PORTRAIT | The woman with an outside chance of becoming US...


PORTRAIT | The woman with an outside chance of becoming US president, Nimrata Randhawa

In the first of a series of brief sketches of public and interesting personalities, MAX DU PREEZ writes about Nikki Haley, who hopes to beat Donald Trump to the Republican Party's nomination.

IF Donald Trump is going to be tripped up by one of the many legal cases against him or makes a significant blunder before the November election, Nikki Haley could become her party's presidential candidate. She is more popular than the only other candidate, Ron DeSantis, and resonates more with independent voters than he and Trump.

She just garnered 19% of the votes in the Iowa primary, with Trump at 51% and DeSantis at 21%. However, opinion polls place her national popularity at 20%, above that of DeSantis.

Haley, who turns 52 next week, is a former ambassador to the UN and governor of South Carolina.

She is the daughter of Ajit Singh and Raj Kaur Randhawa from the Punjab region in India, who settled in America in 1969. Her birth name is Nimrata Nikki Randhawa. After marrying National Guard officer Michael Haley in 1996, she became known as Nikki Haley. (He was known as Bill [William] Haley but his new wife persuaded him to use his middle name.) They have a daughter, Rena, and a son, Nalin.

Haley's parents are Sikhs; her father always wears a turban and her mother wears a sari. The small community of Bamberg initially found it strange, and Haley has said in many interviews that she has been aware all her life of being different. She had to play the role of Pocahontas in a school play, had to choose whether to play for the white or black sports team, and could not participate in beauty pageants because they were open only to white and black participants.

By the way, Britain's prime minister, Rishi Sunak, is also the child of Indian immigrants. Scotland's first minister, Humza Yousaf, is the son of Pakistani immigrants. Sunak is a practising Hindu and Yousaf is a Muslim. According to an old interview with Haley, her family attends both Sikh and Methodist services.

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Haley is a very conservative politician on social and political issues. For example, in 2018 she supported Trump's unilateral withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal, against the wishes of the other signatories (France, China, Russia and Britain).

But she's not a Trump groupie. Although she is sharply criticised for not properly confronting Trump since Joe Biden's victory, her campaign theme is that Trump always incites chaos and America cannot afford it.

She says a Haley presidency will mean a return to normality with less drama and chaos, something that makes her popular among Republicans who don't see Trump as a messiah and among voters who don't swear allegiance to either of the two major parties. She is not as obsessed as DeSantis with “wokeness" and is softer on the abortion issue than the hard right in her party.

Haley wants to bring back the old Republican Party but it is clear that most Republicans prefer the party transformed by Trump.

Her goal now is to dust off DeSantis in the upcoming primary in New Hampshire then perform strongly in South Carolina, which would leave her as Trump's only opponent.

And then she must hope that Trump's luck finally runs out and she becomes the Republican Party's sole candidate.

• For an interesting analysis of Haley's style and her chances of success, read this piece in The Atlantic: What Is Nikki Haley Even Talking About?

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