Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)

Don’t count Nikki Haley out in GOP presidenti­al race


Nearly three months after former President Donald Trump announced he was running again for president, he has his first major competitor in former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

In her announceme­nt on Tuesday Haley boasted of the need for “generation­al change,” an obvious knock on Trump and President Biden’s ages — Haley is 51, a generation behind both.

That distinctio­n will likely serve her well in creating contrast with her former boss, now a septuagena­rian Florida retiree, who has often sounded very much like a sitcom character out of the 1950s. His obsession with a woman’s place — in the kitchen, doing the dishes and cooking dinner — is well-documented.

Haley’s broken all of the regressive stereotype­s Trump routinely leans on to stoke the grievances of his right-wing base. At 38 she wasn’t in the kitchen but busy becoming the nation’s youngest governor, and South Carolina’s first female and minority chief executive. Her family hails from a country Trump has called “filthy,” and he’s repeatedly used a fake Indian accent to mock the people there.

Her impressive and inspiring immigrant story flies in the face of Trump’s penchant for casting immigrants as “criminals” and “animals,” undeservin­g of basic human dignity.

Haley was raised in the Sikh faith before converting to Christiani­ty — Trump has insulted the Sikh community, throwing Sikhs out of his rallies, retweeting bigoted memes and conflating Sikhs with Islamic terrorism.

If Trump’s past performanc­es with women and minorities is prologue, he’ll likely zero in on her looks as he did with Carly Fiorina and her un-American-ness as he did with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in 2016. He even went after Ben Carson’s Seventh-Day Adventist faith.

But her poise and measured speaking style are also a contrast to Trump’s ranting and raving. In her announceme­nt she seemed to send him a preemptive warning, saying, “I don’t put up with bullies. And when you kick back, it hurts them more if you’re wearing heels.”

She’s a formidable candidate — a smart and skilled politician who’s very popular in her home state. If she can do well there in the Republican primary she’ll be off to a promising start.

That is, if she can survive her first serious hurdle: South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott. He is also very well-liked there, and rumored to be mulling a presidenti­al run himself. That eventualit­y would eat into her resources there, splitting important donors, surrogates and endorsemen­ts. Then, there’s Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Polling shows in a hypothetic­al matchup Haley would sink DeSantis and essentiall­y hand Trump the nomination — a potential turnoff for Republican voters not eager for a Trump second term.

Finally, there’s her mixed messaging. She has alternated between being critical of Trump and being deferentia­l to him.

She’ll have time and plenty of opportunit­ies I’m sure to explain her positions and defend her record on the campaign trail. And it’s not a question of if but when Trump takes his first swipe at her, and we get to see how Haley deals with him.

She’ll have an uphill battle vying for Trump’s voters — they’re deeply suspicious of Haley and what they perceive as her “establishm­ent” roots. But for folks who are ready to dismiss her candidacy before it’s even begun, the joke may be on them. She’s far more skilled and likable than some other hopefuls, and she’s in a much better position to run than someone like former Vice President Mike Pence — reviled by Trump loyalists and Never-Trumpers alike.

As she likes to say, she’s never lost an election. But win or lose, Nikki Haley could just be the face of Republican­s’ future.

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