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Nikki Haley, daughter of Indian immigrants, takes on Trump

The former UN ambassador gains momentum in polls ahead of the first Republican primaries

ideas 10/12/23 Nikki Haley
Luis Grañena
Miguel Jiménez

Nikki Haley stated in April 2021 that she wouldn’t run for president in the 2024 elections if Donald Trump entered the race. However, just over a month before the primary race begins, Haley, the former U.N. ambassador and governor of South Carolina, is emerging as a strong contender for the Republican nomination. Born in the U.S. to Indian parents, Haley draws inspiration from Margaret Thatcher and brings a wealth of international experience and exceptional managerial skills to the table. Now she is emerging as a compelling alternative to Trump, without all drama and vindictiveness. Haley has also attracted the support of influential donors who see her as the Republican candidate with the best chances of beating Joe Biden.

Nimrata Nikki Randhawa was born in 1972 in Bamberg, South Carolina. She took her husband’s last name when she married Michael Haley in 1996. The couple has two adult children. Nikki Haley’s parents were Sikh immigrants from Amritsar, in India’s state of Punjab. They were the only Indian family in a small southern town of 2,500 residents and two traffic lights. Growing up in Bamberg, Haley says she often felt like a “brown girl in a black-and-white world.” She recalls in one of her books that even the slightest misstep would be reported back to her family.

Haley studied accounting at Clemson University but soon became interested in public affairs. She was elected to the state legislature in 2004, was reelected unopposed in 2006, and won again with 83% of the vote in 2008. Two years later, she became the nation’s youngest governor at 38 years old. Haley was first female governor of South Carolina and the third non-white person elected as governor of a southern state. She won a second term four years later.

As governor, she took action to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state Capitol after a white racist killed nine Blacks at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. Drawing on her personal childhood experiences, Haley has actively combatted racism and promoted inclusivity. During the 2016 presidential primaries, she endorsed Marco Rubio and openly criticized Trump. Haley reconciled with him after he won the election, but now she has become a formidable rival.

When Trump approached Haley to serve as his ambassador to the United Nations, she outlined her conditions. She insisted on being a cabinet member to have direct access to the president, and also wanted a position on the National Security Council. While not confrontational, when the White House claimed she was confused after announcing sanctions against Russia, Haley retorted, “With all due respect, I do not get confused.”

Haley’s book about the women she admires highlighted that phrase in the chapter dedicated to Jean Kirkpatrick, the United States’ first female ambassador to the U.N. The woman she most admires is Margaret Thatcher, who served as the conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990. The title of the book, If You Want Something Done, is borrowed from Thatcher’s famous quote: “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.” Haley used the phrase to good effect in the first Republican debate in Milwaukee on August 23.

The fact that Nikki Haley is now positioned as a moderate centrist is evidence of the rightward shift within the Republican Party. Her sensible and restrained discourse is a stark contrast to rivals who reject the reality of climate change, embrace conspiracy theories, and often spout homophobic vitriol.

Haley shines brightest in the realm of foreign policy, where she staunchly defends hawkish positions, fully cognizant of the United States’ global leadership and the threats posed by China and Russia. But when she took center stage in the most recent debate, Haley faced accusations of influence peddling and exploiting her government experience for personal gain. While serving as governor, she offered Boeing generous incentives to invest in South Carolina, only to later join their board after leaving office. Additionally, she leveraged her experience as U.N. ambassador to secure lucrative speaking engagements.

Haley, a conservative politician and former accountant, advocates for fiscal discipline and reforms and budget cuts to social security and healthcare. While she opposes abortion, she is not in favor of its criminalization. Haley also critiques certain factions of radical feminism for their open hostility towards men.

As a trailblazing woman, Haley has shattered many barriers. Surveys indicate that she would easily beat Joe Biden in a presidential election, but she must first overcome Trump’s large lead for the Republican nomination. The path won’t be easy, but she is determined to follow in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher. If elected, Haley would become the first female president of the United States and inaugurated on January 20, 2025 – her 52nd birthday.

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