Nikki Ha­ley:

She's the sher­iff in high heels, who prom­ises to kick her op­po­nents into touch and as Don­ald Trump's Am­bas­sador to the UN, Nikki Ha­ley is al­ready be­ing picked as a fu­ture pres­i­dent, writes Nick Bryant.

The Australian Women's Weekly - - Contents - AWW

the straight­shoot­ing Trump politi­cian who could be the first fe­male US pres­i­dent

Amidst all the fire and fury of Don­ald Trump’s first year in of­fice, many in his or­bit have seen their rep­u­ta­tions ei­ther burned or torched. Some have been sacked. Oth­ers have been forced to re­sign. One, the for­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor Michael Flynn, has faced crim­i­nal in­dict­ment. Most of the women in the Trump in­ner cir­cle have had a tor­rid time. Me­la­nia Trump cuts a for­lorn fig­ure, a re­luc­tant First Lady trapped in an un­happy mar­riage. Ivanka Trump, the pres­i­dent’s daugh­ter, has faced a boy­cott of her cloth­ing brand and been os­tracised by New York high so­ci­ety.

One woman, though, has emerged as a star of the new ad­min­is­tra­tion, her rep­u­ta­tion not only in­tact but en­hanced. Nikki Ha­ley, America’s Am­bas­sador at the United Na­tions, has be­come the fe­male face of the Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion’s con­tro­ver­sial for­eign pol­icy. An In­dian-Amer­i­can politi­cian, whose birth name was Nim­rata Rand­hawa, she is al­ready be­ing spo­ken of as a fu­ture pres­i­dent – maybe the first woman to shat­ter one of the most re­silient glass ceil­ings in world politics. Wash­ing­ton watch­ers thought they may have glimpsed the fu­ture when Nikki Ha­ley ap­peared last year at the podium of the White House brief­ing room wear­ing a black zip­per out­fit that wags on Twit­ter joked made her look like a ga­lac­tic pres­i­dent. Cer­tainly, it con­firmed her strato­spheric rise.

Nikki Ha­ley, a for­mer Gover­nor of South Carolina who speaks with a Steel Mag­no­lia twang, an­nounced her­self as America’s top diplo­mat at the UN with char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally undiplo­matic lan­guage. “I wear heels,” she said. “It's not for a fash­ion state­ment. It's be­cause if I see some­thing wrong, we're go­ing to kick them ev­ery sin­gle time.” Her per­sonal motto is, “Kick ’em with a smile.”

At the UN head­quar­ters in New York, she cast her­self im­me­di­ately as the “new sher­iff” in town and made clear from her first day that she would serve as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s eyes and ears. “For those that don’t have our backs, we’re tak­ing names,” she warned other coun­tries, a threat that brought sharp in­takes of breath from alarmed diplo­mats. But she quickly won many over with her easy, “Hi y’all” south­ern charm.

This for­eign pol­icy novice also quickly es­tab­lished her cre­den­tials. At a time when Don­ald Trump had sig­nalled a warm­ing of re­la­tions with Vladimir Putin, she let rip at the Krem­lin over its ag­gres­sion in Ukraine. Then, when the As­sad regime used chem­i­cal weapons against its own peo­ple in Syria, Nikki de­liv­ered one of the most dra­matic speeches the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil had seen in years. In an elec­tri­fy­ing mo­ment of diplo­matic the­atre, she stood to her feet and bran­dished graphic pho­tos of chil­dren who had been killed by poi­son gas. Eye­balling the Rus­sian am­bas­sador, the As­sad regime’s strong­est de­fender, she added: “How many more chil­dren need to die be­fore Rus­sia cares?” Nikki, who has two chil­dren of her own, spoke with the pas­sion of a mother and also the steel of a mil­i­tary wife. Her hus­band Michael Ha­ley is a com­bat vet­eran who served in Afghanistan.

More re­cently, as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “America First” for­eign pol­icy has meant that America is in­creas­ingly alone on the in­ter­na­tional stage, Nikki has some­times found her­self iso­lated. But she has rel­ished tak­ing on friends and foes alike, most re­cently when the United States an­nounced it was mov­ing its em­bassy to Jerusalem, which pro­voked a howl of in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism. Speak­ing from the mar­ble podium of the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly, she again re­peated her threat that she was “tak­ing names” of those who op­posed America.

“The strange thing is that there are two Ha­leys,” says Richard Gowan, a UN ex­pert who teaches at Columbia Univer­sity. “A lot of the time she is a solid diplo­mat who can com­pro­mise. But then there is hard­line Ha­ley. She has been one of the most hawk­ish voices in the ad­min­is­tra­tion, and turned pretty nasty in last month's de­bates over Jerusalem.”

The 46-year-old is so reg­u­larly in the me­dia that she has eclipsed her sup­posed boss, the US Sec­re­tary of State, Rex Tiller­son. The for­mer Texan oil­man has not taken kindly to be­ing up­staged. “He f***ing hates her,” a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial told The New Yorker mag­a­zine.

Just be­fore Christ­mas, Nikki Ha­ley also in­fu­ri­ated the Pres­i­dent. Asked in

a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view about the women who have ac­cused Mr Trump of sex­u­ally ha­rass­ing or mo­lest­ing them, Nikki replied: “They should be heard.” To am­plify the point, she added: “They have ev­ery right to speak up.” Trump was in­censed that she had bro­ken from the White House line that the mat­ter had been dealt with dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. But Nikki’s com­ments were widely seen as a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to dis­tance her­self from an un­pop­u­lar Pres­i­dent ahead of a pos­si­ble fu­ture White House run. In Michael Wolff’s best­selling block­buster Fire and Fury: In­side the Trump White House, Nikki is de­scribed by a se­nior mem­ber of the Trump staff as “am­bi­tious as Lu­cifer”, who has courted Ivanka Trump and po­si­tioned her­self as the Pres­i­dent’s heir ap­par­ent.

Hers is al­ready a clas­sic Amer­i­can Dream story. She is the daugh­ter of In­dian im­mi­grants who moved to South Carolina from Pun­jab in the late 1960s. Her fa­ther, Ajit Singh, was a pro­fes­sor, and her mother, Raj Kaur, was also an aca­demic be­fore open­ing up an up­scale cloth­ing bou­tique, Ex­ot­ica In­ter­na­tional. At the age of 13, Nim­rata – who the fam­ily had by then nick­named Nikki – started work­ing as a book­keeper in the fam­ily busi­ness. Al­ready she is draw­ing com­par­isons with another daugh­ter of a shop­keeper, Mar­garet Thatcher, who also hap­pens to be her role model.

Nikki went on to study ac­count­ing at univer­sity, and worked in the unglam­orous field of waste man­age­ment. Then she re­turned to the fam­ily firm, which she helped build into a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar busi­ness. Even as a child she eyed a fu­ture in politics, as the mayor of her birth­place, Bam­berg. Fi­nally she de­cided to run for of­fice in 2003 after lis­ten­ing to a speech from Don­ald Trump’s neme­sis, Hil­lary Clin­ton.

The for­mer first lady was de­liv­er­ing a speech at a nearby univer­sity on the call to pub­lic ser­vice, and Nikki Ha­ley heard it loud and clear.

After first win­ning elec­tion to the state leg­is­la­ture in South Carolina in her early thir­ties, she went on to defy po­lit­i­cal grav­ity in 2010 by win­ning the Gov­er­nor­ship of one of America’s most con­ser­va­tive states. Not only was she the first woman to oc­cupy the Gover­nor’s man­sion, but the first per­son of colour.

Racism, more so than sex­ism, is a hur­dle she has con­tin­u­ally con­fronted and over­come. When her Sikh fam­ily moved to Bam­berg, the sight of her fa­ther wear­ing his tur­ban alarmed many lo­cal res­i­dents. Her par­ents also found it hard to rent a house in this once-seg­re­gated com­mu­nity. When fi­nally a land­lord agreed, he banned them from en­ter­tain­ing any­one in their home. Nikki her­self be­came aware of this racial di­vide as a five-year-old when she en­tered a beauty pageant that awarded sep­a­rate prizes for the most beau­ti­ful white and black chil­dren. Be­cause she did not fit into ei­ther cat­e­gory, she was dis­qual­i­fied. At the pageant she planned to per­form the song, “This land is your land, this land is my land”.

Now she is well po­si­tioned to win the big­gest prize in Amer­i­can politics. Presently, her tax­payer-funded home is a lux­ury Man­hat­tan pent­house that over­looks both the United Na­tions and a Trump skyscraper next door.

But it will come as no great sur­prise if, over the next decade, she comes to re­side at 1600 Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue in the grandeur of the White House.

Nick Bryant is the BBC's New York cor­re­spon­dent.

“Nikki is as am­bi­tious as Lu­cifer. ”

Nikki Ha­ley is mak­ing waves as the US Am­bas­sador to the UN, as some spec­u­late she’s carv­ing a path to the top job. BE­LOW: With Pres­i­dent Trump in March 2017.

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT: Be­ing sworn in as South Carolina’s Gover­nor in 2011; in Tur­key in May 2017; vis­it­ing In­dia in 2014.

ABOVE, LEFT TO RIGHT: Hold­ing up pic­tures of vic­tims of a Syr­ian chem­i­cal weapons at­tack dur­ing a dra­matic UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil speech in April 2017; at­tend­ing a brief­ing at the White House last year. Nikki has re­cently been seen as dis­tanc­ing her­self from Pres­i­dent Trump.

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