Since she became the first female minority governor of South Carolina six years ago, Nikki Haley has been on the shortlist of Republican state officials with possible national futures.
But few of those GOP operatives could have expected Haley's ascension to work out this way: She will be joining the administration of a politician she once said is “everything a governor doesn't want in a president.”
President-elect Donald Trump plans to nominate her to be his ambassador to the United Nations, one of the most senior and high-profile foreign policy positions in the United States. Haley is the first woman and the first minority Trump has chosen for his administration.
Here's what you need to know about her:
The Basics: Governor of South Carolina since 2010, reelected in 2014, term-limited in 2018.
She has made a lot of firsts: She's the first woman to serve as South Carolina's governor. She's also the first Indian American to serve as the state's governor (and only the second in the United States, after Louisiana's Bobby Jindal.) At 44, she's the youngest current governor.
Since she came into office, there has been presidential buzz: The Fix's Chris Cillizza wrote that when Haley was elected governor in 2010, “every Republican I knew told me that she would be on every GOP presidential candidate's VP shortlist in 2012 and could even be a potential front-runner in her own right for the 2016 presidential nomination.”
It didn't work out that way. She struggled to gain a foothold in South Carolina's (mostly white, male-dominated) state legislature. And in 2012, her administration suffered a major hacking scandal when millions of residents' private data was stolen from the state's Revenue Department.
The Confederate flag debate was her breakout moment: Recall that after the racially motivated church shooting in Charleston in June 2015, the debate in the country quickly shifted to the Confederate flag's role in state government. South Carolina was one of several Southern states still flying the flag on state property.
Haley, sensing public opinion was turning against the notion of keeping the flag flying, called for it to be removed on statehouse grounds, eloquently demanding the legislature take action.
“On matters of race, South Carolina has had a tough history; we all know that. Many of us have seen it in our lives, in the lives of our parents and grandparents. We don't need reminders,” she said.
After a strikingly blunt debate, the flag came down.
“The flag coming down was a moment that I felt like needed to happen,” she said afterward, later telling The Washington Post's Abby Phillip that she has two teenage children and that “I just couldn’t look them in the face and keep that flag up.”
Haley got elected in 2010 as a tea party reformer: But she has since been viewed as part of the GOP establishment. She endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for president. After Rubio dropped out, she endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).
Her relationship with Trump has been contentious: In January, Haley delivered the Republican response to President Obama's final State of the Union address, and, without mentioning Trump by name, appeared to criticize him and his candidacy: “During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices.”
In response, Trump said Haley was “weak” on immigration.
A month later, during the South Carolina primary (which Trump won), Haley described Trump as “everything a governor doesn't want in a president.”
In March, Trump went after her again:
The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 1, 2016
To which Haley responded:
As it became clear Trump would win the primary, Haley's name was floated as a potential vice-presidential candidate. It was a position Haley said she didn't want: “My plate is full and I am not interested in serving as vice president.”
Haley did tepidly support Trump in the general election, although she said she was “not a fan.”
Her background is always part of her narrative: Haley grew up in a tiny South Carolina town with two main roads. When she was growing up, she couldn't compete in beauty pageants, which were for either black or white kids. Haley has tried to avoid making too much of her immigrant background, but it was an unavoidable story, especially during the Confederate flag debate.
“To be a minority female governor leading this charge, I don’t look at the boxes that I am,” Haley told The Post's Phillip after attending a funeral for one of the Charleston victims. “I look at the fact that I’m a wife and a mother and a governor who loves this state, that refuses to let it break and refuses to let it fall apart over a flag.”
She has virtually no foreign policy experience: Her views on foreign policy and the military tend to fall in line with hawkish Republicans.
If confirmed by the Senate, she will join a distinguished list: Former U.N. ambassadors include Adlai Stevenson II, George H.W. Bush and Madeleine Albright.