In an explosive new book about US President Donald Trump called Fire and Fury, there is a revelation about Nikki Haley that confirms what everyone has long known about the 45-year-old Indian American who is ambassador to the United Nations: she wants to run for US president, maybe even as early as 2020.
The book, written by Michael Wolff and based largely on Washington, DC, gossip, questions Trump’s mental stability and claims he has trouble remembering things. Haley, in contrast, is seen by Trump insiders as “ambitious as Lucifer” and the book suggests she might step forward to run for president if Trump decides not to pursue a second term.
According to current White House aides, who are quoted anonymously in the book, “Many on the president’s staff took particular notice of one of the few remaining Trump opportunists: Nikki Haley, the UN ambassador.” Haley, of course, denied the rumours she wants to run to run for US president, saying, “I know those people in the White House. These people love their country and respect our president. No one questions the (mental) stability of the president.”
It is a pitch-perfect response and testifies to Haley’s brilliant — and shrewd — political acumen: as criticism mounts over Trump, even from members of his own Republican Party, Haley has actually doubled down on her support for Trump. To most, it might seem foolish to support a White House that by almost all accounts is seen as a failure but then many were wrong about Haley before, myself including, and it is possible that the US might see an Indian American running for president in just two years’ time.
Unlike Bobby ::
Haley was born as Nimrata Randhawa in South Carolina, to Sikh parents from Amritsar. After marrying a military technician in the South Carolina Army, she converted to Christianity in 1996. However, unlike Bobby Jindal, the Indian American politician who has renounced his Hindu identity and keeps Indian Americans at arm’s length, Haley still attends Sikh services in the US and remains close to the Indian community in South Carolina.
It is a smart, tactful move — as the leadership of the Republican Party becomes more associated with hardline conservative and super wealthy white men, Haley cuts a different profile, of one who is proud of being an immigrant but who is, like Trump, equally contemptuous of “illegal immigrants”, a term she often likes to use. Indeed, it is easy for those on the left to accuse Trump of being a racist and a misogynist but not so with Haley, who likes to remind voters that she is a minority woman in a profession — US politics — that is still dominated by white men.
After a short stint in South Carolina’s state assembly, she successfully ran for governor of South Carolina, making her the youngest governor in US history. What was unique about her tenure is she was all over the map politically. In speeches, for example, she often says she was inspired to enter politics because of Hillary Clinton, a person who is reviled on the right in America, especially by Trump. As governor, Haley was one of the few Republican candidates to call for the removal of Confederate statues, saying they were reminders of America’s past with slavery that should not be honoured.
That is the thing about Haley — even if you disagree with her, as I do on most issues, there is much to admire about her willingness to break with the rank and file of her party and carve out her own positions. Her boldest move, though, was leaving her position as South Carolina governor to become the US ambassador to the UN. Nearly every other high-level official in the Trump administration has been vilified by the press and marred by scandal. Haley, by remaining cool-headed and fiercely loyal to Trump, actually looks better today than she did as governor and she might be the only person to come out of the Trump administration politically alive.
Of course, there have been blunders. At the UN, she has threatened US peace with Iran and provoked scorn from Middle Eastern countries over her passionate defence of Israel. But Haley, I suspect, is playing the long game. She knows that US voters will reward her for her tough, bellicose language about the UN, which more and more Americans view as a superfluous body.
The biggest challenge she will face as a future presidential candidate is how she will spin her time working alongside Trump, who is considered by many to be the worst US president in history. My hunch is that she will try to become secretary of state in 2020, should a Republican win, and then run for president in 2024.
The path to the White House was, actually, laid out to her once before. In 2012, the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney considered tapping her to be his vice-presidential running mate but she turned down the offer. As Wolff ‘s book reveals, Haley has always wanted to be at the top of the ticket and never in second place.
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