob Dole to Barack Obama have made their way onto the show in hopes of charming the audience with their accessibility. On the February 3, 2024 episode hosted by Ayo Edebiri, Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley became the latest pol to visit SNL, putting in an appearance during the cold open. 

How to Watch

Watch Saturday Night Live Saturdays at 11:30/10:30c on NBC and next day on Peacock.  

The premise of the sketch was a new (and fictional) CNN Trump Town Hall in South Carolina, set ahead of the state's real February 24 Republican presidential primary. In it, town hall Hosts Gayle King (Punkie Johnson) and Charles Barkley (Kenan Thompson) introduced former president and current Republican front-runner Donald Trump (James Austin Johnson, whose Trump impression continues to be uncanny). 

RELATED: Watch Ayo Edebiri's SNL Sketches from February 3

"I love being here in the great state of South Carolina," said Johnson's Trump. "Frankly, one of the top two Carolinas." Certain Republicans' political conspiracy theories about Taylor Swift's support for boyfriend Travis Kelce ahead of his third Super Bowl game were another topic of interest, as Johnson's Trump shared his imagined connections between Swift's Midnights track list and a supposed plot to rig SB LVIII. 

"And he can't even get her tickets near the field—have you seen that? He's got her way up in a box. So sad," Johnson's Trump said, in a hilarious mischaracterization of Swift's internet-breaking visits to the Kansas City Chiefs' VIP box during games. 

Punkie Johnson and Kenan Thompson during a sketch on Saturday Night Live Episode 1855

Ayo Edebiri questions Nikki Haley about a previous comment in SNL's cold open

Nikki Haley's appearance came three-quarters of the way through the cold open, posing as "a concerned South Carolina voter" (Haley was the governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017, and the state primary is considered make-or-break for her current candidacy). 

“Oh, my god, it’s her! The woman who was in charge of security on January 6. It’s Nancy Pelosi," Johnson's Trump said, in a reference to Trump's mistaking Nikki Haley for Nancy Pelosi in recent campaign trail remarks. 

After suggesting Trump may need another mental competency test ("I'm a hundred percent mental," Johnson's Trump shot back), Haley also fielded a question from an audience member played by Ayo Edebiri, in a somewhat rare appearance from an SNL Host during a cold open.

Ayo Edebiri on stage during her monologue on Saturday Night Live Episode 1855

RELATED: The Most Memorable SNL Cold Opens of All Time

"Hi, yes: I was just curious, what was the main cause of the Civil War?" Edebiri's character asked. "And do you think it starts with an 's' and ends with a 'lavery'?"

The question was a direct reference to controversial comments Haley made during a December 2023 town hall in New Hampshire, when she declined to name slavery as a cause of the Civil War ("I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was going to run — the freedoms and what people could and couldn’t do,” Haley offered at the time). 

"Yup, I probably should have said that the first time," Haley said, before throwing to the credits with a "live, from New York." 

Watch SNL's "CNN Town Hall South Carolina Cold Open" featuring Nikki Haley above.