Nikki Haley Has Written Three Books. Here Are Five Takeaways.


If you plan to run for president, they say, write a book. Nikki Haley has written three.

The first book, “Can’t Is Not an Option” (Sentinel, 2012), captures her upbringing in Bamberg, S.C., as one of four children in the only Indian American family in town. It also traces her ascent into politics, from a little-known state lawmaker to the first woman and first person of color to serve as South Carolina’s governor.

She published her second, “With All Due Respect” (St. Martin’s Press), in 2019 after she left her post as ambassador to the United Nations in President Donald J. Trump’s administration. The 272-page memoir, released in a media blitz in which she echoed White House talking points against Mr. Trump’s first impeachment and defended his character, follows her transformation from governor to diplomat. And her 2022 collection of essays, “If You Want Something Done” (St. Martin’s Press), whose title comes from a Margaret Thatcher line she has deployed on the national debate stage, details the lives of pioneering women.

Like all memoirs, Ms. Haley’s books tell a carefully curated story, skipping over controversies that would cast her in a less positive light. Here are a few things we learned from them.

Ms. Haley often says that she was born and raised in a rural town of 2,500 people and two stoplights, but she says little on the campaign trail about her heritage.

Her mother and father, Raj and Ajit Randhawa, are from the Punjab region of India and left a life of affluence and comfort to come to the United States.

Ms. Randhawa, who lost her own father at a young age, was raised “in a six-story house in the shadow of the Golden Temple, the holiest site of the Sikh religion, to which she belongs,” Ms. Haley writes in “Can’t Is Not an Option.” Ms. Haley’s mother had attendants for her every need, including hauling her books to class, and earned a law degree when many Indian girls did not finish high school.

Mr. Randhawa, the son of an officer in the British colonial army, grew up living with his uncle because of his father’s frequent transfers around India. He, too, is Sikh and is highly educated: He earned his doctorate at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and became a biology professor at Voorhees College, a historically Black school in Denmark, S.C.

When Ms. Haley landed her first job out of college in 1994 as an accounting supervisor for a recycling company and five of its subsidiaries, she walked into her first corporate board meeting to find “a conference table full of men,” she wrote in “Can’t Is Not an Option.”

She was an executive — the first female executive the business had hired — but that did not stop one of her colleagues from asking her to fetch a cup of coffee for someone else. Stunned, she picked up the phone and called her secretary.

“‘Pam,’ I said, ‘would you please get Paul a cup of coffee?’” she wrote, adding that her response was “instinctive” and “right.”

The power move briefly hushed the others in the room, she recalled.

“From then on, my colleagues treated me as an equal,” she said.

The anecdote foreshadowed her instincts and assertiveness as a politician — and her poise when her gender sets her apart. On the presidential campaign trail, she frequently refers to her rivals, all men, as “the fellas,” particularly as she tries to parry their attacks on her.

Ms. Haley has drawn criticism for downplaying the role of racism in the nation’s history while campaigning before a largely white Republican primary base. She has insisted that the United States “has never been a racist country,” and initially failed to mention slavery when a voter asked her about the causes of the Civil War.

But her first two books make clear that Ms. Haley is intimately familiar with prejudice, having experienced racism and sexism in Bamberg and beyond.

As children, she and her older sister were entered into the Little Miss Bamberg pageant, only to be disqualified because its judges had historically named only one white winner and one Black winner, and they were neither. (Her consolation gift was a beach ball.)

At restaurants and stores, she recalled, patrons would sometimes stare or whisper and point at her father, who wore a turban and, unlike many Sikh men in the United States, did not cut his hair. During a road trip to Columbia, S.C., the owners of a fruit stand reported her father to the police. “We got back in the car in silence,” she wrote in “With All Due Respect.”

And when she first ran for office, top consultants assessed her attractiveness during her bid for state lawmaker and called into question whether a 31-year-old woman — and an Indian American at that — could be a viable candidate. As she lagged in fund-raising and trailed in the polls, she was also barraged with ugly, racist attacks.

Those experiences informed her efforts to persuade lawmakers to take down the Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina Statehouse in 2015, after a white supremacist shot and killed nine Black parishioners at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston.

But she also drew on her family’s immigration story to blunt criticism as she supported hard-line immigration laws, pushed back on pleas from Black legislators to diversify her administration and emphasized the nation’s progress over its past racial struggles.

“I used to pass that same fruit stand traveling in and out of Columbia when I was an adult and in government,” she wrote in “With All Due Respect.” “Each time, I remembered my father’s pain and embarrassment. But more important, I realized that the same thing would never happen today. South Carolina is a different place. My story is proof of that.”

Ms. Haley supported Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, in the 2016 presidential primary. Mr. Trump’s rhetoric turned her off, she wrote in “With All Due Respect,” even as her own mother became a Trump supporter and as the Republican Party seemed to be clearly veering further right.

Mr. Trump’s tone and language during the 2016 contest “took me back to the Mother Emanuel murders,” she wrote.

“Trump was touching raw nerves,” she added. “The more he did so, the more I worried that some deranged person might react with violence.”

But she eventually came around on Mr. Trump.

Their relationship goes back years. When Ms. Haley first clinched the 2010 Republican nomination for South Carolina governor’s race, Mr. Trump mailed her “a campaign contribution in a gold-trimmed envelope,” she wrote in “With All Due Respect.”

Describing her stint as U.N. ambassador, Ms. Haley suggested that Mr. Trump sometimes changed course based on her counsel. (Interviews with more than a dozen former senior administration officials suggest that she weighed her battles carefully.)

At times, she praised Mr. Trump and did not criticize him. But she did take shots at two members of his administration who fell out of his favor, and with whom she had clashed: John F. Kelly, the former chief of staff, and Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state.

Ms. Haley met Bill Haley when she was an undergraduate at Clemson University in South Carolina and he was attending Anderson University nearby. An Ohio native, he had grown up in a foster home and knew how to make her laugh. The two hit it off and eventually started dating. That is when she asked him what his full name was, she wrote in “Can’t Is Not an Option.”

“William Michael,” he told her. But Mr. Haley looked more like a Michael, she wrote, and from then on, she and all of her friends started calling him that.

“When he transferred to Clemson his sophomore year, my friends became his friends, and before we knew it, he was universally known as Michael,” she said.



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