By Mayank Chhaya –
Not that they were ever on, but Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley has completely taken off her gloves against her fellow Indian American presidential aspirant Vivek Ramaswamy, calling him “just scum.”
During Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate, a third in the series, Haley and Ramaswamy had a head-on collision over the use of all things, TikTok. At one point in the debate, in the context of banning the popular mobile app TikTok because of its Chinese connection, Ramaswamy pointed out that Haley’s daughter was using it.
“In the last debate she (Haley) made fun of me for actually joining TikTok while her own daughter was actually using the app for a long time. So you might want to take care of your family first,” Ramaswamy said even as Haley seethed. Before he could finish his last sentence Haley finger-wagged him and said in a sharp tone, “Leave my daughter out of your voice.” Ramaswamy continued to elaborate saying, “The next generation of Americans are using it and that’s actually the point.”
That is when she said, “You’re just scum.”
Since the focus of the NBC debate was foreign policy, supposedly Haley’s strong suit, Ramaswamy took the opportunity to deride her as “Dick Cheney in three-inch heels.” Haley corrected him saying the heels were five inches and were “for ammunition.”
The unvarnished exchange between the two Indian American candidates is in a sense atypical of Indian American politicians, especially when many of them often boast of a values-based upbringing in Indian American families.
It was obvious that Haley yet again emerged as the clearest dominant presence in the debate making the other four, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and Ramaswamy feel like also-rans.
Given the foreign policy focus of the debate Haley latched on to it immediately because of her stint at the US Ambassador to the United Nations under former President Donald Trump. She yet again asserted her aggressively pro-Israel position by yet again calling for Hamas to be completely finished and standby Israel in “whatever they need and whenever they need it.” Equally, she backed Ukraine and highlighted her strongly interventionist worldview. In keeping with that, she also supported strikes against Iran. Seen together, her foreign policy is unambiguously hawkish and reminiscent of the George W. Bush neocon era. It is quite remarkable that she offers almost no support to ordinary Palestinians, some five million of them, who have become civilian cannon fodder for Hamas.
There is growing perception that the debate may have signaled the end of Tim Scott’s run, thinning the herd down to four. Christie and Ramaswamy’s runs also seem futile. Add to that the fact that DeSantis has also lost traction and Haley begins to seem the most credible challenger to Trump. If Haley maintains this steady pace, it would not be surprising if she manages to eat into those independents who might support Trump right now.
“Everybody wants to talk about President Trump. Well, I can talk about President Trump. I can tell you that he was the right president at the right time. I don’t think he is the right president now. I think he put us 8 trillion dollars in debt and our kids are never going to forgive us for that. I think the fact that he used to be right on Ukraine and foreign issues, now he’s getting weak in the knees and trying to be friendly again,” Haley said.
What particularly stood out for Haley was her calibrated response on the issue of abortion rights, which delivered a gut punch to the Republicans in Ohio where voters voted to enshrine them in the state’s constitution.
“This is a personal issue for every woman and every man,” Haley said, “I am unapologetically pro-life not because the Republican Party tells me to be but because my husband Michael was adopted, and I had trouble having both of my children.” She said after the Supreme Court verdict against Roe V. Wade, the issue is now in the hands of the people. “As much as I am pro-life, I don’t judge anyone for being pro-choice and I don’t want them to judge me for being pro-life.”
In that context she pointed out that on the question of making it a federal law, it is going to take 60 Senate votes, a majority of the House and the president to sign it. “We have not had 60 Senate votes in over a hundred years,” she said pointing out the impossibility of the situation. She called for consensus on the issue.
With that sharply calibrated position on one of the most defining and divisive issues, Haley clearly pivoted for the larger non-Republican electorate.