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Indian American Nikki Haley Enters Presidential Race ‘Wearing Heels’ and Ready to ‘Kick to Back’

Indian American Nikki Haley Enters Presidential Race ‘Wearing Heels’ and Ready to ‘Kick to Back’

  • While Indian American Republicans hail her candidacy and express their pride, desi Democrats say that despite being a credible candidate, her chances of winning the nomination are low.

Former South Carolina governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has officially entered the race for president, making her the first Republican to officially challenge Donald Trump for the GOP nomination. The 51-year-old made the announcement from South Carolina in a video released this morning.

Describing herself as “a proud daughter of Indian immigrants,” Haley, who was born Nimrata Nikki Randhawa, calls herself “not Black, not White, but different.” She talks about how her mother always told her that her job is “not to focus on the differences, but on the similarities.” Her parents told her and her siblings every day how blessed they were to live in America, she says in the video. 

She also vows to take on adversaries both foreign and domestic.“ Some people look at America and see vulnerability. The socialist left sees an opportunity to rewrite history. China and Russia are on the march. They all think we can be bullied, kicked around,” she says. “You should know this about me: I don’t put up with bullies. And when you kick back, it hurts them more if you’re wearing heels.”

Haley had indicated in November that she would take the Christmas holiday to mull the presidential bid. “We are taking the holidays to kind of look at what the situation is,” she told the audience at the Nov. 29 at her alma mater, Clemson University in South Carolina where she is a trustee. “But I have said I’ve never lost a race. I’m not going to start now. If we decide to get into it, we’ll put 1,000 percent in and we’ll finish it.”

Politico noted that her decision to launch her campaign in her native South Carolina “highlights how critical the early-voting state is to her prospects — and several other candidates.” The report adds that the Indian American “could face competition from another home-state contender, Sen. Tim Scott, who is also considering a bid.”

Her announcement is a stark contrast to her previous pledge not to run if Trump was. Replying to a question asked by The Associated Press in April 2021, Haley said she would support a future Trump presidential campaign. She also noted that she would not seek her party’s nomination if Trump were running. “I would not run if President Trump ran, and I would talk to him about it.” 

She doesn’t mention Trump by name in the video, but calls for a generational change, urging to return to “the values that still make our country the freest and greatest in the world.” Stressing the need for a change, she noted how “Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven out of the last eight presidential elections.”

Haley has “often attempted to walk a fine line between allying herself with Trump — who remains a hugely popular figure within the party — while distancing herself enough to appeal to his Republican and moderate critics,” as previously reported by CNN.

Her “rare quality” is that she has “not forgotten her roots and her ancestral homeland India as she visited India and interacted with leadership in India including meeting our beloved leader Prime Minister Modi.”

A month after the Jan. 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill, Haley criticized Trump and appeared to be distancing from him. In an extended and detailed interview with Tim Alberta, published on Feb. 12, she admitted that Trump “let us down.” She continued: “He went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him. And we can’t let that ever happen again.”

Last month, in an interview with Fox News, she referred to both President Biden and Trump’s age. “I don’t think you need to be 80 years old to go be a leader in D.C.,” she said. “I think we need a young generation to come in, step up, and really start fixing things.”

Politico reported earlier that since she joined the Trump administration as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, “Haley had navigated the Trump era with a singular shrewdness, messaging and maneuvering in ways that kept her in solid standing both with the GOP donor class as well as with the president and his base. She maintained a direct line to Trump, keeping private her candid criticisms of him, while publicly striking an air of detached deference.”

She was one of the few members of the Trump administration who left on good terms with her boss, unlike her other colleagues, many of whom engaged in public spats. When she resigned in 2018, the New York Times called her “that rarest of Trump appointees: one who can exit the administration with her dignity largely intact.”

Reactions have been pouring in since the announcement. National Advisory Council member Dr. Sampath Shivangi told American Kahani Haley “makes all of us proud, specifically Indian Americans who have given a unique identity as part of the diaspora.” 

He said her “rare quality” is that she has “not forgotten her roots and her ancestral homeland India as she visited India and interacted with leadership in India including meeting our beloved leader Prime Minister Modi.” Shivangi, who has known Haley “personally for decades,” described her as “a popular and respected leader not only in her home state of South Carolina, but across the country.

On the other hand, Shekar Narasimhan, chairman of the AAPI Victory Fund told American Kahani that although “a credible candidate,” Haley’s “chances of winning the nomination are low, so this is positioning for later or Vice President nod.” He won’t be a supporter, “we don’t agree on a lot” he said, adding that “the Republican party does not represent immigrants, minorities or women’s rights.” However, she has a lot of Indian American Republican supporters, he said, and “she has courted the community since running for governor.”

Neil Makhija, executive director, IMPACT, believes that “it will be hard for Republicans to put a dent in our community’s support unless they reverse course on the nativism and xenophobia that Trump unleashed.” He told American Kahani that the Indian American community strongly supports President Biden and Vice President Harris who have “passed meaningful legislation: CHIPs, the Inflation Reduction Act, Bipartisan Infrastructure bill, and appointed the most diverse slate of judges in history.”

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In a statement, DNC Chair Jaime Harrison said “Haley served in Donald Trump’s administration, has embraced the most extreme elements of the MAGA agenda and couldn’t even identify a single policy difference between herself and Trump.” She touched upon how “her governorship in South Carolina included signing an extreme abortion ban into law with no exceptions for rape or incest, endorsing a plan to end Medicare as we know it, pushing for tax cuts that benefit the ultra-wealthy and corporations, and refusing to expand Medicaid to provide affordable health care access for hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians.” She added that her “entrance officially kicks off a messy 2024 primary race for the MAGA base that has long been brewing. Everyone get your popcorn.”

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released today reveals that “Haley faces an uphill climb.” It revelated that found that 4% of registered Republicans supported her. Meanwhile, Trump received support from 43% of registered Republicans in the poll conducted from Feb. 6-13, while 31% said they supported Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is expected to launch a campaign but has not yet done so. Some Republican strategists say a big Republican primary field would be advantageous to Trump, who still enjoys significant support among the party base, and could splinter the vote, allowing the former president to walk away with the nomination. 

The New York Times noted how Haley’s campaign is “banking on her skills as a retail campaigner in early primary states to advance into the top tier of Republican presidential hopefuls.” She will travel to New Hampshire after a rally planned in South Carolina tomorrow (Feb. 15) for a pair of town hall-style events, and she plans to be in Iowa next week.  

Meanwhile, reports have questioned Haley’s chances in the Republican party of today. In an op-ed in The Bulwark, publisher Sarah Longwell writes that Haley’s credentials as “a successful former governor from an important, early primary state, with an impressive personal backstory, solid foreign policy chops, and great candidate skills,” are no longer “an extremely attractive package for GOP primary voters.” Instead, her candidacy “represents the best of the ‘meh’ middle tier of 2024 candidates, which for now includes the notional campaigns of Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, and Chris Christie.”

Longwell wonders how Haley will win “constituencies from either new MAGA-friendly voters or old-guard establishment types,” since she “isn’t like another potential fusion candidate.” According to Longwell, “Haley’s fundamental weakness is that she doesn’t seem to know who or what she wants to be. Is she the MAGA devotee who loyally served in the Trump administration? Or the sober and serious foreign policy heavyweight? Or the reform-minded former governor of South Carolina who signed the bill to take down the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds?”

There’s also some speculation on Haley having a fair shot as a woman candidate at “a moment of maximal sexism in Republican politics, as Lauren Leader, co-founder and CEO of All In Together writes in Politico. “If this were the Republican Party of 10 years ago, Haley would be a candidate with enviable advantages,” she writes. Describing her as “a staunchly pro-life woman of color,” Leader notes that Haley is “significant for a party that has wanted to diversify for years.” But, “given the reality of Republican Party politics today, her presidential dream could become a nightmare,” she notes, adding that “Haley faces a high hurdle in even convincing Republican voters that a woman can be president.”

But whatever the outcome is, Haley should be given credit for taking the plunge to test the waters. As Longwell writes, she is “putting herself out there to run the Trump gauntlet and if the 2024 version of Haley at all resembles the politician we’ve seen over the last 15 years, then she will represent a better, healthier version of the Republican Party.”

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