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It takes a pretty special woman to sit in the Oval Office and, with United States President Donald Trump by her side, and say with a very straight face: “No, I’m not running for 2020; I can promise you what I’ll be doing is campaigning for this one. So, I look forward to supporting the president in the next election.”
Above all, Nikki Haley has been President Trump’s cheerleader-in-chief, offering up rah-rah-rah chants and cheers at the United Nations Security Council. So, in the chaos that is Washington officialdom these days, Haley’s sudden resignation seems different — and perhaps 2024 is on her mind.
The challenge then will be for Haley to remain in the public eye relevant and politically pertinent should she decide then to make a run for the highest office in the land. And while no new job has been mentioned, perhaps a spot on Fox or another network beckons the 46-year old.
Family from Amritsar
The former South Carolina governor mixes homespun Southern charm with hard-boiled political savvy — a daughter of immigrants boasting both executive experience in her home state and foreign policy chops from two years as one of Trump’s top diplomats.
For the record, she was born Nimrata Randhawa — everyone called her ‘Nikki’ — in Bamberg, South Carolina, to a family of Sikh heritage from Amritsar.
Her father, Ajit Singh Randhawa was a specialist in agriculture and her mother, Raj Kaur Randhawa, earned a law degree from Delhi University. The couple emigrated from Punjab and moved to Canada after Ajit was offered a chance to work on a PhD at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He earned that in 1969, and then moved the family to South Carolina where he taught at Voorhees College. After seven years teaching at a local secondary school, Nikki’s mother opened a clothing store with the rather risque name of Exotica International in 1976. It was there, from the age of 13 onwards, that Nikki worked, keeping track of invoices — an early grounding in what would eventually lead to an accounting degree.
She was elected in 2010 as governor of the deeply Conservative state and served two terms, riding the wave of the Republican Tea Party with the support of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. As the youngest governor in the US and only the second Indian-American to serve at the helm of a US state, she was touted as a rising star within the Republican Party.
She took a public stand against resettling Syrian refugees in South Carolina and also opposed former US president Barack Obama’s signature health-care law. Her re-election in 2014 also marked the largest margin of victory for a South Carolina gubernatorial candidate in 24 years.
Before becoming the state’s chief executive, she served for six years as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives.
She is married to Army National Guard Captain Michael Haley and has two children.
An accountant and businesswoman, Haley converted to Christianity and attends a Methodist church. She attracted national attention in 2015 when she asked the state legislature to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol, following a racially charged massacre that left nine people dead at a Charleston church.
The state has long wrestled with its connection to the divisive flag, which is considered by many as a totem of racism but defended by others as an important historical symbol.
“Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it is time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds,” she said at the time. “One hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, the time has come.”
Though she had previously supported preserving the flag’s symbolism of Southern Heritage, the governor signed a bill requiring its removal and the flag was taken down in July 2015.
For the 2016 presidential bid, Haley endorsed Florida Senator Marco Rubio during the Republican primary election and after he dropped out, threw her support behind Senator Ted Cruz — Trump’s final rival before he became the party’s nominee. The then-governor also urged Trump to release his tax returns and criticised his harsh campaign rhetoric throughout the primary election. She also confronted the then-front-runner’s call to temporarily ban Muslims from the country, adding: “No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.”
Trump praised his former critic as a “proven dealmaker” and said she would “be a great leader representing us on the world stage”.
The former South Carolina governor had little foreign policy experience, though she did travel abroad to broker economic deals for her state.
She soon stood out as an outspoken critic on the international stage — voicing her opinion on policy issues such as North Korea and engaging in verbal battles with Russia over Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its citizens.
In June, she berated human rights groups for trying to “thwart reform” of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, calling it a“cesspool of political bias”.
Haley had earlier said it was “hard to accept” that resolutions had been passed against Israel after President Trump recognised Occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, but none considered on Venezuela and not enough done to criticise Iran. At the time of her resignation, she had just served as temporary president of the UN Security Council for a month.
— With inputs from agencies