On Tuesday, Nikki Haley announced that she was joining the 2024 race to become the next president of the United States. She held her first public rally to that end on Wednesday, telling the crowds “America is not past our prime, it’s just that our politicians are past theirs.” That focus on the need for “a new generation of leadership” was part of her Tuesday announcement as well and has been seen by many as a dig at both President Biden and former President Trump.
Nikki Haley joins Donald Trump as one of two people to have officially declared their candidacy for the Republican nomination in the 2024 presidential election. With many others expected to join the race across the coming months, Haley is hopeful that her early start will give her an advantage over her future rivals.
Haley winning the nomination would appear to be extremely unlikely at the moment. Early polls show that Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis are the only candidates currently enjoying more than single-digit support. But Haley has faced long odds throughout her political career and emerged victorious each time.
Most doubt she can do so again, but you don’t have to win the race for running to be worthwhile. As Sarah Isgur notes, “A failed longshot presidential run—when matched with good political instincts and raw talent—can launch someone into stardom.”
And with Haley, political instincts and talent have rarely been the problem.
“Fitting in was not possible”
Nikki Haley—born Nimrata Nikki Randhawa—is the daughter of two Indian immigrants who moved to the small town of Bamberg, South Carolina, after her father took a position teaching at a historically Black college in 1969. As Tim Alberta describes, when her family moved to Bamberg, the lifelong residents could not recall “ever seeing a brown person before the Randhawas came to town. Fitting in was not possible.”
And though they’d grown more accustomed to the Randhawas by the time Nikki—the name she’s gone by since childhood—was born, she still recalls the racism and prejudice she faced, even when it was not overtly malicious.
Examples like always playing Pocahontas in the Thanksgiving pageant and having to choose whether to play for the white team or the black team in kickball reinforced how different she was from everyone around her. (Such segregation was still a fact of life at that time even if progress was being made).
The incident that made the most lasting impact, however, was when the police were called on her father while he was simply buying fruit at a roadside stand. Decades later, she still recalls the shame and embarrassment he tried to hide on the ride home.
Her family never shied away from their heritage, though. They continued to wear traditional Indian clothes and her father donned a turban as part of his daily attire. The family started an annual “International Fest” that was embraced by much of the community and featured music and food from around the world. And her mother opened a very successful clothing store called Exotica that specialized in handmade formal gowns and eventually grew to the point that it became a destination for people across the state.
Nikki Haley got her start in accounting by managing the books for the business at the age of thirteen. She would go on to get a degree in the subject from Clemson and returned to help manage the shop—which by then had grown into a million-dollar business—until making the surprise decision to run for the state government.
When your enemies outnumber your allies
Haley said of the decision to run for state government, “I felt like I owed it to my parents. I wanted to do it to show them that they made the right decision; to show them that things had gotten better.” But while that may have been her motivation, her initial reception upon reaching the state capital proved circumstances hadn’t come quite as far as she’d hoped.
Haley was treated largely as an outsider because she was. The “good old boys” who filled most of the seats were not overly receptive to her, which she later recalled playing a pivotal role in helping her realize that “I don’t need to be that person that everyone likes. I don’t need to be that person that gets along with everybody.”
Those who have worked with her in the years since would agree that she has taken those lessons to heart.
For better or worse, that rebellious streak has helped her endure tough elections and separate herself from the political fray around her. It helped her go from single-digit recognition at the start of her campaign for governor to a dominant victory by the election’s end. It helped her work tirelessly to remove the Confederate flag from the state capital building in the wake of the 2015 murder of nine Black parishioners in a Charleston church. And it helped her navigate a tumultuous two years as the US Ambassador to the United Nations under President Trump.
However, that approach to politics is also why people who have worked with her in the past have not always enjoyed the experience. For example, Katon Dawson, the former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, said she “will cut you to pieces. . . . She will remember who was with her and who was against her. And she won’t give a second chance to anyone who she thinks did her wrong.”
In his extensive profile of her, Tim Alberta noted that “her laid-back southern persona conceals a pugnacious impulsive streak,” adding that “she built a reputation for demanding loyalty but rarely giving it, leaving the road behind her littered with enemies as well as allies.”
Such an approach is hardly rare among political figures, and some might argue it’s what enabled her to navigate her time in Trump’s White House better than most. But life gets hard when your enemies begin to outnumber your allies, and that’s true for more than just politicians.
Don’t look for enemies
Jesus was clear that, as Christians, there would always be some in our culture who will hate us (John 15:18–25). However, he was equally clear that we are never to hate them in return (Matthew 5:43–48).
As our culture grows increasingly antagonistic toward a biblical worldview, it will be tempting to reject those who reject us. We cannot afford to make that mistake.
Are there going to be people we meet who make false assumptions about us as soon as they find out that we are Christians? Absolutely.
But we make the same error when we begin to assume that people are our enemies because of their politics, beliefs, personalities, or any of the litany of other characteristics by which people are often judged today.
So don’t go looking for enemies or, chances are, that’s exactly what you’ll find.
Rather, ask the Lord to help you see the lost as he does: potential members of his family (Romans 5:10).