In the US, the Nikki Haley alternative - Hindustan Times

In the US, the Nikki Haley alternative

Dec 29, 2023 10:15 PM IST

Why should Nikki Haley not be the next President of the United States?

Why should Nikki Haley not be the next President of the United States? The argument that her “Republican politics is problematic, non-inclusive” can be safely disposed of, especially by those not in the US, in the aftermath of President Biden’s policies concerning the Russia-Ukraine, Israel-Palestine, and Afghanistan conflicts. The race which was likely to be a slugfest between impeachment-facing and increasingly unpopular Biden and tainted Donald Trump is turning out to be a case of sour grapes for the latter. One more legal rap and he’ll have to sit this one out. And that’s when Haley’s presidential star will shine.

Former UN ambassador and 2024 presidential hopeful Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign town hall event at Hilton Garden Inn in Lebanon, New Hampshire on December 28, 2023. (Photo by Joseph Prezioso / AFP)(AFP)
Former UN ambassador and 2024 presidential hopeful Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign town hall event at Hilton Garden Inn in Lebanon, New Hampshire on December 28, 2023. (Photo by Joseph Prezioso / AFP)(AFP)

Surveys show that Haley is gaining traction not only among Republican voters but also among some Democrats who are disillusioned with Biden. A Politico analysis suggests that many young Democrats who voted for Biden in 2020 will turn “Red” if Haley, not Donald Trump, is the Republican candidate. Haley’s campaign is interesting for her Democratic style of leaning on her background — daughter of Indian immigrants. Her parents immigrated to South Carolina after the 1965 Immigration Act, which made it easier for Indians to build their lives in the US. Haley is highlighting her hyphenated identity. Contrast that with other Republican politicians of Indian origin, such as Vivek Ramaswamy and Bobby Jindal, who insist on their Americanness. With the growing influence of the Indian-American community, despite being barely 1.5% of the overall population, Haley’s decision to tap into desi support is a good call.

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During the GOP debates, Haley has emerged as an old-school Republican eager to distance herself from the acrid politics of the Trump era. And she’s pitching her plans without appearing over-the-top to those who still abhor the ‘F-word’, feminism. While Haley’s now-characteristic line, “If you want something done, ask a woman”, firmly establishes her campaign’s tone, she’s cautious of not using feminism as her only calling card; instead, she’s using the “aspiration” card.

One doesn’t have to be a Republican sympathiser to appreciate that Haley is making the right moves in her quest for the White House. Her moderate stance on abortion, her self-fashioning as a patriot with a proven track record of furthering America’s interests in international forums, her reach out to the Indian diaspora, her ability to deflect attacks by fellow Republicans in the debates, and, above all, her resurrection of the non-abrasive style of politics — everything is bolstering her chances. The big donors believe so, too. In a deeply polarised world, there is a clear nostalgia for middle-of-the-road sensibility. Trump’s presidency deepened the socio-political fault lines in the US. Haley is positioning herself as somebody who can bring people together. She is relying on her reputation as someone willing to challenge unreasonableness within her party. In 2017, for example, nonplussed by Trump’s intent, Haley decried a ban on Muslim immigration to the US. Is this moderate demeanour, however, enough to make voters forget that as the governor of South Carolina, she tried to impose some of the strictest anti-immigration rules?

The primaries kickstart in less than a month and Haley has a Trump-sized hill to cross on her road to be the boss on the Hill. If the return of Trump poses one of the biggest dangers for the socio-political, economic, and geopolitical health of the US, both Democrats and Republicans need to make that their priority instead of ideological differences. Haley’s campaign, therefore, needs to double down on this refrain. Who becomes the next US president is a matter of concern for the entire world, as there’s no denying the country’s circle of influence. From the Indian perspective, a moderate Nikki Haley, despite her India-biggest-polluter smoking gun is better than Trump. It is no surprise, then, that many Indian-American donors and political activists, who wish to strengthen the ties between the two countries, have switched to her side despite their characteristic Democratic leanings. Maybe there is this growing belief in the US: Yes, she can.

Nishtha Gautam is an author, academic and journalist. She’s the co-editor of In Hard Times, a Bloomsbury book on national security. The views expressed are personal

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