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Brown Faces in a ‘Black and White World’: Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy Get Lukewarm Response at CPAC

Brown Faces in a ‘Black and White World’: Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy Get Lukewarm Response at CPAC

  • The two Indian Americans pitched their agenda at Conservative Political Action Conference which has increasingly become former president Donald Trump’s stomping ground.

At the recently concluded Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), two Indian Americans — Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy — the only ones officially challenging Donald Trump for the nomination so far — ventured onto the former president’s stomping grounds and made their pitches to what was reported to be a significantly large MAGA crowd. 

Haley, the former South Carolina governor and former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. addressed the conference on March 3, to a reportedly half-empty ballroom. Describing herself as “a brown girl in a black and white world” who believes in “the promise of America,” she talked about “a generational change” and a more inclusive GOP. “America is not past our prime,” she said. “It’s just that our politicians are past theirs. It is time we had term limits once and for all in Washington, D.C.”

Despite the thin crowd and the heckling she received with “Trump! Trump! Trump!” chants as she left the hotel, Haley did draw “some modest applause” when she emphasized that America is not a racist country. She was also appreciated while ripping CNN host Don Lemon for saying she was “past her prime” and calling to end foreign aid to “countries that hate America.”

During her speech, she highlighted her conservative victories as governor of South Carolina and UN ambassador during the Trump administration. As president, she vowed to “renew an America that’s strong and proud – not weak and woke.”

In keeping the theme of her announcement speech launching her bid for president, she didn’t mention Trump by name. She 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.

In January, 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.” 

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.”

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.”

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However, Haley wasn’t the only Trump challenger the CAPC audience heard from. Ramaswamy, who also spoke at the conference on March 3, said he’s running because the country is in the midst of a national “identity crisis.” He decried what he called the “three secular religions in America” — racial identity, gender and climate change.“The ones who are changing their minds from Trump or DeSantis to me which we’re seeing day by day — among the people who are in the room with me at least we’re seeing day by day — I think is in part driven by my willingness to take on the issues that the others won’t,” he said. Some of his agenda, if elected president includes ending affirmative action and eliminating federal agencies like the Department of Education, and ending the Federal Bureau of Investigation and building a replacement from scratch.

Trump delivered the conference’s keynote address on March 4 “with a vengeful indictment of the GOP establishment that dominated the party before his political ascent,” as reported by The Hill. The conference “underscored the difficulty Republicans will have in keeping their increasingly fractured coalition together for 2024,” Axios noted in a report. Several of the attendees told Business Insider that they were impressed by Haley and Ramaswamy and cast their campaigns as professional networking. Some said they are running more to potentially become the vice presidential nominee or be picked up by whoever wins the presidency as cabinet members.

However, The Hill reported that former Arizona GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake won a straw poll for the Republican vice presidential pick at the conference. She won the poll with 20 percent of the vote, among a field of 28 candidates, beating Haley (10 percent) and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (14 percent). Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ramaswamy, each received six percent of the vote. All of the other Republicans listed in the field, including Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) and former Vice President Mike Pence, did not receive more than five percent, the report said. Former President Trump easily won the CPAC straw poll for the presidency with 62 percent of the vote, while DeSantis came in second place with 20 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal columnist Sadanand Dhume wrote that while neither Haley nor Ramaswamy has a chance of winning the Republican nomination, their “candidacies carry great symbolic value. They puncture the corrosive myth that America is a racist nation constantly threatened by the phantom of white supremacy. And they underscore why striving immigrant communities from all parts of the world need an alternative to the Democratic Party, whose obsession with identity politics undermines the principles of merit and fair play that make the U.S. great.” Noting that it’s “still too early to say if Haley and Ramaswamy will widen the GOP base,” he admits that “the prospects are promising.”

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