On the US politi­cian now be­ing tipped as Amer­ica’s first fe­male pres­i­dent

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - INTERVIEW -

The most pop­u­lar mem­ber of Don­ald Trump’s over­whelm­ingly white, male cabi­net is the daugh­ter of Sikh im­mi­grants, a woman who en­tered pol­i­tics at the age of 31 as a mother of two young chil­dren who also keeps the books for her mother’s cloth­ing shop.

Fif­teen years since her first cam­paign, Nikki Ha­ley has risen to be the gover­nor of South Carolina, and now the Amer­i­can am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions. Next to the US Pres­i­dent him­self, she is the lead­ing voice of Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy.

In an ab­nor­mally tur­bu­lent ad­min­is­tra­tion, she has pushed the Pres­i­dent’s agenda without be­ing burnt — re­tain­ing her in­de­pen­dence without be­ing charged with dis­loy­alty.

A poll re­leased last week showed her ap­proval rat­ing among Amer­i­cans at 63%, ver­sus 39% for Trump. Among Democrats it is 55%, ver­sus the pres­i­dent’s 5%. Women, mi­nori­ties and the young like her in num­bers Trump can only dream of.

Ha­ley was first in­spired to run for of­fice when she heard Hil­lary Clin­ton give a speech urg­ing women to “dare to com­pete”.

Now she, rather than Clin­ton, stands the bet­ter chance of be­ing Amer­ica’s first fe­male pres­i­dent.

If she can sur­vive the Trump years in­tact, she could be the Repub­li­cans’ best shot at re­turn­ing to the po­lit­i­cal main­stream.

Ha­ley grew up in the small town of Bam­berg in South Carolina. Her par­ents, Ajit and Raj Rand­hawa, had im­mi­grated from Punjab State in In­dia.

When Ha­ley ran for of­fice, her op­po­nents ran ad­ver­tise­ments us­ing her given name, Nim­rata, and call­ing her a “rag­head”.

But their racism made lit­tle im­pact. Ha­ley was an in­sur­gent and a po­lit­i­cal nov­elty, go­ing door-to-door with boxes of Krispy Kreme dough­nuts, con­vinc­ing vot­ers that she, a young mother, an ac­coun­tant, the wife of a Na­tional Guards­man, could bring com­mon sense to the un­ruly state govern­ment.

After five years as a state rep­re­sen­ta­tive, she ran for gover­nor and won again. She ran the state as a buoy­ant, pro-busi­ness con­ser­va­tive, in­struct­ing state em­ploy­ees to an­swer the phone with: “It’s a great day in South Carolina.”

Her abil­ity to shut­tle be­tween the con­ser­va­tive and mod­ernising wings of her party was first put on na­tional dis­play in 2015.

After Dy­lann Roof, a young white su­prem­a­cist, killed nine peo­ple pray­ing at a mostly African-Amer­i­can church in Charleston, she called for the Con­fed­er­ate flag, a sym­bol of the old seg­re­gated South, to be re­moved from the grounds of the State Capi­tol.

She spoke of her ex­pe­ri­ence grow­ing up as the child of im­mi­grants and the feel­ing of “be­ing an other” in Amer­ica.

It was one of the few times she has spo­ken about race. The flag came down.

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