Tuesday, February 14, 2023


What does Nikki Haley think she's doing? What Republican electorate does she imagine will respond positively to this?

Haley alienates the typical Republican voter from the very beginning of the video. Over an image of her hometown, she says:
The railroad tracks divided the town by race. I was the proud daughter of Indian immigrants. Not Black, not white, I was different.
She goes on to say that her parents told her to focus on similarities rather than differences, and said that America is a great country -- but the damage is already done. Right-wingers hate being told that institutional racism has existed in America within living memory. They regularly say, "Why does everything have to be about race?" Right up front in this video, as Republican voters will see it, "everything" is "about race."

Sarah Longwell of The Bulwark says that Haley comes off as the perfect Republican presidential candidate for 2015. But 2015 was when Trump began his presidential campaign with an explicitly racist speech that put him in first place in GOP opinion polls. I'd say maybe she's the perfect GOP candidate for the 2000 campaign, which was won by a candidate who sold himself as a Spanish-speaking "compassionate conservative" -- except that it's hard to imagine a woman of South Asian descent winning then. (That year, John McCain was the victim of a smear campaign in Haley's home state when rumors spread that he'd fathered a Black child; the truth was that he and his wife had adopted a daughter born in Bangladesh.) It's really hard to imagine any moment when GOP primary voters might have embraced Haley.

The next part of the video has some red meat for the base. Over images of right-wing voters' enemies (the 1619 Project, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), Haley says:
Some look at our past as evidence that America's founding principles are bad. They say the promise of freedom is just made up. Some think our ideas are not just wrong, but racist and evil. Nothing could be further from the truth.
"I have seen evil," she says -- and then cites genocide in China and the killings of protesters in Iran, adding,
And when a woman tells you about watching soldiers throw her baby into a fire, it puts things in perspective.
This is Haley sending the kind of signal a late-twentieth-century presidential candidate might have sent: I have foreign policy experience! I have foreign policy experience! But GOP voters don't care. Trump had no foreign policy experience in 2016 and it didn't matter to them. Also, GOP voters want to be told about the evil being done to people like themselves. What about the fascist Democrats right here in America? What about the global persecution of Christians? (Republicans believe that Christians are the most persecuted people on earth, with the possible exception of white conservatives on the Internet.)

From there Haley talks at length about how awesome life was in South Carolina when she was governor, which is fine but lacks the zing of Ron DeSantis's life in Florida is amazingly great while everyone else in the country lives in the lowest circle of Hell, thanks to wokeness.

At the 1:55 mark, Haley says:
And when evil did come, we turned away from fear toward God and the values that still make our country the freest and the greatest in the world.
She's talking about the 2015 mass shooting by a white supremacist at a Black church in Charleston. She doesn't mention her decision to remove the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds under pressure from anti-racism activists. In fact, she doesn't mention the nature of the "evil" deed at all. (Voiceovers from news broadcasts are edited to omit references to the victims' race and the shooter's race and ideology.) She's trying to have it both ways. But just alluding to a racist murder -- race again! -- will alienate GOP voters, who'll see her as trying to curry favor with liberals.

Then Haley talks about how the GOP has been faring in elections:
Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven out of the last eight presidential elections. That has to change.
But Republican voters don't believe this. They believe that when Democrats win, it's because they cheat.

There's an effort to equate Democrats with foreign adversaries that might connect with Republican voters a bit:
Some people look at America and see vulnerability. The socialist left sees an opportunity to rewrite history. China and Russia are on the march. They all think we can be bullied -- kicked around.
This is the closest Haley comes to modern Republican thinking. She says this while we see images of Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Bernie Sanders, alternating with Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

But that leads to:
You should know this about me: I don't put up with bullies. And when you kick back, it hurts them more if you're wearing heels.
Everyone tells me that Ron DeSantis can't win the nomination, much less the general election, because his personality is too unpleasant. But here's Haley trying to be cheeky and personable, and succeeding to some extent -- and it falls flat. She doesn't really seem like someone who fights her enemies and relishes the fight. DeSantis looks as if he hates his enemies and genuinely wants to hurt them. Trump too. That's why they're the two top contenders. Haley comes off as a people-pleaser who's just pretending to be a fighter.

And also, of course, pundits see the reference to "bullies" as a coded attack on Trump, but it's so coded that it hardly seems to be about Trump at all.

Haley can't win the presidential nomination, but I don't think either Trump or DeSantis will want a running mate who concedes any arguments to liberals or moderates, such as agreeing that white racism continues to exist, or that Republicans might be off-putting to many swing voters. They also won't want a running mate who's half-hearted about the culture wars. So she won't be on the ticket in 2024.

No comments: