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What Nikki Haley Could Do
The former Governor of South Carolina could do the work to build a better GOP, but it wouldn't happen on her timeline.
Gov. Nikki Haley visits Marion County after Hurricane Matthew. (Official Governor's Office Photo by Camlin Moore). Wikimedia.
Ambition is a tricky matter.
It is definitely something that the former governor of South Carolina and Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, harnesses.
However, sometimes ambition can make us clouded.
This week, I started a thread that cast shade on the start of Haley’s campaign. I criticized it from the angle of using her race as a cudgel to defame The 1619 Project and the work of other historians as overzealous - just for depicting the real dark side of the American story which still harms people today. This was classic red meat for a base that has proven to be against political correctness more than anything else of substance. On the flip side, it was also viewed by many as a shameful use of her heritage just to aid actual bigots in their mission to whitewash American history and erase the heritages of other groups (while her personal star shines).
Still, there has been a lot of negativity revolving around her announcement. To play a lite version of devil’s advocate, I suggest there is something she could do.
But only if she actually means what she says.
If Nikki Haley wants to actually reform the Republican Party and if she actually believes in its philosophical values, then she should start by acknowledging President Trump was a dark turn. This will come at the cost of admitting that she was arrogant in thinking she could do anything to change him or his ilk outside of using her platform to publicly stand against him like many others:
Instead, she (and many others like her) chose pride and ambition, even though they had the capacity to see Trump was completely inadequate to hold such a reverent post. The damage was done after the attempted coup and now here we are today more divided and weakened.
These twists and turns suggest Haley has lost her conviction.
How am I supposed to believe she would actually handle something as difficult, nuanced, and painful as the Republican Party’s historic courting of bigots and social reactionaries?
As I have written about before, the Faustian bargains have been longer than the ones with Trump and it goes back to the party’s short-sighted thirst for breaking a decades-long federal losing streak even if it ended up changing the party’s face and tactics.
If Nikki Haley wants to address these issues, it will also mean putting ambition and competitiveness away for a little while and rebuilding the party. It will not win elections during this process, much like a professional sports organization in its rebuilding phase. This means standing against the revanchists and immature men cultivating violent youth by telling them to go join (or form) another party out of their tribal spite but leave the party of Lincoln alone.
This also means calling out their proxies in party leadership and on the campaign trail. Inevitably, the party will fracture and will be unable to compete during this revamp. It will be a party in the minority but at least it will be detoxing from the neo-Confederate and white grievance drugs. (Peddled in the Fox ads.)
However, I have little confidence this will occur.
Haley seems to believe she knows better than anyone and what is best for a disastrous political cult. Worse, she thinks she knows what’s best for other traumatized populations she sheds condescension on even if those groups will never be able to blend into America’s dominant culture no matter how much they try or wish.
(Listen to Michael Steele and Phillip Bump briefly describe colorism in America in a larger discussion of generations.)
In an ideal world, Nikki would wage this fight for the betterment of America’s future, no matter the present sacrifices to her need to win.
But, America needs positivity and authenticity today.
It needs to be reflected in our popular culture and in our civic life.
The absence of this does increase aggressive nostalgia and present discomfort.
2015: Haley calls for removal of Confederate flags at South Carolina state capitol.
2023: Video resurfaces of Haley not taking a question about Confederate institutions and history seriously or with substance.
2023: A disastrous campaign trailer casting unfair negativity on The 1619 project.
“Sometimes it’s easier living the lie.”
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