The media’s momentary fascination with Nikki Haley
The GOP candidate is “having a moment,” but media must realize she’s no moderate
“Nikki Haley is having a moment,” according to mainstream news outlets, which seem very excited about that, for the moment.
Why such media enthusiasm? Three possibilities:
1. She’s not Trump, and they’re sick of Trump.
2. They want an interesting horse race to cover, no matter who’s involved.
3. They think Haley is a moderate who could bring the political system back to what they consider the good old days — when the media could treat Republicans and Democrats as ethical equals and everyone attended the same cocktail parties and got along.
The answer may be all three. But the Washington media shouldn’t get too invested in its Haley fascination.
First off, Haley isn’t Trump, but she isn’t the Anti-Trump either. She says she’ll vote for him if he’s the nominee even if he’s convicted of a felony. And she’s “inclined in favor” of pardoning Trump if she gets the chance.
Second, Haley won’t give the media the entertaining horse race they want. Trump is polling at about 60 percent for the Republican nomination, with Haley at about 10 percent. And if Ron DeSantis fades, a lot of his votes will move to Trump.
Third, Haley is not a moderate. Some of her positions are downright alarming, while others mimic moderation. On a lot of issues, she talks out of both sides of her mouth. Or as the New York Times put it in absurdly positive terms, one of “her greatest political skills [is] an ability to massage her message to the moment.”
One reason Haley is “having a moment” is an endorsement from the right-wing Koch network’s Americans for Prosperity Action. An AFP Action spokeswoman said Haley would win “the key independent and moderate voters that Trump has no chance to win.”
Clearly, some right-wing power players are worried that Trump will lose to Biden again and they won’t get more tax cuts. They believe Haley can pull off the moderate act, and they’re counting on the media to accept her as “more of a traditional Republican establishment candidate,” as Reuters put it last week.
But what used to be the Republican establishment has joined the Bush family in a bunker at an undisclosed location. The rest of the party, including Haley, has taken a sharp right turn.
Some examples of her radical positions:
Haley wants to violate Mexico’s sovereignty by sending U.S. troops there uninvited in search of drug cartels.
She wants a “term limit” of five years for federal employees, after which they would have to quit or change jobs. This would guarantee a less competent government.
Haley depicts herself as a moderate on abortion — and many journalists have gone along — but she recently said if a six-week abortion ban had arrived at her desk as governor, she would have signed it. The New York Times noted her newly radical abortion position but still clung to the “moderate” label, saying “she has sought a moderate path but recently tacked to the right.” So let’s stop using the word “moderate,” OK?
While campaigning for a train wreck named Herschel Walker for the Senate, Haley called for the deportation of his opponent Raphael Warnock, who was born in Savannah, Ga.
Haley has favored “defunding” the Affordable Care Act.
Haley said recently she wants every person on social media to be “verified by their name,” an idea that elicited an immediate uproar. She partly walked it back, saying Americans could keep posting anonymously, but not foreigners. She left it unclear how social media companies would verify someone’s citizenship.
She wants to tinker with Social Security and Medicare to reduce and delay benefits.
A key issue on which Haley has cosplayed as a moderate is race. Haley brags that she took the Confederate flag down at the South Carolina State House after white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine Black people at a Charleston church in 2015. But before that, she defended the flag and denied it was racist. Even after removing the flag, she argued that it symbolized “service, sacrifice and heritage” until Roof “hijacked” it. But anyone who believes the rebel flag wasn’t a racist symbol until 2015 could win a clueless contest. First prize: a pile of Confederate cash.
A sign of the extremism of the Republican Party is that DeSantis is attacking Haley as a “moderate” who’s part of the “establishment,” and she’s denying that, citing her “tea party” background. Being moderate is a negative in the GOP race but would be a positive if she got to the general election. So in typical Nikki Haley style, she’s trying to be moderate to moderates and right-wing to right-wingers.
Some in the media are giving her a boost.
An opinion piece by CNN contributor Geoff Duncan depicts Haley as a sort of Great Lite Hope who can save Republicans from the heavy-handed Trump. Duncan, a former Georgia lieutenant governor, called for those “who want the GOP to move past the Trump era to … consolidate their support around her.”
Chris Hayes of MSNBC is certainly no fan of Haley’s policies, but he described her candidacy last week as “one last chance to have it out over the future of … the Republican Party and whether it is going to fully align itself behind the man who wants to end American democracy or whether the Republican Party is going to continue to be a party that is woven into the fabric of the constitutional republic.”
Unfortunately, the Republican Party has thrown off that fabric already, exposing its authoritarianism and religious extremism.
Is Haley as radical as Trump? Maybe not. But we won’t really know until she stops “massaging her message.”
One thing is clear, though: If we’ve gotten to the point where we admire anyone who’s not Donald Trump, we’ve fallen to a very low place.