Just eight-and-a-half months ago, Donald Trump, then simply a contender for the Republican nomination to contest for president of the United States, tweeted a rant, as is his wont: “The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!”
As his Cabinet takes shape in Trump Tower located in Manhattan, he has pivoted nicely to make her the first woman and minority pick of his administration-in-the-making, as the next US ambassador to the United Nations. This may be his attempt to go diverse after the divisive nature of other appointments.
That seems to be part of the adulting of Trump. Meeting with Mitt Romney, who attacked him with adjectives the former presidential candidate didn’t even use against his 2012 rival and incumbent President Barack Obama, or Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, or even shying off prosecuting Hillary Clinton, may be his attempt to show that the middle ground isn’t quite as broken as the political upheavals this year have suggested.
Haley’s not exactly been a Trump-eteer. She endorsed Florida senator Marco Rubio during the party primaries. Giving her response to Obama’s State of the Union earlier this year, she scolded: “During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation.” And in answering that angry tweet from Trump, she used some Southern snark, saying, “Bless your heart.” She never spoke at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. And her inspiration for entering politics? Hillary Clinton!
Last summer as Dylan Storm Roof, a White supremacist with Neo-Nazi leanings, gunned down nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston, Haley put aside partisan plays to have the Confederate flag, a relic of America’s racist past, removed from the state legislature on July 4, America’s Independence Day. That’s in contrast to Trump, who, during the primaries, dissembled over disavowing support from Klansmen and their kin.
Given those differences and differentiators, Haley doesn’t appear quite Trump’s kind of choice. But they have plenty of common ground, too. During the same SOTU reply, Haley said of her own party: “We need to accept that we’ve played a role in how and why our government is broken. And then we need to fix it.” #DrainTheSwamp anyone? She’s also a conservative by the numbers, even if she was born Nimrata Randhawa. In 2010, she was lagging behind others in her party in the primaries for the gubernatorial poll until support from former Alaska governor Sarah Palin changed the course and careered her into the governor’s mansion in Columbia. Palin, of course, was a major booster of The Donald during his campaign. And Chicago-based Shalabh Kumar, founder of the Republican Hindu Coalition and organiser of the Trump desi event in New Jersey, has arranged fundraisers for Haley’s campaigns.
Unlike another Republican, former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, Haley’s heritage is upfront and her affection for India may be an asset in the never-ending process of reforming the United Nations Security Council. While Obama backed India’s claim to a permanent seat at that table, that process has moved about as quickly as still water on a lake. Former Republican permanent representative to the UN John Bolton, a George W Bush appointee, in fact, criticised India’s efforts as part of the G4, as “sucking the oxygen out” of the process of getting other reforms achieved there. Haley, hopefully, will be kinder.
This pick isn’t par for Trump’s course, but he isn’t predictable. However, Haley, often tipped as a potential presidential running mate and future candidate herself, will head to the UN headquarters in New York’s Turtle Bay representing a regime that considers multilateralism a mess. Even if Trump’s demurring on his position with regard to nixing the Paris agreement on climate change (in which India in invested), the UN is likely to be as popular in a Trump administration as demonetisation with the our Opposition.
In a message, Haley wished her state’s citizenry a “joyous Thanksgiving” and she will hope this thankless task isn’t a turkey. Perhaps, in accepting this challenge, she is heeding the title of her 2011 autobiography, Can’t Is Not An Option.
Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs
The views expressed are personal