Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor and US ambassador to the UN, and current candidate for the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential nominee starts her campaign with a line that lays it all out. “I was the proud daughter of Indian immigrants — not Black, not white. I was different,” Ms Haley says in a video.
News of the three-minute-33-second video was exclusively revealed by Axios, ahead of Ms Haley’s February 15 announcement she is the first challenger to former president Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primary. Interestingly, Axios, which is both politically astute and incredible well-networked, suggested Ms Haley would probably “be the only woman in the Republican field”.
As also, probably the only Indian-American, in both the Republican and Democratic field?
And the only Indian-American woman on either side?
Does it matter that Ms Haley is the first Indian woman born and bred in America to run for president? Does any of this matter in a world that increasingly takes note of different cultural traditions? For instance, Diwali and Eid receptions are routinely held at the White House.
I’m not a fan of Ms Haley, though it would be wrong not to note a few inescapable facts: she is a good communicator, has a direct gaze, which suggests honesty, and has always appeared to be reasonably on top of her brief, whatever that may be.
That said, as I wrote in a column in October 2018, in the week Ms Haley resigned from her position as President Trump’s envoy to the UN, she seems to have rather elastic view of principles.
“She entered the job with no foreign policy experience, just a collection of Trump’s musings on the world’s alleged unfairness to America. She leaves having helped Trump and his team subcontract order in the Middle East to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Russia and having pulled America back enough to embolden strongmen, warmongers, expansionists, genocidal racists and Islamophobes. None of this will change after Haley. With or without her, the Trump doctrine will stay as it is so long as he’s in the Oval Office.”
It’s not a ringing endorsement of Ms Haley and neither is that of former Republican political consultant Stuart Stevens. In the New York Times, he says (paywall) that Ms Haley’s defection to Mr Trump’s team meant “the politician who saw herself as a role model for women and immigrants transformed herself into everything she claimed to oppose”.
To that end, Ms Haley’s embrace of her Indian-American heritage means little. When former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal announced in 2015 he was entering the Republican presidential race, he was widely mocked by Indians (in the US and in India) for being, as they said, a brown racist, a coconut, someone who is brown on the outside and white on the inside. The #bobbyjindalissowhite hashtag trended because Mr Jindal adopted a socially conservative, Bible Belt-pleasing, often Muslim-baiting line, while refusing to accept the label Indian-American. His critics said it wasn’t an attempt to be inclusive, just shamefully inauthentic.
Ms Haley is not inauthentic, just not, as Mr Steven says, the voice of truth today. Nor too the voice of the nearly three million Indian immigrants in the US. In the end, it may not matter, not if Ms Haley’s campaign is destined to be short-lived.