Will Americans “Get Excited” over Nikki Haley’s presidential announcement?

By Mayank Chhaya-

Mayank Chayya

Asking Americans to “Get Excited”, Nikki Haley, a former South Carolina Governor and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, has announced her candidacy for president.

Getting excited over her announcement is a bit of a tough ask for someone who ran her announcement by former President Donald Trump in a phone call. On the one hand her announcement video declared how she does not “put up” with bullies and on the other she called someone whose entire political and business career has been characterized by bullying.

Inevitably, she projected a toughness that all Republican candidates are required to display while dealing with the rest of the world by saying, “I don’t put up with bullies and when you kick back it hurts them more if you are wearing heels.”

Haley, 51, becomes the second Republican after Trump to declare she is running for president. There are wide expectations that other Republicans such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and South Carolina senator Tim Scott. Of these prospective names so far only DeSantis is considered Trump’s direct adversary even though he has not even thrown his hat in.

Haley’s announcement should have been a matter of excitement and anticipation for the Indian American community, but early anecdotal evidence suggests it just slid in without much response. That could be partly because it was known for a while that she was going to run. As a daughter of Sikh immigrant parents, Ajit Singh Randhawa and Raj Kaur Randhawa, Haley does have some cache with the community but it is still early days to know how much.

On the face of it her political credentials are strong. Between 2004 and 2010 she thrice won as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives. She then decided to run for the state’s first female governor and that too an Indian American to boot. She won not once but twice completing what was popularly seen as two successful terms as governor. Trump appointed Haley as the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. in 2017, a position she remained in until 2018 when she left amid a-scandal -or-transgression-a-day presidency of Trump.

Haley wants a “new generation of leadership” for the Republican Party and in some sense, she does represent that but by and large she has remained deeply immersed in old conservative ideas. Her balancing act when it comes to her former boss and his innumerable assaults on America’s democracy, has been noticed but she does not have much choice other than keeping herself in the good books of Trump’s core constituency.

Among assertions in her announcement video, perhaps the most jarring from many non-white Americans was this: “Some look at our past as evidence that America’s founding principles are bad. Nothing could be further from the truth.” In the same video she talks about how in Bamberg, South Carolina, where she was born, ‘the railroad tracks divided the town by race.”

“I was the proud daughter of Indian immigrants; not black, not white. I was different. But my mom would always say that your job is not to focus on the differences, but the similarities and my parents reminded me and my siblings how blessed we were to live in America,” she says. The juxtaposition between the railroad tracks dividing her hometown “by race” and her giving racism an easy pass is awkward but then she has to walk that chalk line in order to appeal to the core Republican base. After all she has to win the Republican nomination before she can think of winning the presidency.

The Yahoo News/YouGov poll gives her 11% in a field so far that gives Trump 38% and DeSantis 35%. One-on-one, DeSantis leads Trump 45 to 41%. Eleven percent is not bad at all but it is not such as to illustrate any major excitement.

The presidential election is still a long way off and anything could happen in the interim. For now, Haley is expected to build her on her early entry, second only to Trump so far.