Before being elected as the governor of South Carolina in 2010, Nikki Haley began politics at an early age and spent several years in the state’s House of Representatives. She was the second Indian American governor in the nation, after Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and the first female governor of South Carolina.
She was also the first Indian-American to hold the position. Haley was chosen by President-elect Donald Trump in 2016 to serve as the country’s ambassador to the UN, a position she held from January 2017 to the end of 2018. The Republican declared her intention to run for president in the 2024 election in February 2023.
Early Life and Career
The daughter of Sikh immigrants from Punjab, India, Nimrata Nikki Randhawa and Nikki Haley was born on January 20, 1972, in Bamberg, South Carolina. She attended neighborhood schools and earned a bachelor of science in accounting from Clemson University. In the future, Haley worked for her mother’s high-end clothes firm, Exotica International, and contributed to its growth into a multimillion-dollar enterprise.
Haley was appointed to the board of directors of the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce in 1998 and the Lexington Chamber of Commerce in 2003. In addition to actively participating in the Lexington Medical Foundation, West Metro Republican Women, and the South Carolina Chapter of NAWBO, she also served as president of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) in 2004.
South Carolina Congresswoman
In 2004, Haley ran for the South Carolina House of Representatives and was opposed in the primary by Republican incumbent Larry Koon, who was the longest-serving representative at the time. She became the first Indian-American to occupy office in South Carolina after winning both the primary and general election, both of which she won with no opposition. In 2006, she went unchallenged for reelection, and in 2008, she defeated her Democrat opponent.
Haley ran as a Republican on an anti-tax and fiscally conservative platform. She supported legislation limiting abortion and safeguarding fetuses. Haley expressed support for stricter enforcement of immigration laws as the daughter of legal immigrants.
Campaign Controversy and Historic Election to Governor
Haley, a supporter of the Tea Party movement, declared her intention to run for governor in 2010 in May 2009. She received the support of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, former governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, and current first lady of South Carolina Jenny Sanford.
Before to her victory, Haley was charged with having affairs with two distinct men: Larry Marchant, a political consultant for Haley’s opponent, Andre Bauer, and Will Folks, a former press secretary for then-South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. Haley refuted the accusations and insisted that she had been loyal to Michael, her husband. On June 4, 2010, Haley stated in an interview with Columbia’s WVOC radio that if she were elected governor and the accusations against her were shown to be true, she would resign.
On November 2, 2010, Haley was elected governor of South Carolina, becoming the state’s first female and Indian-American governor after winning the Republican gubernatorial primary runoff election. In 2014, she was chosen to serve a second term.
2012 Vice President Speculation
Rumors circulated in 2012 that Mitt Romney, who was running against President Barack Obama that year, would select Haley to be his running mate for vice president. Haley, however, declared that she would turn down whatever job he could offer her. She stated, “The people of South Carolina gave me a chance,” in an interview with the Associated Press in April 2012. I have work to do, and I won’t leave it for anything, I said. In August 2012, Romney went on to name Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate.
Charleston Church Shooting and Confederate Flag Removal
Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white man, went on a racist shooting spree at the revered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, 2015, shocking the nation. As Roof entered the church, it is said that he sat during Bible study with members and the pastor, Clementa Pinckney, before rising and declaring that he was there “to shoot Black people.” As Roof started shooting, he killed seven women and three men, including Rev. Pinckney, a state senator. Later, Roof admitted to authorities that he wanted to start “a race war.”
Gov. Haley stated that the shootings should be classified as a hate crime and that the death sentence should be sought in the case in an interview with NBC’s Today show one day after the incident. She referred to Roof, who had written a racist manifesto online and shown in photos wearing white nationalist symbols on his Facebook page, as “a guy filled with hate.”
Roof was also photographed holding a Confederate battle flag, which sparked a discussion on whether the flag should be flown over the State Capitol. The flag is seen by some as a symbol of hatred and division while others see it as a source of Southern heritage and pride. Haley took a stance on June 22, 2015, calling for the flag to be taken down. At a press conference attended by a number of legislators from both parties, she declared, “Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state without ill will to say it is time to take the flag from our Capitol grounds.” “This flag does not reflect the future of our wonderful state, even though it is an important part of our past.”
The South Carolina Senate voted 36-3 on July 7 to remove the flag from the Capitol grounds, and the House of Representatives of the state voted 94-20 on July 9 to approve the Senate’s legislation. In a ceremony that same day that was attended by state legislators, governors, and family members of the shooting victims, Gov. Haley signed the legislation into law in the statehouse’s lobby. Haley declared: “Now, this is about our children. This is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state.”
Haley also said that nine commemorative pens from the ceremony would be given to the shooting victims’ families.
2016 State of the Union Response
On January 12, 2016, following President Obama’s final State of the Union address, the Republican Party chose Haley to deliver the GOP response. Haley praised Obama for being the first African-American to be elected president, but she also critiqued his record. Millions of Americans were motivated by Barack Obama’s election as president seven years ago, she claimed. “As he did when he first ran for office, President Obama waxed poetic today about lofty ideals. When he does it, he performs at his best. However, despite his lofty words, the President’s track record frequently falls well short.
In addition, Haley discussed her upbringing as an Indian-American in the rural South and urged tolerance and inclusivity of all Americans. We currently face risks unlike any other time in recent memory, she remarked. “It can be tempting to heed the siren song of the loudest voices during worrisome times. We have to fight that urge. No one should ever feel unwelcome in this nation if they are ready to put forth the effort, follow the law, and respect our values.
2016 Vice President Speculation
Press outlets cited her statement as evidence that Haley was considered by the Republicans as a potential vice presidential running mate for the party’s 2016 nominee, Donald Trump; nevertheless, he ultimately selected Indiana Governor Mike Pence for the job. Haley had not been a steadfast supporter of Trump during the election, having first supported Sen. Marco Rubio before embracing Sen. Ted Cruz.
Haley also attacked Trump for his proposed Muslim ban and for not immediately renouncing the KKK’s support for him. Trump criticized Haley in response to Haley’s comments, branding her “weak on immigration” and writing on Twitter in March 2016: “The people of South Carolina are humiliated by Nikki Haley!”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
By the end of the contentious campaign, Haley did vote for Trump in the election and celebrated his victory. “The idea that now we can start to really govern—I have never known what it’s like to have a Republican president,” she said at a gathering of Republican leaders after the election. “I can tell you that the last five years, Washington has been the hardest part of my job. This is a new day.”
On November 22, 2016, President-elect Donald Trump picked Haley to become the United States ambassador to the United Nations. She was the first woman to be named as part of his administration. “Governor Haley has a proven track record of bringing people together regardless of background or party affiliation to move critical policies forward for the betterment of her state and our country,” Trump said in a statement. “She will be a great leader representing us on the world stage.”
In accepting the offer, Haley said that she was “honored that the President-elect has asked me to join his team and serve the country we love.’’ She also said: “When the President believes you have a major contribution to make to the welfare of our nation, and to our nation’s standing in the world, that is a calling that is important to heed.’’
Haley resigned as South Carolina’s governor to take on her new position after the Senate unanimously confirmed her as the U.N. ambassador on January 24, 2017, with a vote of 94-6. According to the Associated Press, she became the first Indian American to serve in a presidential cabinet.
Keeping the world aware of dangers from Iran, North Korea, and Russia took up most of Haley’s attention during her first six months as the U.N. Ambassador. She vehemently praised President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017, claiming that it was in line with the “desire of the American people” and that it will “fast-track the peace process moving forward.”
Around the same time, Haley drew attention for her comments about the sexual harassment issues that had ensnared political colleagues back home. Specifically referring to the women who had accused President Trump of sexual misconduct, she said, “They should be heard, and they should be dealt with. … And I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up.”
By declaring on April 15, 2018, that the United States was putting additional sanctions on Russia in response to its continued support of Syria in the wake of a chemical attack on Syrian residents, Haley sparked a debate. The next day, the White House refuted that assertion and confirmed that new measures were being considered but would not be implemented immediately.
The inconsistent statements raised concerns about the message’s cohesion and whether Haley was assuming responsibility for the president’s uncertainties. Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, claimed that Haley “got ahead of the curve” on April 17 as a result of some “momentary confusion,” but Haley soon retaliated by declaring, “With all due respect, I don’t get confused,” in a statement to Fox News.
On October 9, 2018, Haley submitted her resignation and said she would leave the U.S. Amabassador’s office at the end of the year.
Post-Ambassador Career and Books
Boing proposed Haley for a position on its board of directors in February 2019. She was elected by shareholders during a meeting on April 29, 2019. After objecting to the business’ request for a federal stimulus package in the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, Haley resigned from the board less than a year later. In a letter to Boeing’s CEO, she stated, “I cannot support a plan to rely on the federal government for a stimulus or rescue that prioritizes our firm over others and depends on taxpayers to ensure our financial situation.
Haley’s second memoir, With All Due Respect: Defending America with Grit and Grace, was released in November 2019. The book made the sensational claims that former Secretaries of State Rex Tillerson and John Kelly tried to influence her to go against President Trump’s orders in order to “rescue the country.” On her own opinions of Trump, Haley emphasized the instances in which she had differed with him while pointing out her duty to support the president-elect who had been chosen by the people.
Haley is the author of two further books: If You Want Something Done (2022), a book on 10 female leaders, and Can’t Is Not an Option: My American Story, a 2012 biography about her early life and journey to the position of South Carolina Governor.
2024 Presidential Campaign
On February 14, 2023, Haley announced her 2024 presidential campaign in a video. If successful, she will become the first female president and first Indian American president.
Personal Life and Family
Although being brought up as a Sikh, Haley claimed in an interview with the 2020 podcast that her parents exposed her to other religions. She later became a Christian and now worships at the Mt. Horeb United Methodist Church. She continues to go to Sikh services out of respect for her parents’ faith.
Haley and Michael Haley, whom she met at Clemson University, got married in 1996. One Sikh and one Methodist wedding ceremony were held for them. When Haley was governor, Michael served as the first First Gentleman of South Carolina and is currently an officer in the South Carolina Army National Guard. Rena, a daughter, and Nalin, a son, are the couple’s children.