When bidding for the highest office in the land, the traditional GOP presidential hopeful must factor in family members and, more importantly, the spouse. The role of the first lady involves fashion, charitable causes, national programs, and acting as a surrogate for the overscheduled candidate. She speaks of his character, cultivates her image to appeal to voters, and makes the potential most powerful man in the world someone tangible, likable, and electable. Such a productive lady must have the skill set to deflect policy weaknesses and past transgressions. But what about those who don’t fit that traditional mold?
Former US Ambassador Nikki Haley and South Carolina’s Sen. Tim Scott are tampering with that tried-and-true template. If elected, Haley would be the first woman president and a woman of color to boot. Meanwhile, Scott would become the first unmarried candidate elected since America’s 15th president, James Buchanan, who remained a bachelor all his life. And that begs the question: Who will act as a surrogate for Scott, and will Major Michael Haley be an asset or an albatross?
The Comeback Kid
Scott is the ultimate comeback kid, and Americans love the underdog. A single mom raised him in the rougher, poorer neighborhoods of North Charleston. The family moved a lot. He failed several subjects in high school only to be inspired and focused by a mentor, a Chick-fil-A store operator named John Moniz, and then the young man’s star began to rise. He studied, went to college, and became a successful businessman. Moniz had instilled conservative and Biblical values in Scott, and they paid off – all the way to the US Senate. Scott is the first black senator from South Carolina, and the first in the South since Reconstruction.
Scott has become accustomed to the lone wolf life – and he plans to keep it that way. Granted, there may be fewer distractions without a wife terrorizing the East Wing to worry about while governing a nation. But is his lack of a spouse going to impede success? He once quipped, “In the right time, I will meet Mrs. Right, and she’ll want to have a couple kids. Or she ain’t Mrs. Right. Right?”
Conservatives like the backstory. Scott has brains and doesn’t run on his race – although he could, being a descendant of enslaved Africans. He is firmly in the evangelical lane, and though he may not be the only candidate to quote scripture, his exploratory committee emailed a fundraising request that began with asking for a two-minute prayer of guidance.
One might surmise that, as a devout born-again Christian, Scott already has the greatest companion he could ever need by his side – the Wonderful Counselor, as Isaiah described Him – lending a shoulder and providing guidance. Maybe he will channel country star Carrie Underwood and say, “Jesus take the wheel,” when things get sticky.
GOP Women Candidates
Nikki Haley tossed her ball cap in the presidential foray just a few months after Donald Trump. Her political clout and experience are not in question. But if she succeeds and wins the nomination, what role will her husband, Michael, take on the campaign trail? Not much of anything. He’s gone again: Army Major Michael Haley has been deployed to Africa and will miss most of the frenetic whistle-stop quest for votes. “He left me as a single mom governor, but we’re still married,” Nikki relayed at a campaign appearance in South Carolina, hinting that her success was not tied to her husband.
Perhaps Haley’s brother, Mitti Randhawa, a 25-year US Army combat veteran, will step in and dazzle the faithful. Haley has claimed that her siblings – she has a sister, as well – have been instrumental in supporting her career. She also has two children to pick up the family slack.
If Nikki wins, Michael is already used to being called the first gentleman and being away while his wife governs. As the other half of the first couple of South Carolina, Michael already has a following, albeit not from the grab-and-grin days but from the positive press of his hardscrabble backstory. Until he was three, he lived in Ohio in a house without electricity or running water. His father was an alcoholic. He and his siblings were removed by the state and placed in foster care. Eventually, he and a younger sister were adopted by Bill and Carole Haley. But it took years to find his other two siblings.
What will the candidate miss most? In Haley’s words, “To this day, if my husband, Michael, didn’t cook, my family would never have a home-cooked meal.”
The GOP Adapts
Haley and Scott, presidential candidates who do not fit the traditional Republican mold, may be disadvantaged. But who doesn’t root for the underdog in America? A person who overcomes the hard knocks that life tends to dole out to some more than others is the very definition of Scott as a presidential contender and Major Haley as a dynamic First Spouse. In other words, let’s not bet against them for being a bit uncharacteristic of the norm.
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