Who is Nikki Haley, Donald Trump’s main rival for the Republican primaries?

The candidate has a 20-year political career behind her, from South Carolina to the UN. Conservative, she presents herself as a more moderate alternative to the former president.



Reading time: 5 min

Candidate for the Republican primaries Nikki Haley, on January 21, 2024 in Derry, in the state of New Hampshire (United States).  (JOE RAEDLE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

A duel for the Republican nomination. Former president and big favorite in the polls, Donald Trump, faces his ex-ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, whom he faces on Tuesday March 5 in fifteen states, during the primaries for the presidential election. The billionaire remains very far ahead of his rival, with more than 75% of voting intentions, according to the poll aggregator site FiveThirtyEight. With only one victory to her credit, in the capital Washington, the candidate has little chance of catching up during “Super Tuesday”.

Nimrata Nikki Randhawa grew up in rural South Carolina, in a family of Indian immigrants of Sikh religion. An accounting graduate, mother of two children, she began her political career in 2005, entering her state’s Parliament. Six years later, she campaigned for governor of South Carolina. The Republican is elected, becoming the first woman to govern the state – and the second Indian-American governor in the history of the United States, underlines the Politico site.

Solid international experience

In 2017, without experience in diplomacy, Nikki Haley was appointed Ambassador of the United States to the United Nations. A position she held for a little less than two years, and which she left “with his dignity largely intact”, praises an editorial from New York Times. In New York, diplomats salute the work and pragmatism of the American ambassador, which contrasts with a Trump administration that is divisive to say the least. As the American daily notes, Nikki Haley maintains good relations with the Secretary General of the UN, Antonio Guterres. “She was as close as possible of a traditional Republican ambassador to the UN, in a very untraditional Republican administration”, researcher David Bosco, from Indiana University, comments to the American news site Vox.

At the UN, Nikki Haley notably succeeded in passing sanctions against North Korea. At the same time, she defends controversial policies of Donald Trump, such as the installation of the American embassy in Israel in Jerusalem, or the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris agreement in favor of the climate. The Republican also embodied the departure of the United States from the UN Human Rights Council, and is criticized for not having sufficiently denounced Israeli abuses in Gaza.

Five years later, Nikki Haley confronts the man she defended at the UN. In these primaries, she is attempting a balancing act between the most fervent pro-Trump and a more classic Republican vision, underlines Vox. On several themes, however, his proposals are quite close to those of Donald Trump. “I agree with everything he did,” she declared to Politico in 2021, before backpedaling on the very controversial subject of the separation of migrant families at the border. And unlike her rival, she supports a clear continuation of sending military aid to Ukraine, to better face Russia.

An openly conservative project

On the national level, the candidate defends an openly conservative program, as shown in the New York Times. She campaigns for “fiscal conservatism”, promising budget cuts in social security and health insurance. The Republican also proposes raising the retirement age of young Americans, and criticizes federal spending committed in the face of inflation and the health crisis. When it comes to climate, Nikki Haley does not have the climate skeptic speech of Donald Trump, but she opposes the restrictions necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If she is elected, the United States will once again withdraw from the Paris agreement.

Opposed to abortion, Nikki Haley assures that she will support a federal ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, if Congress passes such a law. However, she believes that such a measure would be very complicated from a political point of view, calls for “no longer demonize” the subject and promotes better access to contraception. When it comes to immigration, Nikki Haley defends the return of Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, and wants to immediately deport illegal exiles. She also proposes banning the entry into the United States of nationals of certain countries, such as Iran or Yemen.

A delicate campaign against Donald Trump

Since November, Nikki Haley has managed to stay around or above the threshold of 10% of voting intentions for the primaries. She highlights what she describes as the “decline” by Donald Trump. According to her, “he’s just not at the same level as in 2016” And “Whether it’s deserved or not, chaos follows.” An allusion to the multiple accusations and indictments against him. At the end of January, the candidate even went so far as to question the “mental abilities” of Donald Trump because of his age. “We will not survive four more years of chaos,” she defends, criticizing both the 77-year-old former president and 81-year-old Joe Biden. In his eyes, it is necessary “elect a leader of a new generation and leave negativity and liabilities behind”.

Faced with Donald Trump already winning the primaries, “Nikki Haley is careful with her statements, her responses are very political”, points out Ludivine Gilli, director of the North America Observatory at the Jean-Jaurès Foundation. This concerns, in particular the right to abortion, “to avoid scaring off more moderate Republicans, without alienating Trump’s supporters.” “The risk is to alienate everyone,” comments the author of The Conservative Revolution in the United States (ed. de l’Aube). Nikki Haley’s latest statements on the Civil War were particularly striking. Asked about the causes of the conflict, the candidate detailed different reasons… forgetting slavery.

source site-29