Nikki Haley Should Not Be Criticized—or Praised—for Her Gender or Ethnicity | Opinion

Any candidate offering themselves to lead our nation should expect harsh scrutiny, and everything seems like fair game in modern campaigns. Candidates once expected the media and voters to respect personal matters as out of bounds, but that zone of privacy shrinks smaller and smaller with each campaign—especially as candidates share more and more personal information via social media. Candidates, professional athletes, and actors who willingly pursue lucrative, prestigious, or powerful careers should spare us the crocodile tears about how they prefer the protection from criticism they enjoyed before achieving success. Still, Nikki Haley should not be criticized or praised for being an Indian-American woman running for president; the fact she was born female and to Indian immigrants is not the most important thing to know about her.

Liberals reduce Haley's candidacy to the candidate's gender and ethnicity—unsurprising given their obsession with identity politics. Conservatives should avoid falling into this same trap. While liberals praise themselves for supporting the precedent-breaking ascendancy of various gender, sexual, and ethnic minorities into positions of authority, their hypocrisy comes through when the minority breaking the glass ceiling evinces conservative views. Liberals denounce conservatives who reject claims of systemic bias as self-serving bigots, but direct even more intense fire at conservative minorities, whom they deem self-hating frauds who aspire to sneak into positions of privilege by betraying their groups.

Liberals who thought voters should elect Hillary Clinton president because previous officeholders were male—and then criticized the electorate as sexist for failing to do so—are horrified at the possibility Haley could be the first female president. Their predecessors stopped George W. Bush from putting Miguel Estrada on the Appeals Court for the D.C. Circuit, fearing he would eventually become the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice. CNN's Don Lemon criticized Haley's proposal for mental competency tests for older politicians—a barb aimed at Joe Biden and Donald Trump—by saying, "Nikki Haley isn't in her prime, sorry. A woman is considered to be in her prime in her 20s and 30s and maybe 40s." Liberal activists condemned his comments as sexist, but had Haley shared their liberal views, they would be arguing the only just outcome would be to cancel the election and give her the job.

Liberals who thought voters should elect Barack Obama because his predecessors were white and to prove America was no longer racist—and then complained his victory was not evidence against systemic racism—reject Haley as not really being a minority. Multiple liberal media figures have even criticized her for going by her middle name, which they falsely assume was anglicized.

Nikki Haley gives speech
MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE - FEBRUARY 17: Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign event in the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College on February 17, 2023 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Former South Carolina Governor and United Nations ambassador Haley began her presidential campaign after announcing her candidacy this week. She is the first Republican candidate to announce her challenge against former U.S. President Donald Trump. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Liberals are not the only ones indulging in race- and gender-based attacks. Ann Coulter asked why Haley, a South Carolina native, wasn't going "back to your own country." Haley, facing a no-win dilemma, countered pre-campaign criticisms about her name, but brushed off more recent comments by Lemon and Coulter.

These attacks only benefit Haley's campaign in the short term, as the national media attention improves her name recognition and gives reporters and voters a reason to keep discussing her candidacy. Trump's election proved the incredible power of free earned media attention, especially in a presidential election governed by saturation coverage. However, reducing Haley's candidacy to her gender and ethnicity limits her ability to transcend those categories and build a broader coalition. Running as a female minority candidate blesses her with a higher floor than other candidates struggling to differentiate themselves, but could also condemn her with a lower ceiling if voters don't get the chance to examine her credentials and ideas.

Haley's gender and race should not define her or cause her to be treated differently. Some pundits place her in "top tier" status, and predict she is guaranteed at least a cabinet position or the vice presidency for the sake of diversity. Others summarily dismiss her candidacy, projecting their own biases onto Republican voters. Haley will be asked by reporters for "special insights" into the Republican stance against illegal immigration, supported by donors and voters who like the idea of someone other than a white male leading the party, and pushed by ethnic media and voters to take geopolitical positions on India. The fate of Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign proved presidential campaigns are about more than resumes and bullet-point policies; voters want candidates to inspire them, empathize with them, and show they genuinely care about their concerns. Bill Clinton and Obama spoke eloquently of absent fathers and overcoming obstacles as qualifications for higher office, and some voters will similarly be inspired by Haley's biography.

Haley is a former two-term governor and U.N. ambassador with ideas about America's future that deserve to be debated. It is fair game to question her statements on Trump and rationale for running. Liberals and conservatives should treat her like other candidates; they should support and criticize her for her experience, policies, and competence. Haley is also the daughter of immigrants, who came searching for the American dream and a better quality of life for their children. She inspires conservative support and liberal ire because she talks insistently and optimistically about the opportunities and liberties uniquely available in America, sees the nation as a power for good, and believes limited government is a prerequisite for those attributes. No one should write her off as the "Indian American" candidate; she is simply and fully American.

Bobby Jindal (@BobbyJindal) was the governor of Louisiana from 2008-2016 and a candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.