Trump's Frenemy With Roots in Punjab: Nikki Haley Launches 2024 Presidential Bid

Few have managed to navigate the loud, turbulent politics of Trump’s career, especially recently, like Nikki Haley.

8 min read

Video Producer: Mayank Chawla

Video Editor: Abhishek Sharma

Ever since the United States public witnessed the Republican Party’s subpar performance in the 2022 Midterms, a swarm of deep-pocketed donors and the party’s top brass have classified former President Donald Trump’s 2024 White House bid as ‘dead on arrival.’

But Trump’s lacklustre performance also led to a void within the Republican Party, as calls for a replacement flag bearer have consistently gone unanswered – but all that changed on Wednesday, 15 February.  

In an announcement, the former Trump-appointed United Nations ambassador and former governor of South Carolina Nimrata ‘Nikki’ Haley, announced her 2024 presidential bid.

 "For a strong America... For a proud America... I am running for President of the United States of America...When America is distracted, the world is less safe... And today, our enemies think the American era has passed. They’re wrong. America is not past our prime. It’s just that our politicians are past theirs," Haley said, formally launching her campaign for 2024.


While Haley might not ‘excite’ the Republican vote bank, as indicated by her extremely low approval numbers, she beat Republicans' favoured Trump replacement, Ron DeSantis, to the punch and announced her campaign, which may open the floodgates to more Republican presidential bids. 

Haley – who was critical of the former president prior to serving in his administration – has dissented when asked about Trump’s election fraud claims, a divisive issue that he often uses to distinguish between friend and foe. 

But Hayley’s service to Trump as the US ambassador to the United Nations does not imply that she is a ‘Trump-oholic.’ The 51-year-old has flip-flopped when it comes to the former president; she has been critical of Trump as well as taken a few leaves out of his book over the last few years.

In 2021, she told the Associated Press that she “would not run if President Trump ran," but then she evidently changed her mind, telling Fox News that she may become part of a “new generational change."

Only a few have managed to navigate the loud, turbulent politics of Trump’s career, especially recently, like Nikki Haley. We explore Haley’s life while navigating her hot-and-cold relationship with Donald Trump.


Early Beginnings and Punjabi Roots

Born Nimrata Randhawa in South Carolina's Banbury, her parents were immigrants from Punjab. Her father, Ajit Singh Randhawa, a professor at Punjab Agricultural University, moved to South Carolina in 1968 with her mother, Raj Randhawa, to earn a law degree.

They moved to Canada from Amritsar after Ajit Singh received a scholarship offer from the University of British Columbia. When her father received his PhD in 1969, he moved his family to South Carolina.

Both her parents had long-drawn academic careers at educational institutions in India. Haley’s mother earned a master's degree in education and worked in Bamberg public schools for seven years.  

When she was 13, Haley began accounting at Exotica International, a gift and clothing boutique that her mother started in 1979. Later, she returned to the company as the chief financial officer after graduating from South Carolina’s Clemson College. 

Entry into US' Politics Arena

In 2004, she ran and came in second during the South Carolina House of Representatives primaries but won in the runoff election after incumbent Larry Koon, the longest-serving legislator in the South Carolina Statehouse, failed to secure a majority.

She became the first Indian American to hold office in South Carolina and has run general elections uncontested ever since, running under the banner of lower taxes, education reform, restricting abortions, and enforcing immigration laws. 

Her first term saw Haley elected as the chair of the Republican freshman caucus, later becoming majority whip in South Carolina’s general assembly. 


In 2009, she announced that she would run for the Republican nomination for South Carolina governor in the 2010 election and at 32, she made history as South Carolina’s first female governor and became the youngest governor in the US when she took office in January 2011.

South Carolina’s first Asian American governor went on to serve three total terms and pledged to crack down on illegal immigration in the state.

She first made national headlines in 2015, when Haley visibly choked up while responding to the shooting in Charlestown, where a white supremacist shot and killed nine African Americans, and ordered for the Confederate flag, which has been claimed by white supremacists, to be removed from the state Capitol grounds, where it had flown for more than 50 years.

Haley’s political skills were rigorously tested in 2016 when Trump went from a man on late-night television serving punchlines to a serious Republican presidential candidate. 

  1. Flip-Flop: The 2016 Trump Campaign

    Flip: Nikki Haley was extremely critical of Trump during his White House bid in 2016, slamming his plans to build a wall along the US-Mexico border and his stance on immigration. 

    “Every time someone criticises him, he goes and makes a political attack back…That’s not who we are as Republicans. That’s not what we do,” she had said back in 2015. 

    “Republicans need to remember that the fabric of America came from these legal immigrants,” Haley had said, adding, “If you want to talk about tackling illegal immigration, then let’s talk about it, but we don’t need to attack so many millions of people who came here. . . and did it the right way, like my parents."

    During the Republican primaries in 2016, she not only supported but also campaigned for Mark Rubio to which Trump responded that the people of South Carolina were also "embarrassed" by her.

    She condemned Trump for not denouncing Ku Klux Klan (KKK) leader David Duke and said, "We saw and looked at true hate in the eyes last year in Charleston...I will not stop until we fight a man that chooses not to disavow the KKK. That is not a part of our party. That is not who we want as president." 

    Rubio dropped out of the race just two weeks later, and Haley directed her support towards Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

    Flop: In October 2016, when asked if she’d vote for Trump, Haley replied, "Of course,” even though she was “not a fan.”

    Endorsing Trump, she said that the “best person based on the policies, and dealing with things like Obamacare, still is Donald Trump.” Just a few weeks later, she accepted a post in Trump’s Cabinet. 


The United Nations Stint

At the start of 2017, Trump nominated the Indian American to become the US ambassador to the UN. Reports claimed that she was originally considered for secretary of state but declined the offer. Here is where the first sparks between the two emerged. 

While Haley did not hesitate to publicly distinguish herself from Trump’s viewpoint, she kept in line with Trump’s pro-Israel agenda and backed a bid to withhold food aid to Palestine, warning other allies not to condemn his call to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

She also remained tough on Russia and North Korea, becoming a key member in applying UN sanctions against Pyongyang and further slammed Moscow, accusing them of covering up violations of said sanctions.

Later that year, she abruptly departed from the UN as an impending ethics probe circled, which fuelled speculation that she may challenge Trump or replace then-Vice President Mike Pence on the ticket, but neither actually materialised.

However, Trump said Haley had informed him six months earlier of her intention to "take a break" and resign. He praised Haley in his remarks, saying she "has been very special to me" and lauding her as "somebody that gets it."

  1. Flip-Flop: The UN Tussle with Trump

    Flip: At the UN, Haley tried hard to distance herself from Donald Trump. While he was criticised for refusing to unequivocally condemn Russian influence in the US elections, the US ambassador took a tough stance on Russia’s actions, calling it “warfare.”

    She continued to draw ground between Trump and her when he called the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) “obsolete.” Haley, contradicting Trump, had said, “I think NATO is an important alliance for us to have, and now we need more allies than ever.” 

    More directly, she said that any comments Trump made “are his comments,” implying that the statements were personal opinions, even though Trump later went back on his position. 

    When questioned about the sexual harassment allegations against Trump, ones that he denied, she said, “We should all be willing to listen to them.”

    While Haley’s resignation, which she claimed was on her own terms, shocked the US, many pundits believed that it was due to her statements which consistently led to friction between the then President and herself.

    However, she received a glowing farewell speech from Trump, a rarity in his administration where bitter exits were rife. 

    Flop: However, in her memoir With All Due Respect: Defending America With Grit and Grace, it was revealed that Haley was as invested in Trump as she could be. 

    She showered the then-US president with extraordinary praise, calling his strategy that attempted to compliment Russia's Vladimir Putin a way to keep communications open. 

    She also complimented Trump for his soft skills, another rarity during his political career, and said, “In every instance I dealt with him, he was truthful, he listened, and he was great to work with.” 


Boeing, Public Policy and Higher Ambitions

Following her resignation, she returned to South Carolina and joined the board of Boeing, to which critics claimed that the position had been offered to her due to the favourable actions she took for Boeing while in office in South Carolina. In March 2020, she stepped down from her position. 

Haley also created a group that promotes public policy aimed at strengthening the American economy, culture and national security issues called 'Stand For America', which received large donations from several billionaires and hedge fund managers.

Haley first teased her 2024 bid at a summit in Washington in July 2022, where she said, "If this president signs any sort of [Iran nuclear] deal, I'll make you a promise: The next president will shred it on her first day in office.

On 1 February, the first reports of Haley’s imminent presidential bid surfaced. But while her campaign actions and intentions seem rosy, they are a series of flip-flops. 

  1. Flip-Flop: The 2024 Presidential Run

    Flip: Ever since her resignation in 2018, Haley remained a Trump supporter, mostly. She described Trump as a “friend”, saying that she was “proud of the successes” of his administration and added that she won’t “apologise” for working with him.

    Moreover, she defended him during the transition to the Biden White House and his election loss, where she claimed that “he believes he was wronged” and that it was not him “making it up."

    In 2021, just a few hours after Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol, she described his actions as “not his finest", but staunchly opposed his impeachment, which came about due to the Capitol attack. However, she reportedly never spoke to Trump on or since 6 January 2021, and when asked if he is a friend she said, "Friend is a loose term.” 

    Nevertheless, in April 2021 she pledged her support towards Trump’s 2024 presidential bid.  Moreover, a month after the riots, in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, she laid down her belief that Trump’s policies, many of which she vehemently opposed, made the US "stronger, safer, and more prosperous.”

    “I would not run if President Trump ran, and I would talk to him about it…That’s something that we’ll have a conversation about at some point if that decision is something that has to be made,” she said. 

    Flop: Nikki Haley announced her White House bid for 2024, casting herself as a younger, fresher alternative to 76-year-old Trump, who has previously discussed her possible challenge and said that Haley “should do it.”  

    "I talked to her for a little while, I said, ‘Look, you know, go by your heart if you want to run,’” Trump had said. 

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)


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