Nikki Haley’s admirers note that she repeatedly traveled abroad as South Carolina governor to promote the state as a desirable place for investment.
ATLANTA — Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina is the daughter of immigrants, favors free markets and global trade, and earned international attention for speaking out against the Confederate battle flag after the 2015 massacre at a black church in Charleston. During Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, she criticized his demeanor and warned what it might mean for U.S. diplomacy, even suggesting that his tendency to lash out at critics could cause a world war.
But on Wednesday, Trump named Haley as his choice for ambassador to the United Nations, a move that will most likely serve to assuage and confound the president-elect’s critics, raising questions about the tone and direction of his foreign policy.
In a statement, Haley said: “When the president believes you have a major contribution to make to the welfare of our nation, and to our nation’s standing in the world, that is a calling that is important to heed.”
Little is known about how Haley views the U.S. role in the world. But an equally important mystery is what her clout might be in the Trump administration.
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Has Trump placed her in a post he considers marginal? Or will Haley — along with a still-to-be-named secretary of state — be able to temper the more radical views of Trump’s other aides?
Despite the unknowns, many diplomats, scholars and rights advocates who have been awaiting Trump’s choices were relieved at the announcement. They saw in Haley, a daughter of Indian immigrants, someone unafraid to express her beliefs even if they differ from Trump’s.
“If confirmed, we hope she will raise that voice on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable people who suffer from hunger, violence and injustice around the world,” the advocacy group Oxfam said in a statement.
Haley’s stance is public on a few issues — including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, refugees and reproductive rights — and they offer a window into how she may carry out her role.
She signed state legislation to thwart a pro-Palestinian disinvestment campaign against Israel, known as Boycott, Divest and Sanction, or BDS — which made Israel one of the first to welcome her nomination for the post.
Haley, 44, has expressed concern about the security checks in place for Syrian refugees resettled in her state, but she is not among those Republican governors who have sued the Obama administration to block resettlement.
She describes herself as “pro-life” and has supported legislation in her state to restrict abortion rights. That position raises questions about whether the United States would reimpose a funding ban on groups that promote family planning overseas, and to what extent the United States would undermine a key U.N. goal to advance sexual and reproductive rights.
Haley’s admirers note that she repeatedly traveled abroad as governor to promote the state as a desirable place for investment. Her highest-profile trip, perhaps, was a 2014 visit to India, the birthplace of her parents. Her husband, Michael, has also served in Afghanistan as an officer in the South Carolina National Guard.
The second-term governor, who can’t seek a third term, was a Trump critic during the White House campaign. She asked Americans to resist “the siren call of the angriest voices” in how the nation treats immigrants.
More generally, Haley has overcome concerns that she would be a one-dimensional insurgent outsider, similar to worries that dog Trump. Her 2010 campaign was given a major lift by an endorsement from former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, the polarizing darling of the tea-party movement. But Haley has forged a middle path that embraces the conciliatory racial attitudes favored by the left and the business-friendly ethos of the right.
This balancing act faced perhaps its greatest test in June 2015, after nine African Americans were shot and killed at the historically black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. The white supremacist charged in the massacre, Dylann Roof, had posed with the Confederate battle flag in pictures. For years, blacks and liberals in South Carolina had pleaded with the conservatives who dominate the state government to take the flag down from a prominent spot it occupied in front of the state Capitol.
Haley, the first ethnic minority and first woman to be elected as the state’s governor, had previously sided with fellow Republicans, who argued that the flag was not a racist symbol.
But the Emanuel massacre hit home personally. She had been a friend of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a Democrat and pastor of the church, who was one of the dead. Haley had a change of heart.
“It came down to one simple thing,” Haley said in June 2015. “I couldn’t look my son or daughter in the face and justify that flag flying anymore.”
At her urging, and after much passionate debate, the state’s Legislature agreed to remove the flag.
Haley was born Nimrata Nikki Randhawa in Bamberg, S.C., to immigrants from Punjab state in India. She was raised a Sikh and said she converted to Christianity before marrying her husband in 1996. They have two children, ages 18 and 15.
She has said the locals in South Carolina were often unsure of her place in what is often a Southern binary of black versus white. When she was about 5, she and her sister entered a Little Miss Bamberg pageant where, traditionally, a black queen and a white queen were crowned.
The judges decided the sisters fit neither category, so they were disqualified.
From a young age, Haley worked for her family’s clothing business and eventually earned an accounting degree from Clemson University. She was elected to the state House in 2004.
In 2009, she said she was running for governor, and prevailed despite lingering biases. A Republican state senator at the time called her a “raghead” on a radio show. A Democratic state representative said voters did not consider her a minority, but more of a “nice conservative with a tan.”
Haley, a nimble campaigner who is equally at home among CEOs and denim-clad bikers, easily won re-election in 2014, after arguing that her maintenance of South Carolina’s anti-union, low-regulation atmosphere had been the key to an economic comeback. She opposed efforts by Boeing’s biggest union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, to organize workers at Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner assembly plant in North Charleston.
Under her leadership, the state continued a trend of looking beyond its boundaries — and very often abroad — to attract new industries to replace a fading textile industry.
Michelin, Bridgestone, Continental, Trelleborg and Giti Tire all have announced new or expanded operations in recent years, bolstering South Carolina’s reputation as the nation’s tire capital.
Her trips abroad to lure jobs included a 2015 trip to Sweden, which was followed weeks later by an announcement that Volvo would build its first U.S. auto plant in South Carolina in exchange for more than $200 million in state incentives.