The former governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, arrives at the Iowa caucuses, the first date on the primary electoral calendar, with options of finishing second in the Republican Party. Reinforced by its good performances in the five debates held, by the financial influx of donors in the last quarter of last year and by the early withdrawal of Chris Christie from the electoral race, for the first time the polls gave him victory this Thursday against Ron DeSantis in the midwestern state, with 20% of voting intention, compared to 13% for the governor of Florida.

Haley has a very difficult time beating former President Donald Trump, in whose administration she served as US ambassador to the UN. But in the hypothetical case that he wins the Republican nomination for the White House, the polls do give him a chance of beating Joe Biden, the most unpopular president at this point since there have been polls and the oldest in history if he achieves the nomination. re-election in November.

With a less radical and more conciliatory speech than Trump and DeSantis, although equally very conservative, he represents an alternative for more moderate Republican voters. She is the only woman candidate to lead this country governed by men: all the presidents have been and 72% of the congressmen, 77% of the governors and six of the nine judges of the Supreme Court are.

The daughter of Indian immigrants, she was the first female governor of South Carolina and is the first non-white candidate in the history of the Republican Party. But Haley shies away from using her gender and ancestry as political arguments. According to her, “the glass ceiling does not exist” and identity politics only generate division and “self-hatred”, since “the US is not a racist country,” she said in a speech last March, a month after the announcement of his candidacy.

Although he is still fifty points behind Trump in the polls, it would be advisable not to call it a day. The election year is usually a long-distance race and it would not be the first time that Haley has come back from an election with everything against her. At 51 years old, in the November elections she will celebrate her twentieth anniversary in politics, almost half her life holding elected office and defending a conservative economic and social vision.

In her memoir (Impossible is not an option) published in 2012, she explains how, in her first electoral campaign for the South Carolina House of Representatives, in 2004, she was discarded “because she was a woman, because she was Indian and because was young”. With an underfunded but aggressive campaign, she managed to unseat Larry Koon, who had been representing his Lexington County district for 29 years.

After that initial and early victory, at the age of 32, she was re-elected twice to the state Congress, and during her third term, in 2009, she presented her candidacy for governor. In that campaign, she narrowly beat the Democratic candidate, Vincent Sheheen, and she became the youngest governor at the time. Four years later, she revalidated the position with a lead of 14 points.

Her time as governor coincided with the Charleston (South Carolina) massacre, in which a white supremacist murdered nine African Americans in a church. Haley responded to the shooting with a brave act: she removed the Confederate flag from the state Capitol, where it had been flying for more than half a century as a symbol of the Civil War, slavery and racial segregation in the southern United States.

The same year, in 2015, when Trump announced his first candidacy for the White House, Haley harshly criticized him and endorsed Marco Rubio: “Do not follow the siren song of angry voices,” she said of the then candidate in the months before the elections. “Trump is everything a governor wouldn’t want as president,” she went on to say, insisting that his words were “irresponsible” and “he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

A year later, his speech changed diametrically: when Trump won the Republican primaries, he supported him unequivocally. And when the magnate defeated Hillary Clinton in the November elections and became president, it only took him two weeks to offer her a prized position in his administration – US ambassador to the UN – which he said he accepted for his ” sense of duty”.

Already at the UN, his relationship with the then president was good. He followed the isolationist line of his government and did not rebel, despite his differences with Trump. “I think Haley understood, in an almost visceral way, the importance of maintaining a good relationship with the former president,” Thomas Shannon, who was acting secretary of state in 2017, told The New York Times. battles with Trump.”

Haley is exploiting her experience as an ambassador during the current campaign. Aware of the role of the United States in the world, she stands out from the other candidates in her defense of additional aid to Ukraine to confront Russia, unpopular among Republicans, and defends Israel tooth and nail in Gaza, although is critical of its policy of forced population displacement.

“When I was at the UN, I fought every day for Israel,” he said in his face-to-face with DeSantis, this Wednesday on CNN: “a two-state solution is not possible because, every time Israel has tried to negotiate it, the Palestinians they didn’t want to.”

In her books and statements, Haley says that her main inspiration is Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom between 1979 and 1990. “I think the US needs an Iron Lady more than ever,” she said, using the nickname the British policy that promoted neoliberalism in the European country. “This country needs someone who will tell the truth and be able to make the tough decisions,” she reiterated in a campaign speech in July in New Hampshire. Her result in that state, the next to hold primaries, will determine her chances, for now few, of competing with Trump to become the American Iron Lady.