Wednesday, February 22, 2023

#53 / Maybe Not A Very Good Choice


That is Nikki Haley, pictured above. She is a Republican, and she recently announced her campaign for the presidency. You can read all about it in The New York Times, in an article by reporter Trip Gabriel. In fact, you can read even more about Haley, by sticking with The Times

Click here for some follow up coverage. Click here to get the views of The Times' "punditocracy," who give serious consideration to the idea that Haley could be our next president. Click right here for a Times' column by Thomas Friedman.

In an article in The Times, published on the same day as the Gabriel article, reporter Maggie Astor says that "Nikki Haley has long been seen as a rising Republican star: someone who broke the party's white, male mold and could walk fine political lines, rejecting some right-wing extremes without alienating too many base voters." The Times' paywall permitting, you can read more of what Astor has to say by clicking this link.

The way I read it, Astor's story is rather positive, outlining what might seem to be some reasons for even Democrats to consider voting for Haley. For instance:

  • Haley was the first woman and first person of color to lead South Carolina — not to mention, at 38, the youngest governor of any state at the time — and went on to become the first Indian American in a presidential cabinet.
  • In 2015, Haley called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol after a massacre by a white supremacist at an African American church in Charleston. In doing so, Haley "recalled how she had felt as a child when her father was racially profiled." Two police officers showed up at a produce stand and watched him until he paid. “That produce stand is still there, and every time I drive by it, I still feel that pain. I realized that that Confederate flag was the same pain that so many people were feeling.

Not knowing too much about Haley, I will say that my uninformed impressions have been, up to now, somewhat positive, particularly as Haley might be an alternative to Donald Trump. The fact that a number of those in the pundit class are taking seriously the idea that Haley could be our next president indicates that I am not alone. 

That said, though, let me point out that the February 15, 2023, edition of The Times not only carried the two news articles I have referenced above, it also ran an opinion piece by Stuart Stevens, a former Republican political consultant. What Stevens has to say made me think it would be wise to let my friends know that Nikki Haley is not likely to be a very good choice for president. Stevens' Op-Ed is titled, "Nikki Haley Had It All, Then Threw It Away." Just because The Times' paywall might prevent you from getting to that Op-Ed, I have reprinted what Stevens has to say, below. 

To sum it all up, Nikki Haley is, maybe, NOT a very good choice for president. Let's keep that in mind!


Nikki Haley Threw It All Away
By: Stuart Stevens 
I remember the first time I saw Nikki Haley. It was in a high school gym before the 2012 South Carolina Republican presidential primary. Tim Scott, who was then a congressman, was holding a raucous town hall, and Ms. Haley was there to cheer him on. The first woman to be governor of South Carolina, the first Indian American ever elected to statewide office there, the youngest governor in the country. Whatever that “thing” is that talented politicians possess, Ms. Haley had it. People liked her, and more important, she seemed to like people. She talked with you, not to you, and she made routine conversations feel special and important. She seemed to have unlimited potential.
Then she threw it all away.
No political figure better illustrates the tragic collapse of the modern Republican Party than Nikki Haley. There was a time not very long ago when she was everything the party thought it needed to win. She was a woman when the party needed more women, a daughter of immigrants when the party needed more immigrants, a young change maker when the party needed younger voters and a symbol of tolerance who took down the Confederate flag when the party needed more people of color and educated suburbanites.
When Donald Trump ran in the 2016 Republican primary, Ms. Haley stood next to Senator Marco Rubio, the candidate she had endorsed, and eviscerated Mr. Trump as a racist the party must reject: “I will not stop until we fight a man that chooses not to disavow the K.K.K. That is not a part of our party. That is not who we want as president.” She was courageous, fighting on principle, a warrior who would never back down. Until she did.
The politician who saw herself as a role model for women and immigrants transformed herself into everything she claimed to oppose: By 2021, Ms. Haley was openly embracing her inner MAGA with comments like, “Thank goodness for Donald Trump or we never would have gotten Kamala Harris to the border.” In one sentence, she managed to attack women and immigrants while praising the man she had vowed never to stop fighting. She had gone from saying “I have to tell you, Donald Trump is everything I taught my children not to do in kindergarten” to “I don’t want us to go back to the days before Trump.”
As a former Republican political operative who worked in South Carolina presidential primaries, I look at Ms. Haley now, as she prepares to launch her own presidential campaign, with sadness tinged with regret for what could have been. But I’m not a bit surprised. Her rise and fall only highlights what many of us already knew: Mr. Trump didn’t change the Republican Party; he revealed it. Ms. Haley, for all her talents, embodies the moral failure of the party in its drive to win at any cost, a drive so ruthless and insistent that it has transformed the G.O.P. into an autocratic movement. It’s not that she has changed positions to suit the political moment or even that she has abandoned beliefs she once claimed to be deeply held. It’s that the 2023 version of Ms. Haley is actively working against the core values that the 2016 Ms. Haley would have held to be the very foundation of her public life.
Her defining action as governor was signing legislation removing the Confederate flag from the State Capitol. This came after the horrific massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, and after social media photos surfaced of the murderer holding Confederate flags. Ms. Haley compared the pain Black South Carolinians felt to the pain she experienced when, as a young girl named Nimrata Nikki Randhawa, she saw her immigrant father racially profiled as a potential thief at a store in Columbia. “I remember how bad that felt,” Ms. Haley told CNN in 2015. “That produce stand is still there, and every time I drive by it, I still feel that pain. I realized that that Confederate flag was the same pain that so many people were feeling.”
Then came Donald “You had some very fine people on both sides” Trump, and by 2019 Ms. Haley was defending the Confederate flag. In an interview that December, Ms. Haley told the conservative radio host Glenn Beck that the Charleston church shooter had “hijacked” the Confederate flag and that “people saw it as service, sacrifice and heritage.”
In her 2019 book, “With All Due Respect,” the sort of autobiography candidates feel obligated to produce before launching a presidential campaign, Ms. Haley mentions Mr. Trump 163 times, overwhelmingly complimentary. In one lengthy passage, she insists that she was not alluding to him in her 2016 Republican response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech, when she called on Americans to resist “the siren call of the angriest voices.” It is always sad to see politicians lack the courage to say what should be said, but sadder still to see them speak up and later argue any courageous intent was misinterpreted.
It didn’t have to be this way. No one forced Ms. Haley to accept Mr. Trump after he bragged about assaulting women in the “Access Hollywood” tape. No one forced her to defend the Confederate flag. No one forced her to assert Mr. Trump had “lost any sort of political viability” not long after the Capitol riot, then reverse herself, saying she “would not run if President Trump ran,” then prepare to challenge Mr. Trump for the nomination. There is nothing new or novel about an ambitious politician engaging in transactional politics, but that’s a rare trifecta of flip-flop-flip.
Mr. Trump has a pattern of breaking opponents who challenge him in a primary. Ms. Haley enters the race already broken. Had she remained the Nikki Haley who warned her party about Mr. Trump in 2016, she would have been perfectly positioned to run in 2024 as its savior. But as Ms. Haley knows all too well, Republicans aren’t looking to be saved. The latest Morning Consult poll shows Mr. Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida together drawing 79 percent of Republican primary voters. Ms. Haley is at 3 percent, one percentage point more than Liz Cheney.
The female star of the current Republican Party isn’t the daughter of immigrants taking down the Confederate flag. It’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, who sells “Proud Christian Nationalist” T-shirts while becoming arguably the second-most-powerful member of the House in little more than one two-year term. If Mr. Trump wins the Republican nomination (and I think he will), he may well choose the election-denying loser Kari Lake as his running mate, not the woman who twice won governor’s races the old-fashioned way: with the most votes once the ballots were counted.
There is a great future behind Nikki Haley. She will never be the voice of truth she briefly was in 2016, and she will never be MAGA enough to satisfy the base of her party. But no one should feel sorry for Ms. Haley. It was her choice.
Image Credit: [Image by Logan R. Cyrus, taken from the hard copy edition; image is apparently not available online]

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