A Conversation with the Son of Presidential Candidate Nikki Haley

Cate McCusker, Senior Editor

Last week, Republican Nikki Haley, former South Carolina Governor and U.N. Ambassador, announced her 2024 presidential campaign.

On Presidents’ Day, The Villanovan spoke to Villanova junior Nalin Haley, the son of Nikki Haley, to talk about what it’s like to have a parent run for president.

Unsurprisingly, Haley is a political science major at Villanova, but he says he would have chosen that major even if his mom didn’t work in politics.

Haley went to high school in New York, while his mom worked at the UN, and now he lives in Columbia, South Carolina. He explained that growing up with a high profile politician parent was, well, different.

“It was definitely weird, because there’s a lot of kids that will definitely try to get stuff out of you,” he explained. “You always have to, like, look out for who to trust….But I mean, for the most part, I feel like I’ve lived a pretty normal childhood, as normal as it could get.”

Haley explained that he likes to keep a small circle, and he values the friends that just see him as himself.

“A lot of people will have these assumptions…but I haven’t even had a conversation with them,” he said. “There’s always gonna be people out there that will treat you differently, but on the whole (at Villanova), I feel like this community’s been very good to me.”

His relationship with his mother is also just like anyone else’s. That relationship is seen in how supportive she was in his decision to come to Villanova.

“She had like a little Villanova pin, and she kept it by her bed every day,” Haley said,  “Somehow she just knew that I was gonna go.”

His relationship with her is also shown through his strong support of her deciding to run. If he, and the rest of the Haley family, didn’t want Nikki Haley to run for president, she wouldn’t have done it.

“She’s always going to be a mom first, before anything,” he said, explaining that his family made this decision together, not too long ago.“She wouldn’t have done it if  just one of us said no…It took the four of us.”

Haley is excited for his mom’s campaign, and although he knows it’s a long road ahead, he’s ready. He spoke proudly of her political career, specifically discussing her time as the governor of South Carolina.

“I’ve seen how she can react in difficult situations,” he said, referencing the historic flood in South Carolina in 2015 and the shooting at a Church in Charleston in which a white supremacist killed nine Black parishioners. “Just seeing how she handled that, how she put her citizens first…how she was able to hold the state together.”

Haley has been helping his mom during her campaign, and he plans to do more work on the campaign this summer.

“I finally won’t have school, so I can give everything,” he said, noting that he’ll have to pick up another job as well. “Then I’m going to work as a towel boy, because I have to make money.”

While he does fear for his mom’s physical safety sometimes, what mostly bothers him is the media.

“When you’re on the inside looking out, you realize how inaccurate things are,” he said. “It becomes where you feel like they’re making the story rather than telling it, so that’s the frustrating part, it’s just a lot of the lies because you can’t do anything about it.”

CNN anchor Don Lemon recently commented on Haley’s campaign announcement. He specifically called for a new generation of politicians, as he said that she wasn’t “in her prime.” Haley was annoyed by Lemon’s comments, but he knows his mom is strong and that those comments wouldn’t bother her.

“A lot of people are…gonna come after her,” he acknowledged. “There’s nothing she can’t handle. I mean, criticism just bounces off of her.”

One of Haley’s biggest competitors in the primary will be former president Donald Trump, who is known for his aggressive rhetoric and nicknames for his opponents, including “sleepy Joe,” “crooked Hillary” and “Ron DeSanctimonious.”

Trump and Haley have an interesting relationship. Haley endorsed Marco Rubio in 2016, but she became the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in 2017 under the Trump Administration, and now she is running against him.

Haley explained that he was not worried about what Trump’s rhetoric will be like towards his mother, and he also turned down the speculation that she could be looking to be Vice President if Trump wins the primary.

“We don’t go for a second place,” he said firmly. “We go for first.”

Haley got some pushback online this fall after speaking at a campaign event for Dr. Oz, the Republican candidate for the Senate, when she said she worried about her son every time he steps off campus. Although Haley was criticized for her remarks, due to Villanova’s location on the wealthy Main Line, Haley stood up for his mother.

“She’s doing her job as a mom to worry,” he explained. “I feel like, yes, while this is a relatively safe place, everywhere is getting more dangerous. I don’t think she’s wrong, and if you even looked at what happened on campus, we had a lockdown, and no one would think that would happen in the area like this. She’s not wrong for worrying.”

Haley declined to comment on his mother’s statement that America is not a racist country during her campaign announcement, but he did want to add clarification on her call for term limits for Congress and for mental competency tests for politicians over 75 years old. Donald Trump is 76, and at 80 years old Joe Biden is the oldest person to hold the presidency.

“It’s about transparency in government and giving it back to the people instead of keeping it with older politicians in Washington who make laws that won’t even affect them,” he commented.

If his mom does end up winning the election in 2024, Haley doesn’t expect much to change for them.

“Our family is always gonna be our family,” he said. “Just more busy.”