What's the Point of Nikki Haley's Campaign?Roundup
tags: Republican Party, Nikki Haley, 2024 Election
I will admit, as a charter Never Trumper, that I was also an early adopter of “Never Haley.” This is because I attach never to any candidate in 2024 who feinted at opposing Trump and then bent the knee to him later. But even in a party of cowards and hucksters, few people can rival Haley when it comes to platinum-tier opportunism.
Back in 2016, the then–South Carolina governor made a number of excellent points about why Donald Trump was unfit for public office. “I will not stop until we fight a man that chooses not to disavow the KKK,” she said at a Marco Rubio rally seven years ago this month. (Yes, a Marco Rubio rally. Such things once existed.) “That is not a part of our party. That is not who we are.”
But it’s who Nikki Haley was, at least for a while. We might attribute some of her later cringe-inducing sycophancy for Trump to her position in his White House, but even after the January 6 insurrection, as the former Republican operative Stuart Stevens noted recently, “Haley was openly embracing her inner MAGA.” In late 2021, months after the Capitol attack, she said of Trump that “we need him in the Republican Party” and “I don’t want us to go back to the days before Trump.” She’ll never snatch the green jacket from the Master’s Open in Sucking Up from Lindsey Graham, but she’s certainly putting in the effort.
The video announcing Haley’s candidacy was as vapid and weightless a product as any in recent political memory. Of course, it checked all the right boxes: Family, devotion to public service, all the usual generic gloss, and all of it presented as if the past seven years had never happened. As an Indian American woman in a party whose standard-bearer is an endless stream of misogynistic and racist nuttery, her chances seem remote. (Right now, Haley is polling somewhere between Mike Pence and a dust bunny; she’s tied at 3 percent with a hypothetical Rubio candidacy.) So why is she running at all?
One possibility is that she’s getting out in front and taking some heat from Trump as a way of providing top cover to other candidates who will then reward her with the vice-president spot. It’s also possible that she thinks she can win. But it seems that Haley is just another Republican politician who is willing to make deals with the MAGA base if doing so is the price of remaining in public life. Haley, like Graham, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Ohio Senator J. D. Vance, and so many others, sees principles as disposable, making her yet another example of why the GOP cannot be trusted with power. Haley knows how to say the right things about how the violence of January 6 was bad, but to this day she refuses to hold Trump accountable, and so there is no way to know if she or any other candidate will withstand the antidemocratic demands of Republican primary voters. For Republicans in elected office, the GOP base is now so hostile to our democratic institutions that loyalty to the Constitution has become an unaffordable political luxury.