Michael Haley: the alligator-hunting army major cheering his wife on from Africa

Nikki Haley watches the returns come in with her husband, Michael, in Columbia
Nikki Haley watches the returns come in with her husband, Michael, in Columbia - BRETT FLASHNICK/AP
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From racist false claims that she is ineligible for the presidency to calling her a “globalist fool,” Donald Trump has for months been pummelling Nikki Haley with increasingly bitter blows.

But while the former South Carolina governor has always brushed off the former president’s jibes, it seems he took his mockery too far.

“Where is her husband? Oh, he’s away”, Mr Trump joked at a rally in Ms Haley’s home state on Saturday, insinuating that his absence from the campaign trail meant there were troubles at home.

What the 77-year-old did not seem to foresee was the response he’d provoke from his opponent, who unleashed her spikiest barb yet, accusing him of being “disgusting”.

Major Michael Haley was not ducking his duty to support his wife, as Mr Trump had suggested, but was performing another one 8,000 miles away.

The army major, who is Ms Haley’s most trusted confidante, has been deployed to the horn of Africa with the South Carolina National Guard since June 2023.

A dedicated supporter of his wife, the 54-year-old is understood to have watched every debate from Camp Lemonnier, the military base in Djibouti where he is deployed.

And his service is something the former United Nations Ambassador, 52, peppers her public speeches with.

“I want to say to my husband, who is deployed, who I know may or may not be watching this right now — Michael, I love you,” Ms Haley said when she admitted her deflating third-place defeat in the Iowa caucuses in January.

She added: “What keeps me going at night is that we sleep under the same stars.”

Comparing her husband’s long career of service to the qualities exuded by her rival has revealed itself as one of the most effective lines of attacks she can make on the former.

Major Haley’s upbringing could not be further removed from the gilded world of New York riches Mr Trump grew up in.

Born in Ohio to an alcoholic father, Major Haley spent the first years of his life in a home with no electricity or running water.

When he was three, he and his four siblings were taken into foster care.

His biological mother had hoped to regain custody of the children, but suffered a brain injury from a car accident and was no longer able to care for them.

Major Haley and his younger sister, Lee Anne, were adopted by Bill and Carole Haley. It was 15 years before he eventually tracked down his other siblings, who went to different homes.

Ms Haley often refers to her husband’s upbringing as having informed her staunch pro-life outlook, saying it is because “I know the blessings of having him there”.

Nikki Haley and her husband Michael met at university in South Carolina
Nikki Haley and her husband Michael met at university in South Carolina - Chris Keane/Getty

The couple met when they were at university in South Carolina. She was studying accounting at Clemson University and he was at Anderson University.

Until this point, Maj Haley had gone by his first name, Bill, but his future wife suggested he suited his middle name, Michael, more.

The couple have been married since 1996 after overcoming some resistance from Ms Haley’s parents, who emigrated to the US from India and had wanted her to marry a Sikh.

While bringing up their two children, Nalin and Rena, Maj Haley initially managed the menswear department of his in-law’s clothing business, Exotica International, while Ms Haley managed the books.

In 2006, when Ms Haley was a first-term state representative, he finished his university degree and joined the South Carolina Army National Guard.

He continued working as a federal military technician when he became South Carolina’s first ever gentleman in 2010 after a nasty election in which Ms Haley was forced to deny several allegations of infidelity.

In 2012 he volunteered to go to Afghanistan for a mission to teach farmers how to sell crops other than opium and the following year he was deployed to Helmand Province in a non-combat role where he had a brush with roadside bombs.

When Ms Haley became UN Ambassador in 2017 he would often join his wife at diplomatic events and dinners and official trips overseas.

Having always been a trusted adviser to Ms Haley, he is understood to have been a sounding board for his wife during some of the most critical moments in her career.

After a racist gunman killed nine black people at a church in Charleston in 2015, Mr Haley is said to have consulted with her husband before deciding to push ahead to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse.

A passionate hunter, Major Haley has shared several pictures posing with dead alligators on his social media pages, including one particularly gruesome shot in which the alligator can be seen hanging from a rope.

In 2022, The Wall Street Journal reported Major Haley was among several politically connected figures with stakes in a company that received a share of slot machine profits from a tribal casino in North Carolina.

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