The Untold Truth Of Nikki Haley

It's no secret Nikki Haley has a reputation for breaking down political barriers. She made history in 2010 when she was elected as the first female governor of South Carolina, and in 2017, she drew national attention again when President Donald Trump gave her the job of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, making her the administration's first female appointment

Needless to say, Haley's knack for firsts (and controversy) has many people asking questions about her personal life and background. So, what's the story behind this outspoken Republican? Let's find out.

Hillary Clinton inspired her political career

Inspiration can arrive from unexpected sources. Case in point: in a 2012 interview with Vogue, Haley admitted that former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton motivated her to run for public office. Obviously, Haley's revelation raised some eyebrows. It's not every day that a staunch conservative gives props to an outspoken liberal.

The link makes perfect sense, however, when you consider that Haley and Clinton are both women trying to cut it in the male-dominated field of politics. Haley felt ready to take on the world after hearing Clinton speak at a local university in 2003. "[Clinton] said there will be all of these reasons that people tell you you can't do it," Haley recalled. "She said that there's only one reason for you to do it, and it's because you know it's the right thing. I walked out of there thinking, I've got to do this."

But does Haley still draw inspiration from Clinton? Haley told Vogue that Margaret Thatcher, Britain's first female prime minister, is her true muse. In fact, Haley doesn't seem too fond of Clinton these days. Following Clinton's skit at the 2018 Grammy Awards, Haley took to social media to slam the former first lady's performance, tweeting that Clinton "ruined" the show with her dramatic reading of Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff's controversial tell-all book about the Trump White House.

Her parents are immigrants

At a time when immigration reform is front and center in the Trump administration, Haley's background is particularly compelling. Her parents, Ajit Singh and Raj Kaur Randhawa, are immigrants who built a multi-million dollar empire in America. Of course, they didn't just stumble into their success. Before settling in the United States, the couple emigrated from India to Canada so Singh could pursue his Ph.D. Upon completing the program in 1969, Singh was offered the opportunity to teach biology at a college in South Carolina. Although he was excited about the gig, money was tight. Haley's sister, Simran Singh, claimed in a blog post that her parents moved to South Carolina with a meager "eight dollars in their pocket." 

Singh and Randhawa transformed their meager funds into a booming clothing company called Exotica International. After Haley graduated from Clemson University with a degree in accounting, she became the chief financial officer of her family's business. Although some might be blown away by her parents' triumphs, Haley isn't surprised one bit. "They loved the fact that only in America, we could be as successful as we wanted to be and nothing would stand in our way," she said (via Politico). "My parents started a business out of the living room of our home and, 30-plus years later, it was a multimillion dollar company."

She didn't always get along with Trump

It's pretty fair to say that Trump often, ahem, struggles to get along with people who oppose him. In fact, the president might want to consider renaming his 1987 book, The Art of the Deal, to The Art of the Burn, because he's quite skilled at slamming his adversaries on Twitter.

Haley was one of Trump's many targets before she landed the ambassador gig. When she admitted in October 2016 that she wasn't a fan of then-presidential candidate Trump, he went for the jugular in a March 2016 tweet (via NBC News). "The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley," Trump tweeted. Mere moments after Trump fired off his jab, Haley replied with a burn only a true Southerner could appreciate. "@realDonaldTrump Bless your heart," she tweeted.

It's not clear how Haley and Trump managed to squash their beef, but they clearly found some common ground ... for now. 

She claims she was physically abused as a child

Although Nikki Haley puts on a strong front, she has experienced plenty of hardships in her life. She opened up about some of these vulnerable and painful moments in a 2013 speech about reducing child abuse in South Carolina. Haley told the audience that she was physically abused as a child. The alleged abuse began after Haley's mother asked two neighbors to babysit her during work hours. "I never wanted to go," Haley recalled (via The State). "But she didn't know quite what it was and didn't think anything of it."

The warning signs became clear when Haley returned home one day with "a lot of bruises and a lot of issues," she recalled. Those neighbors "packed up and left" before they could be brought to justice, Haley wrote in her 2012 book, Can't Is Not an Option: My American Story. To this day, she said she can't walk by the couple's home without feeling ill. "Years later, when I walked by the trailer, I would still get a sick feeling in my stomach," she wrote. 

She was raised in the Sikh religion

Some people might be surprised to learn that Haley was raised in the Sikh religion before converting to Christianity at age 24. Sikhism originated in India and is the world's fifth largest religion, but Haley reportedly struggled to fully connect to the faith. When Haley met her husband, Michael Haley, she began attending church with him. She talked about that evolution with Christianity Today. "I felt my faith [Sikhism], and I felt the feelings, but I couldn't understand the language," Haley said, adding that attending church with her husband put her "strong belief that there was a Lord" into "words that I could understand." 

Don't assume Haley has abandoned Sikhism completely. Not only does she still attend Sikh services from time to time, but she remains proud of the way her parents raised her. She said her mom and dad "reminded us every day how blessed we were to live in this country." 

She was kicked out of a beauty pageant for being Indian

As an Indian American, Haley has experienced racism throughout her life, even as a child. According to a 2011 interview in The Atlantic, a 4-year-old Haley and her 8-year-old sister were kicked out of a beauty pageant in their hometown because the judges "were baffled over what to do with the two Indian American girls." The pageant typically crowned one white and one African American winner, the magazine reported. "At intermission, they called all the contestants on the stage: white girls on one side, black girls on the other, with the Haley sisters standing alone in the middle. The judges then announced that they had to disqualify the sisters, and handed each of them crayons and a coloring book. Before ushering them off the stage, they let Nikki sing the song she had prepared, 'This Land Is Your Land.'"

Haley confronted bigotry again in 2004 when she ran for a seat in the South Carolina House of Representatives against Republican incumbent Larry Koon. During the bitter campaign, fliers were distributed that allegedly referred to Haley as an "Indian female/Buddhist/housekeeper," reported Vogue.

She took a stand against the Confederate flag

Following the fatal shooting of nine African American worshippers at a church in Charleston, S.C. in June 2015, Nikki Haley decided to remove the Confederate flag from South Carolina's statehouse grounds. She felt compelled to make the change after a photo surfaced of the person responsible for the shootings, Dylann Roof, posing with a Confederate flag. According to CNN, Roof idolized the Confederacy in his manifestos and allegedly hoped his actions would spark a "race war." At a press conference shortly after the murders took place, Haley said (via CNN): "This flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state." 

Her decision was not without backlash. "No matter which way you look at it, that is history. That's Southern history, and she's a stupid idiot," constituent Tammi Lawton told ThinkProgress. Haley stood her ground, telling CNN that the flag "should have never been there" in the first place. "These grounds are a place that everybody should feel a part of. What I realized now more than ever is people were driving by and felt hurt and pain. No one should feel pain."

She took a dig at a young reporter

When you're in the public eye, it's a given there will be things you don't like written or said about you. Of course, some people deal with notoriety better than others. In Nikki Haley's case, her ability to rise above the fray was tested in September 2011, following the publication of an article questioning her July 2011 trip to Europe. The article's author, a then 25-year-old reporter named Renee Dudley, accused Haley of misusing "more than $127,000" of taxpayer money to enjoy "five-star hotels and sip cocktails at the Paris Ritz," according to The Post and CourierEssentially, Dudley insinuated that Haley misled South Carolinians about the intended purpose of the trip, which was supposedly to bring jobs to the state. 

Haley wasn't thrilled with Dudley's work. "All I will tell you is, God bless that little girl at The Post and Courier," she said during an appearance on Laura Ingraham's radio show (via HuffPost). "Her job is to create conflict, my job is to create jobs." Haley later apologized, sort of. "The story painted a grossly inaccurate picture and was unprofessionally done, but my 'little girl' comment was inappropriate and I regret that," she said in a statement (via The Post and Courier). "Everyone can have a bad day. I'll forgive her bad story, if she'll forgive my poor choice of words."

Her Fourth of July tweet sparked fireworks

It's safe to say no one particularly enjoys working holidays, but when you're a public servant, it often comes with the territory. Apparently, Haley didn't get that memo, as evidenced by a controversial tweet she posted on July 4, 2017. Amid escalating tensions with North Korea, Haley tweeted: "Spending my 4th in meetings all day. #ThanksNorthKorea."

Wait, what? Avoiding a potential nuclear war with North Korea should take precedence over a 4th of July barbecue, right? Many folks felt Haley's tweet was obnoxious and out of touch, noting that hard work is what she signed up for as U.N. ambassador. "This is your job 24/7 until you're out. You want a vacation? Quit. We need public servants. Serve or leave," tweeted Pete Forester, a writer for Esquire. "What job did you think you were signing up for, exactly?" said Clara Jeffries, editor-in-chief of Mother Jones.

She's been accused of fooling around with Trump

Nikki Haley has suffered through numerous attacks on her personal life over the years, but in January 2018, she faced one of the most difficult rumors of her political career following the publication of Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury

In interviews to promote the book, Wolff repeatedly drew attention to a particular passage about Haley allegedly spending lots of "private time" with Trump on Air Force One. "She had become a particular focus of Trump's attention, and he of hers," he wrote in the book. Although Wolff never claimed Haley and Trump were having an affair, people strongly suspect that the author insinuated it during an appearance on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher. When Maher asked Wolff who Trump is allegedly cheating with, Wolff responded: "You just have to read between the lines ... You'll know it. Now that I've told you, when you hit that paragraph, you're gonna say, 'Bingo.'"

Haley shot down that gossip during an appearance on Politico's podcast, "Women Rule." "It is absolutely not true," she said. "...I've noticed that if you speak your mind and you're strong about it and you say what you believe, there is a small percentage of people that resent that. And the way they deal with it is to try and throw arrows — lies or not — to diminish you."