Special Report

Iowa Election 2023

At the Young Republicans National Federation Conference: Nikki Haley Prevails, but Sexism Lingers in GOP

Do Nikki Haley’s five-inch heels possess enough ammunition to propel her to the Republican nomination? (Image courtesy of Upsplash)

Nikki Haley has emerged as a standout in recent debates, swiftly climbing in the polls and positioning herself as the primary contender to challenge former President Trump for the Republican nomination. However, Despite her recent rise in popularity, Haley faces a significant obstacle that Trump never had to contend with: being a woman. 


After hours of deliberation at the Young Republicans National Federation Conference in Des Moines, Iowa, Nikki Haley emerged victorious in the mock caucus. Trailing closely behind the sole female candidate were Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, and, surprisingly, write-in candidate, star quarterback Tom Brady.


This victory for the former South Carolina governor wasn’t an anomaly. In the latest New York Times/Siena College poll, which surveyed registered voters in key battleground states—Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin— Trump beat President Biden in five out of the six states, only losing in Wisconsin. However, Haley emerged triumphant against Biden in all six states, surpassing Trump’s margin in four of them.


Despite these promising indicators, Haley faces an uphill battle in the months ahead. No accomplishment or qualification can diminish the fact that she is female, a factor that will inevitably influence voters’ thoughts as they head to the polls during the Republican primaries.


“Personally, I don’t believe a woman should be president, so I didn’t vote for Nikki Haley, I voted for Donald Trump.” said 36-year-old mock caucus participant Kristen Valle.


When asked if she was expecting Haley to win, Vale, an Orange County, California native who voted for Trump in the last two presidential elections, added “I was surprised by the results. I didn’t know anybody really even liked Nikki Haley very much”.


However, some, like 31-year-old Tennessee native Andy Cole, were less taken aback by the victor of the caucus. 


“I wasn’t surprised by the results.” Cole expressed. “I’ve been around at the national level for a little while and we’ve done several prior mock primaries, not in a full capacity like this, but they’ve been fairly consistent, With DeSantis Haley, and Trump, at the top ”.


“People are looking at Nikki Haley with her foreign policy background and seeing that it’s a big thing that she’s got a lot of experience in and really considering her for that.” Cole added. 


However, even among those who endorse Haley, the criticisms about her gender, as articulated by Valle, persist. Rodney Clark, a 66-year-old retired firefighter from Clark County, Iowa, backs Haley for president but acknowledges that many members of his community do not. 


“I know some people who won’t vote for her just because she’s a woman,” said Clark. “It’s that way everywhere, and I know that it’s that way here too.”


Clark County stands out as a pivotal swing county in Iowa known for its notable shifts in voting patterns, having supported Trump in both 2020 and 2016, while favoring Obama in 2012.


Clark also expressed his frustration with the way that Haley has been treated in recent debates, stating “I didn’t like the way other candidates were treating her in the debate, that was uncalled for. But it’s normal for a lot of them to do that, you know, they play dirty.” 


In the third Republican debate, tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy called Haley  “Dick Cheney in three-inch heels.” The comment, which sparked a myriad of reactions from viewers and media outlets, drew a lot of commentary about the rampant sexism present in the Republican party. 


Kelly Dittmar, the director of research at the Center for American Women and Politics, posted on X during the debate, writing: 


“So if you didn’t catch it. Ramaswamy: Heels = feminine. Feminine = weak/unqualified. Haley: Heels = weapon. Weapon = masculine. Masculine = qualified/strong. #masculinitytrap.”


Despite the evident sexism within the GOP, Haley appears undeterred. In response to Ramaswamy’s remarks, Haley swiftly and calmly retorted, correcting him by stating that she actually wears “five-inch heels.” 


She cautioned her male competitors not to wear them “unless you can run in them,” emphasizing that the heels are not merely a “fashion statement” but rather tools for ammunition.


“What the masculinity trap is, is that you see all these candidates trying to prove that they’re man enough for the job, instead of saying, wait a second, we should challenge those standards. We should challenge the idea that masculinity is the best quality for being a political leader,” Dittmar explained.


“In terms of Haley, I would argue it’s the same thing. When she’s trying to prove she’s man enough, she’s playing into that”. 

Currently, Trump maintains a significant lead in the polls, while Haley and DeSantis are engaged in a closely contested race for second. With DeSantis experiencing a decline in support and Haley’s popularity on the rise, she stands a strong chance of securing one of the top two spots in the Republican primaries, setting the stage for a potential face-off with the former president.


As gender-based attacks persist in this election cycle, Haley confronts a formidable uphill battle. However, her unwavering perseverance begs the question: do her five-inch heels possess enough ammunition to propel her to the Republican nomination?