The youngest governor in America, the first female and first minority governor of South Carolina, and the 29th United States ambassador to the United Nations are just some among Nikki Haley’s many accolades in her accomplished career. After resigning from her position as ambassador to the UN, the question on so many of our minds is, what is next for this important political figure from our state?
We at CMM appreciated the McMasters’ gracious hospitality to catch up with the former governor and UN ambassador in the study of the Governor’s Mansion this fall, where I asked her about growing up in Bamberg, her perspective on current events, and what she sees in her career’s future.
In your opinion, what makes the people of South Carolina so great?
I think the people of South Carolina have a strength and a grace. We have seen that so many times. We saw it with Mother Emmanuel. We saw it through the thousand-year flood. We have seen it through multiple hurricanes. There’s strength and resilience to move on but also the grace to do it in a way that exemplifies what true goodness is.
What are South Carolina’s greatest strengths, and how should it position itself for future economic growth? How do you think we are an asset to our country as a whole?
South Carolina’s people are our biggest strength. They are flexible and have an ability to learn new skills. We see that in the way they build planes, cars, and tires. We also know South Carolina is a strength to the country because it’s a massive military state. It’s a state where, when I left as governor, we were the number two place in the country where people were moving. We are the friendliest state in the country. We are the most patriotic state in the country. Each South Carolinian is an ambassador for our state, and I think that’s always good for America.
What do you think are South Carolina’s greatest weaknesses, and how should it address and overcome them?
Education. When I was governor, we focused on making sure all our students could read by the third grade and that children who could not would not go on to the fourth grade. We did that because students who can’t read by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. We have made progress, but there’s so much more we can still do. We must keep working to make sure our curriculum and education is right for South Carolinians of the future and not for South Carolinians of the past. Making sure they have the right skills and trades to have a good quality of life is going to continue to be important.
How does your perspective as the daughter of Indian immigrants shape your political opinions?
I think that my parents understood the blessings of America. They loved that only in this country could you do and be anything you wanted and the government would stay out of the way. And I think that’s why I want every child to get the best education regardless of where they are born and raised. I want every person to be able to succeed without being classed or restricted in any way. I want South Carolina to see it has a better future ahead. I saw the dream through my parents’ eyes.
How did your upbringing prepare you for who you are today and what you have accomplished?
I grew up in the small town of Bamberg: 2,500 people, two stoplights, and we were the only Indian family. They didn’t know who we were, what we were, or why we were there. My father wore a turban (he still does to this day), and my mother wore a sari. And I remember when I would get teased on the playground, I would come home and my mom would say, “Your job is not to show how you are different. Your job is to show how you are similar.”
It’s amazing how that lesson on the playground played out throughout my life. Whether it was in the corporate world, as governor, or as ambassador — when you first talk about things you agree on, people can let their guard down. Then you take on the challenge, and they are more likely to listen. So, it is amazing how that lesson as a 5-year-old girl not only made me stronger but also taught me how to communicate better.
Tell me about The Original Six Foundation — how did the idea originate, and how is it different from other educational initiatives out there?
Growing up in a rural town, we didn’t know what we didn’t have. I have a great love for the rural areas of South Carolina. I think that they don’t always get the attention that they should, and I have long believed that every child deserves a good education regardless of where they are born and raised. We started The Original Six Foundation to reach those challenged areas of South Carolina and lift those kids up in a way that they know they are special and meant for great things.
Your readers can learn more at OriginalSixFoundation.org, but in rural areas throughout the state, the O6 Foundation has after-school programs. We hire certified teachers, we help with homework and studying, we raise grade point averages, we do summer camps, we do reading programs, and now we have started scholarships for kids who will be going to technical college. It’s really trying to give someone that extra lift. We are going to have an entire COVID generation where we are going to have to help them make up what was lost. You can’t just keep skipping them to the next year.
The best compliment I received was when I went to one of our after-school programs, and I asked one of the children why he liked it and he said, “Now I’m not scared to go in class anymore.” He said he now could understand everything and was doing well on his tests. That’s what we wanted — just to give them confidence because if they have confidence, we know from there they will rise to the challenge. There are a lot of kids in rural South Carolina who need to know that South Carolina believes in them.
Tell me about Stand for America — what are the most important issues you are addressing?
I love policy — I love domestic policy, I love foreign policy. Stand for America is an organization that allows us to educate people on the policies that are important and current events. We send out emails that inform people about the things that they need to know for that day. People are busy, so we break down complex issues in a way that’s easy to read so you don’t have to work hard to understand them. We already have 2 million followers. It has just gone gangbusters. We would love for your readers to go to StandforAmerica.com to learn more.
What has been the greatest achievement of your political career?
I love that I’ve been able to serve the state that raised me and defend the country that I love so much. Scaling that down, I loved the ability of really selling South Carolina and bringing in businesses. I knew that if you could give a person a job, you could take care of a family.
From the UN side, I loved defending America. On the world stage, you see so many countries, and all of them want to be like us. And every day I saw how blessed we were to have the freedoms that we have in America. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to do and be anything you want to be. That’s an amazing blessing, and to be able to defend her was a highlight of my life.
Do you think American patriotism is dead?
No, I don’t think it’s dead. I think if ever there were a sign that it’s still alive and strong is through this crisis in Afghanistan. We have all seen Americans everywhere stand up and tell our veterans, “Your sacrifice mattered.” Americans have told every gold star family, “We won’t forget.”
American patriotism is strong because we believe in our freedoms, we believe in our veterans, and we know that we have to stay strong so that we can stay safe in the world. I think that we have seen patriotism start to come back, and I hope that we start to see it really shine.
What are your thoughts on the origin of the coronavirus — do you think it leaked from a Wuhan lab?
Until they prove to us that it didn’t, I will continue to be skeptical about the lab. What I learned from working with China is that they will never tell you the truth. And the idea that they have not had a good defense for this tells us everything we need to know.
Does the current administration have any polices that support small businesses?
What we are seeing with the Biden administration is a focus on heavy regulations, union support, and taxes on small businesses and middle-income families. What any administration needs to remember is that small businesses are 90 percent of our economy. So, the goal is to keep regulations down, make sure that you are supporting workers and not union bosses, and keep taxes low so that they can hire more people. You want to make sure you stay out of their way because when the government stays out of the way of small businesses, they become creative, innovative, and successful.
Especially in light of your foreign policy experience with the UN, what do you feel were President Biden’s biggest mistakes in withdrawing troops from Afghanistan?
They should have pulled out all the Americans first before pulling out any members of the military. And he never should have abandoned Bagram Air Force Base. This was a NATO hub and a place where intel activity happened, and he pulled out without telling our allies.
What do you think the long-term implications are for this in our foreign relations with other countries?
I think we look weak in the eyes of the world. I think that the rest of the world is questioning whether America has seen its best days and are thinking that we are not as much of an issue in holding them accountable. I saw at the UN that America was the moral authority — countries wanted to follow us. They didn’t want to follow Russia or China. They wanted to follow America because they knew America was always right on human rights, on morals, on freedoms. That’s not what they saw in Afghanistan.
Recognizing the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan and American troops abandoning Bagram Air Force Base in the middle of the night is not what they wanted to see, along with the fact that we left Americans over there who have no way of getting back to America. That goes against every moral fiber that America has, that we value life more than anything. So, the rest of the world is now questioning who we are and where we are going from here.
We currently have a small footprint in more than a dozen countries. We do that not so much as a military presence but as an intelligence presence to keep America safe at home. The idea that we no longer have an intelligence presence on the ground in Afghanistan means we won’t know if there are terrorist attacks being planned. We won’t know what’s going on with Al-Qaeda or the Taliban, whereas otherwise we would know. You always want to have a presence that holds other countries accountable. If they know you are there, they are less likely to launch threats around the world.
What do you think the United States’ geopolitical strategy should be in regards to China?
Do not trust China. For far too long, presidents — Republican and Democrat — thought that if we were nice to China, China would want to be like us. China does not want to be like us. They want to be communist China, and we have to change the way we treat them. They very much want to dominate the world in every aspect and are focused on getting that done. We have to make sure that we start to let them know that we are on to them, and we are not going to let them get away with it.
The question of the hour: are you going to run for president in 2024?
I don’t know. I don’t think I have to make that decision until the first part of 2023. So right now, I am all over the country campaigning for candidates running for House and Senate seats and in gubernatorial elections. My focus is making sure we put the best people in these positions so we can lead. The country is getting more complex, the world is getting less safe, and we need leaders. I want to do whatever I can to get the right leaders in the right places.
Why are you proud to be an American?
I’m so proud to be American because truly at the United Nations, I saw what so many people have to live with. And what I will continue to say to everyone is even on our worst day, we are blessed to live in America.