Haley Walks Treacherous Road for G.O.P. Women
According to Nikki Haley, bullies are best subdued by a counter kick — in heels. Achieving a new vision for the country requires the leadership of a “tough-as-nails woman.” And generational change starts with putting a “badass woman in the White House.”
In ways both overt and subtle, Ms. Haley, the former United Nations ambassador and South Carolina governor, is setting up her 2024 presidential bid as the latest test of the Republican Party’s attitudes about female leaders. No woman has ever won a state Republican presidential primary, let alone the party’s nomination — and Ms. Haley is the first one to mount a bid since former President Donald J. Trump, who regularly attacked women in extraordinarily graphic and vulgar terms, rose to the head of the party.
The early days of Ms. Haley’s campaign, which she announced on Tuesday, quickly illustrated the challenges facing Republican women. For decades, female leaders in both parties have struggled with what political scientists call the double bind — the difficulty of proving one’s strength and competence, while meeting voters’ expectations of warmth, or of being “likable enough,” as former President Barack Obama once said of Hillary Clinton during a 2008 primary debate.
But for Republican women, that double bind comes with a twist. There are conservative voters who harbor traditional views about femininity while expecting their candidates to seem “tough.” Several strategists suggested Republican primary voters would have little patience if a female candidate were to level accusations of sexism toward another Republican. And Mr. Trump, who remains a powerful figure in the party and is running again, has already attacked Ms. Haley with criticism some view as gendered.
Even before she entered the race, Mr. Trump dismissed Ms. Haley as “overly ambitious,” which struck some observers as sexist.And soon after her official announcement, he suggested her appointment as U.N. ambassador was less a reflection of her credentials than of his desire to see her male lieutenant governor take over as governor. She also confronted a male CNN anchor, who asserted that Ms. Haley and women her age — 51, decades younger than Mr. Trump or President Biden — were past their “prime.”
Ms. Haley, who could be joined by other female contenders, including Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota, is operating within a G.O.P. that has often dismissed debate about identity as the purview of the left, and has, in many corners, increasingly lambasted discussions of gender and race as “wokeness.”
During her campaign trail debut this past week, Ms. Haley played into this trend, promoting a country that is “strong and proud, not weak and woke.” And while she winked at the history-making potential of her candidacy — “I will simply say this: May the best woman win” — she was quick to distance herself from “identity politics.”
“I don’t believe in that. And I don’t believe in glass ceilings, either. I believe in creating a country where anyone can do anything,” she said Wednesday while campaigning in Charleston, S.C.