Big Tent Ideas

HADLEY HEATH MANNING: Nikki Haley Should Run On Her Record, Not Her Identity

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Hadley Heath Manning Hadley Heath Manning is vice president for policy at Independent Women’s Forum.
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Editor’s note: Big Tent Ideas always aims to provide balancing perspectives on the hottest issues of the day. Below is a column from Hadley Heath Manning of the Independent Women’s Forum arguing that Nikki Haley should focus on her accomplishments rather than her identity as she seeks the GOP nomination. You can find a counterpoint here, where Minnesota local official Debjyoti Dwivedy argues that Haley’s identity is weaponized against her by Democrats and the media because she is a formidable candidate.

Nikki Haley, quoting Margaret Thatcher, interrupted an exchange between Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy in Wednesday night’s GOP primary debate to say, “If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.”

She had played the woman card, and aggressively so. 

I find it hard to blame Haley for leaning into identity politics at this moment, and not just because the political Left has made “lived experience” the ultimate measure of a person; the Right is also involved in identity politics now, and even gender politics. (RELATED: DANIEL TURNER: GOP Debaters Knocked This Topic Out Of The Park)

In a political vacuum caused by the total abdication of the old-guard feminist movement in the U.S., the political Right has stepped in to defend women’s interests—not just in sports, but in all areas where sex differences matter. The issue even got some air time Wednesday night.

With this focus on how men and women are different, and deserving of separate categorization at times, it’s no surprise that Haley would make a pitch based on this. It seems impossible, at this moment, for Haley to run as both a woman and a sexless candidate.

The problem for Haley is that there’s presently no constituency interested in the message of: “I’m a strong woman leader.” The Left insists that sex differences don’t exist or don’t matter. Men can become women and vice versa. And the Right doesn’t want male or female leaders—just leaders. Perhaps there are some moderate women to whom this message appeals, but during primary season, candidates typically make pitches to the bases of their own party. 

In general, gender politics has been such a rollercoaster in recent election cycles, Americans might be suffering from whiplash. Remember, it was a “War on Women”—waged apparently by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in 2012—when they fell behind Obama with women voters. 

Romney was accused of sexism when he talked about hiring efforts that prioritized female job candidates, and when he didn’t immediately voice support for “pay equity” legislation (that didn’t really outlaw pay discrimination, which is already illegal of course, but merely changed the statute of limitations.)

Today, polls show that the only group of women Democrats really dominate is single women. Married women lean Republican. There just aren’t as many married women, proportionately, as there used to be. And Democrats dominate single women by a large margin. So the overall Democrat advantage with women persists due to underlying demographic and political trends.

Since the reversal of Roe in 2022, Democrats have tried to lean hard into the abortion issue, although now they have to grapple with how unplanned pregnancy affects “non-men” and “pregnant persons” and potential “birthing parents”—instead of “women,” a word they can no longer define, at least not in public forums where the activist LBGTQ+ audience may hear.

Ironically, for years, people on the Left advocated for more female leadership—particularly in public office—on the grounds that women are more collaborative and better at compromise. For example, a bipartisan group of female senators “came to the rescue” by working across the aisle in 2013 to avoid a government shutdown. The implied message here was: Why can’t the boys behave better like these women could?

But now this praise for female leadership creates an inconsistency on the Left: They want womanhood to be associated with good attributes, but in other venues they want to turn around and say that sex doesn’t matter, that it’s purely a social construct to be manipulated through changes to language, parenting, education, medicine, and technology. Which is it? 

The Right has to grapple too. Does Haley’s sex matter? Would a woman president be any different from a man president? While the sex differences that divide us in sport (size, strength), may not be relevant when it comes to the Oval Office, what about other, less obvious sex differences? 

Women are—on average—less competitive and more collaborative than men. We are more nurturing. We have higher emotional intelligence. Are these characteristics that Haley believes she will bring to the office of the presidency? Is that what her focus on her own sex is about? If it is, she could make that clear. She should connect those dots and explain—not just that she’s a woman, but why that matters. (RELATED: GROVER NORQUIST: The First Republican Debate Focused On All The Wrong Questions)

Ultimately, conservatives would say that the individual matters most, and individuals may not fit the stereotypes of a group, even if those stereotypes find some basis in material reality.

That’s why we want Haley to make the case for herself as an individual first, not as a woman. Her best moment in Wednesday night’s debate wasn’t the Thatcher quote, which was met with mixed responses. It was calling out Ramaswamy for his lack of foreign policy experience. She can do this, not because she is a woman, but because she served (very effectively) as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

But given the confusing political winds blowing at the moment, we might forgive her for reminding us that she was “Madam” Secretary, and not Mister. We just all need to give more thought to how this fact relates—or doesn’t—to leadership, and how.

Hadley Heath Manning is vice president for policy at Independent Women’s Forum (

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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