Q & A: Nikki Haley on Faith, the 'War on Women,' and Why She Would Say No to VP
You have written that your opponents "wouldn't be satisfied unless I said my parents were going to hell or that the way they lived their life was wrong. I wasn't about to do that and I never will." Do you hope at some point that your parents will convert to Christianity?
What I hope is that my parents do what's right for them. My brother and I have converted to Christianity and my other brother and sister are still Sikh. So for me it's not something that I ever want to be judgmental on. I know my parents are two people of a very strong faith. I respect all that they've done in raising their four kids and in the opportunities that they've given us. So no, I would never push that on them, because I wouldn't want them to take that as me saying that the way they raised us was wrong.
You wrote, "My conversion and my walk with God as a Christian remains intensely personal to me—I will probably never be one of those politicians who sprinkles biblical passages in every speech. Mind you, I have no objection to those who do." Do you have specific policy stances because of your faith?
I've always felt like there are certain politicians that wear their religion on their sleeve in a way that you almost feel is disingenuous. I think that your faith has to be first personal. I struggle with those people that preach something and go back behind closed doors and live differently. You see that a lot in politics—they will go out and talk about what they believe in, and then they go behind closed doors and they do things to hurt people. It's not what you say, it's what you do. And that's really what I believe. I always say that our faith does play out. My husband was adopted and we had difficulty having both of my children, so we know the gift that life is. We do believe marriage is between a man and a woman. It's how you stand on that kind of thing or how you vote that really makes a difference.
Some have said that you downplay your Christian faith. And Time magazine recently asked if you would give a bigger tip to a Sikh cabdriver.
It shows that ignorance comes in many different types. Were those things offensive? Of course. But I never played down my background. It's the reason I start every speech by saying, "I'm the proud daughter of Indian parents who reminded us every day how blessed we are to live in this country." This is the great American story. Everything that has happened to me in my life has defined who I am, and all of the things leading up to being governor, that all came from overcoming challenges in childhood and overcoming challenges as I got older. When you have God, you quickly understand there's nothing you can't overcome.
You told Stephen Colbert you wear high heels as ammunition. Do you feel female politicians face negative perceptions among Christian voters? Are there specific perceptions women face?
When I was running, everybody told me why I shouldn't: "You're too young; you've got small children; you don't have time for that; you should start at school boards." There will always be naysayers and there will always be people that try and stop you from going forward. I was so surprised at the number of people that said, after seeing what I went through, that they would never go into politics. That was the total opposite of what I wanted people to take from my story. I wanted them to understand that this is why we need real people to run; this is why we need more women to run. I would say it's not that women have a harder time; it's just that we don't have enough women running.