Observations of an Expat: Nikki Haley

Presidential wannabe Nikki Haley is a charismatic, hard-headed woman who hides her ambition and political nous behind a veil of southern charm.

In 2016 candidate Donald Trump attacked her for suggesting he release his tax returns, the then Governor Haley, flashed an ironic smile and replied: “Bless your Heart.”

Trump simply smiled back. He did not realise that the phrase was Carolina code for “May you rot in Hell.”

The steel magnolia allure of Ms Haley has taken this daughter of Sikh immigrants from the South Carolina legislature to the state governor’s mansion, to the ambassador’s job at the UN and finally to the number two position in the race to win the Republican nomination for the US presidency.

She is yet to become a real threat to front-runner Trump, but she has emerged as the only outside chance.

Haley was a reluctant Trump supporter in 2016. She started off backing Marco Rubio and when he dropped out she switched Ted Cruz. Trump’s rhetoric, she warned, “would lead to violence.”

But in the end Party loyalty won out and one of the most powerful and popular Republican governors endorsed the Trump campaign. In 2017 she was rewarded with the job of US Ambassador to the United Nations.

At the UN former governor now Ambassador Haley agreed and disagreed with Trump. She agreed with him on withdrawal from the Paris Climate. The Iran Nuclear Accord and the UN Human Rights Council. She is – and still is – a big supporter of Israel. But Ambassador Haley opposed Trump’s, threats to NATO, the Muslim ban and his bromance with Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. “Instead of praising dictators,” she said, “we should have the backs of our allies.”

But possibly more important than her positions was Ambassador Haley’s dominance of foreign policy. Nikki Haley, not Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, was America’s chief foreign affairs spokesperson. And the general consensus was that she left her post when the strong personality of Mike Pompeo moved into the State Department. Ambassador Haley wanted to be President Haley and to gain the White House she had to stay in the spotlight.

Out of office, Nikki Haley, bided her time in the shadows while Donald Trump tied himself in political knots. Aware of his popularity with the Republican grassroots, she kept relatively quiet and concentrated on raising money and expanding her political base beyond the Carolinas.

In the aftermath of the Capitol Hill Riots, Ms Haley at first refused to attack Trump. But then she said: “We need to acknowledge that he let us down. He went down a path he shouldn’t have and we shouldn’t have listened to him. And we cannot let that happen again.”

In the 2024 Republican candidate debates (in which Trump has refused to participate) Nikki Haley has consistently outperformed fellow contenders. She is fiscally conservative; supports Israel, believes climate change is manmade but we should continue to use fossil fuels; is a keen supporter of Ukraine and NATO; wants to crack down on Iran and opposes abortion but not in cases of rape, incest or if the woman’s life is in danger.

With little over a month before the first primaries, Haley’s performance has raised her from single digits in the August opinion polls to neck and neck with Ron de Santis for the number two slot. Mind you, that is still only ten percent of Republican voters. Trump has the backing of 61 percent of Republicans.

But this week, Nikki Haley, secured a key political ingredient – cash. The Americans for Prosperity endorsed her. The AFP is Charles and David Koch, two of the wealthiest men in the world and the biggest financial backers of conservative political causes. They backed Trump in 2016 but dropped him in 2020 because he was “divisive” and did not “adhere to traditional conservative values.”

A Koch endorsement also acts a magnet for other conservative donors. And it is important that in America elections cost billions and are often won on the basis of how much a candidate spends on rallies, advertising, mailshots, campaign staff….


At this moment Nikki Haley is the longest of long shots to win the Republican presidential nomination. But if she does, she is odds-on favourite to beat Joe Biden in a presidential election.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War” and “America Made in Britain". To subscribe to his email alerts on world affairs click here.

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