Helton: 20 Out Of 20: Nikki Haley could be the first female president

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U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley attends Mike Pompeo's confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 12, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Elijah Helton, Columnist

Updated:

The governor-turned-ambassador is carving out a foothold in the GOP and Oval Office, but can she beat out Trump?

Nikki Haley has quite the origin story. She is a first-generation Indian-American with Sikh parents. She has a stoutly conservative record as governor of South Carolina. She is now widely respected as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. And she just might be the next president.

Is she going to run?

Haley has been building her political résumé for more than a decade. When she was still in her 30s, she became the first female governor of South Carolina, and before that, she served in the Republican leadership in the state Legislature. And now — even without enthusiastic support for President Donald Trump — the 46-year-old is in the Cabinet as the country’s ambassador to the U.N.

Someone that ambitious and successful has at least thought about running for president. If she were to run in 2020, the biggest obstacle she’d face is Trump for the GOP nomination. Of course, she could just wait until 2024 to be either Trump’s successor or the incumbent Democrat’s challenger, but where’s the fun in that?

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Is she going to be nominated?

This would require an electoral victory that has never been accomplished in all of American history: beat a sitting president for their party’s nomination. Perhaps the best situation for a Haley nomination is if Trump resigns or is removed from office ahead of the 2020 election. But because that seems exceedingly unlikely at the present, it can be assumed she’d be running against The Donald himself.

Just like many other sectors of the current administration, the State Department in which the ambassador serves has been on edge recently. Miscommunication about Russian sanctions and the president jokingly musing about firing Haley may just be harbingers for what is to come. Haley has criticized Trump’s positions before, and as a staunch conservative, she’s been straddling the line between the Never Trump and MAGA crowds since assuming her post at the U.N.

In a timeline in which the president’s popularity crumbles in a similar fashion to what happened to Richard Nixon, Haley might just be able to persuade enough of her fellow Republicans to switch their allegiance to her. Is it unlikely? Yes, but because of her position in the middle of the party, the ambassador is probably the GOP’s best bet in 2020 who isn’t named Trump.

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Is she going to be elected?

Given her historic primary election win, Haley looks like a strong presidential candidate. She would have be the chance to become the first female president of the United States, mirroring Margaret Thatcher of the UK and Angela Merkel of Germany as a right-of-center, glass-ceiling-shattering woman. She could win over a lot of moderate female voters who reject the misogynistic rhetoric of Trump while reinforcing the stance that female empowerment is not exclusive to Democrats.

While at the U.N., Haley has established herself as a tough talker and negotiator. Unlike the president, she has been critical of Russian activities, pleasing Democrats and hawkish Republicans alike. She has also earned recent praise for declaring, “I don’t get confused,” in response to being talked down to by a colleague in the administration.

In a Quinnipiac Poll released April 25, not only did 63 percent of voters say they approve of Haley’s job performance, 55 percent of Democrats also approve. This could be in large part because of her defiance of the president and her antagonistic approach to Russia, but at least it shows a lowered guard by the opposition.

If Haley can manage to win nomination, she’d have a real chance come November 2020.

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