In the ever-evolving realm of American politics, the representation of Indian Americans has come to the fore this election cycle. While Vivek Ramaswamy may be the media’s flavor of the month, his declining post-debate poll numbers suggest he may not be around for long. Still, two high-profile Indian American figures, Nikki Haley and Kamala Harris, have emerged as influential players over the last decade. However, the Republican Party’s attempt to position Haley as a foil to Harris is a hollow strategy that fails to grasp the complexities of identity and the significance of authentic representation. It also underestimates the discerning nature of the American electorate and the importance of values and policies in shaping public opinion.
Nikki Haley, a prominent Republican figure, has been hailed by some as the potential antidote to Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat who has shattered glass ceilings as the first woman, first Black, and first South Asian Vice President. Republicans may envision that by elevating Haley’s candidacy, they can effectively counter the narrative surrounding Harris’s groundbreaking achievements. However, this ill-conceived strategy disregards the intricacies of representation and the essence of substance over symbolism.
Central to the failure of this Republican ploy is Haley’s handling of her Indian American identity. She has consistently downplayed her Sikh heritage, preferring to emphasize her conversion to Christianity and whitewashing her identity. Such actions raise profound questions about her commitment to embracing her roots and understanding the experiences of Indian Americans. In stark contrast, Harris has consistently celebrated her multicultural background, displaying pride in her South Asian and Black roots. This genuine connection to her heritage resonates deeply with voters who yearn for authentic representation.
Moreover, the stark differences in rhetoric and policy positions between Haley and Harris undermine any claim that Haley can serve as a genuine foil to the Vice President. Haley has resorted to divisive and sensational statements, relying on shallow slogans to appeal to specific segments of the electorate. Yet, this approach lacks the depth and substance required to address the critical issues plaguing marginalized communities. Conversely, Harris has consistently championed progressive policies, advocating for criminal justice reform, accessible healthcare, and voting rights. Her positions align with the interests of marginalized communities, showcasing a steadfast dedication to substantive representation.
Furthermore, the Republican strategy to pit Haley against Harris ignores the discerning nature of the American electorate. Voters today demand more than superficial symbolism; they yearn for leaders who embody values and policies that truly address their needs. The notion that Republicans can counter Harris’s historic achievements by propping up Haley as a token figure is a misguided attempt to ignore the importance of substantive representation.
In reality, the Republican strategy fails to grasp the essence of what resonates with the American people. It overlooks the complexities of identity, the significance of genuine representation, and the longing for leaders who embody values that truly address their needs. Haley’s questionable handling of her Indian American identity, divergent rhetoric and policy positions, and track record on human rights reveal the hollowness of the Republican attempt to position her as a counterweight to Harris.
As we navigate the future of American politics, it is imperative to recognize the power of authentic representation and substantive policy-making. We must prioritize leaders who genuinely understand the experiences and aspirations of diverse communities, rather than those who offer mere tokenism. By embracing leaders like Kamala Harris, who embody the values and policies that resonate with the American people, we can move towards a more inclusive and progressive future. The Republican Party’s ill-fated strategy of using Nikki Haley as a foil to Kamala Harris ultimately falls flat in the face of the growing demand for authentic representation and meaningful change.
Kaivan Shroff is Democratic political commentator and public interest attorney. He is a frequent guest on CNN Tonight and has over 117,000 followers on both Tiktok and Twitter. During the 2016 presidential race, he worked on Hillary Clinton’s campaign as a digital organizer, and he continues to organize for Democratic causes online. He previously served on the Advisory Board of The Jed Foundation, a leading national mental health non-profit, and has been a member of the Forbes NY Business Council. Shroff holds a JD from Harvard Law School, an MBA from the Yale School of Management, and an MPP from the Harvard Kennedy School.