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Column: Nikki Haley faces a "Trump-hill" battle this election season

Presidential Candidate Nikki Haley waves are she arrives to deliver remarks during the 2023 Conservative Political Action Conference at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center on Friday, March 3, 2023, in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo Courtesy of Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS.

Content warning: This article contains mention of assault.




Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador under former President Donald Trump, formally announced her bid for the 2024 presidential election on Feb. 15. 

Trump is notorious for criticizing those who don’t agree with him — especially women — but where does Haley fall? 

She is, so far, the only official Republican challenger to Trump and has maintained a balance between praising the former president and offering criticism to appeal to more moderate Republicans. But who is to say he won’t use the same tactics against Haley as he did against previous presidential candidates such as Hillary Clinton and now-Vice President Kamala Harris?

Haley has a long road ahead of her, not just because of the difficulties of running a presidential campaign, but because she is a woman running for president against Trump.

Clinton’s 2016 presidential nomination was an important moment in history, as she was the first female presidential candidate to represent a major political party. But her campaign was marred by sexist comments made by the media and the Republican Party nominee, Trump. Media and voters' focus on her gender increased after Trump accused Clinton of “playing the woman card.” Comments of this nature did not end there.

In politics, as well as many other spheres of American life, women constantly face attacks on their personalities, vulnerabilities, clothing choices and actions – far more than their male counterparts.

During the 2016 presidential election, there was obsession over Clinton’s “shrill” voice, her “witchlike” laugh, her marriage and her alleged lack of stamina, which former president Trump commented on:

"She doesn't have the look," he said. "She doesn't have the stamina. I said she doesn't have the stamina, and I don't believe she does have the stamina."

Clinton is not the only woman to face these comments.

Vice President Harris became the first woman of color to take the presidential debate stage as a member of a major party ticket. The morning after the debate, Trump labeled her as “totally unlikable” and a “communist.” He then, twice, referred to her as “this monster.” A member of the Trump campaign’s advisory board also called her an “insufferable lying bitch.”

An extremely destructive tactic used to attack Harris during her presidential run was the claim that she — a former San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general and a U.S. senator — slept her way into these jobs.

Steve Baldwin, a former California State Assembly member, posted to Facebook in 2020 regarding Harris and Willie Brown, the former minority leader of the California State Assembly and former mayor of San Francisco: “Willie launched her career because she was having sex with him. The idea that she is an ‘independent’ woman who worked her way up the political ladder because she worked hard is baloney. She slept her way into powerful jobs.”

Harris did date Brown, and he did appoint her to two state boards. But by the time Harris ran for her first elected office, their relationship had been over for around eight years. This line of attack was used against her during her campaign for district attorney in 2003, and then again during her presidential bid in 2020.

During a campaign rally in New Hampshire, when Trump recognized that a 2020 Democratic victory could possibly lead to Harris becoming the first female president, he said, “I don’t want to see a woman president get in to that position the way she’d do it, and she is not competent.” 

Trump labeled Harris as “nasty” after President Joe Biden announced her as his vice presidential running mate for the 2020 election. Trump also called her a “madwoman,” “condescending” and “angry” to a Fox News interviewer during the 2020 campaign.

But even before Trump arose in the political scene, he made several offensive and outright sexist comments, including the 2005 Access Hollywood tape where he talks about grabbing women "by the pussy.”

Trump is notorious for making comments about women with whom he disagrees and agrees with. Here are some of the most notable:

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  • About former Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina: "Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?"
  • About Senator Elizabeth Warren: "Goofy Elizabeth Warren, one of the least productive U.S. Senators, has a nasty mouth."
  • About journalist Megyn Kelly: "You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her... wherever."
  • About E. Jean Carroll, who accused Trump of assault: "Number 1, she's not my type. Number 2, it never happened. It never happened, OK?"
  • And about his daughter, Ivanka Trump: "She does have a very nice figure. I've said if Ivanka weren't my daughter perhaps I'd be dating her."

Trump clearly has a history of talking about any prominent powerful woman in the most demeaning way, mocking their success, commenting on their body and attractiveness and criticizing their every move. 

So where does that leave Haley, a powerful and prominent female challenger for the Republican presidential nomination? Unfortunately, especially given his track record, I don’t believe she is immune to this sort of behavior from Trump, and other politicians, in the 2024 presidential election.

Inevitably, comments from prominent political figures will swarm media outlets as the 2024 election approaches. Recognizing that women experience a disproportionate amount of hatred and criticism is crucial to analyze candidates critically and to avoid falling into the pitfalls of bias. Realizing this allows us to ultimately make decisions for ourselves, rather than perpetuate a system that disenfranchises women.

Haley might not be your candidate of choice. Just make sure that's because of her policy proposals, not the sexist criticisms of her competitors.