Never, Ever, Ever Haley
Nikki Haley’s vice presidential bid deserves to be hooted down and out of the 2024 race.
Winston Churchill brutally described Clement Attlee as a “sheep in sheep’s clothing.” Reversing his famous witticism, we might say that in Nikki Haley Republican primary voters face a wolf in wolf’s clothing. The former South Carolina governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations makes no bones about where she wants to take the GOP: back to the failed pre-Trump consensus for endless war and servitude to big business.
Her vice presidential bid deserves to be hooted down and out of the 2024 race.
I say “vice presidential bid,” because few seriously believe Haley has a shot at the top of the Republican ticket, what with her ex-boss, Donald Trump, having launched his re-election campaign and Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis hovering in the background. The ranks of the skeptical include even my former colleagues on the Wall Street Journal opinion pages, who might be expected to support her hail-the-establishment agenda but see “no clear rationale” for her run.
Haley, of course, is beloved of the Republican donor class, or at least, a subset of it. Partly this has to do with her abominable policy mix (about which more anon). And partly, it has to do with the degree to which parts of the donor class are beholden to “woke” optics, even as the GOP as a whole has set itself against woke-ism. A wealthy Republican of a certain sort yearns desperately for a “woman of color” to drone Yemeni wedding parties and flood Europe with U.S. arms.
Haley plays to this curious dynamic, touting her brownness on the campaign trail (“not black, not white,” as she puts it) and her reputation as a no-nonsense #GirlBoss during her time at Turtle Bay. Ambassadors from allied nations who failed to toe the U.S. line, for example, didn’t get invited to her Manhattan shindigs. Yasss, Kween!
Such churlishness came off as stupid even to some who supported her on the underlying issues. But it is the kind of behavior that wins you standing ovations over at the annual Enduring Liberty Gala, hosted by the Reagan and Thatcher Freedom Institute, part of the Foundation for Defending Democracy and Free Enterprise, sponsored by Raytheon (gala, institute, foundation, and sponsorship are my invention, to be clear, a shorthand for the hawkish blob).
The bigger problem has to do with policy substance. On foreign policy and entitlements, especially, Haley stands for a full-on reversion to establishment ideology—the “Undead Consensus,” if you will. If Trump heralded a partial alignment of the Republican Party with working class America by breaking with GOP orthodoxy on these issues in 2016, Haley portends a sharp de-alignment seven years later.
Start with entitlements. Trump in 2016 wisely vowed not to touch Social Security, thus renewing the Republican Party’s “Eisenhower-Nixon tradition, which made peace with the New Deal,” as my Compact co-founder and fellow TAC contributing editor, Matthew Schmitz, and I have written. This was sound policy: Republicans shouldn’t add one more dimension of precarity to American economic life by altering the New Deal compact, let alone talk of privatizing it, which is good for no one except Wall Street fee-skimmers.
Protecting entitlements was also good politics: These programs are broadly popular, not least among the working class voters who migrated to the Trump GOP and without whom the party can’t win on a national scale, given its limitations with other demographics. Leave it to Haley, though, to stake her honor on “saving” entitlements, the perennial euphemism of benefit-slashers. With the 2022 outcome in mind, ask yourself: How is the party going to win in places like Pennsylvania and the Upper Midwest while targeting retirement benefits? It can’t.
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Now turn to foreign policy. Here, too, Trump succeeded by daring to describe GOP hawkism for what it was and still is: an utter catastrophe. Haley, by contrast, channels the same deranged, Manichaean worldview that gave rise to the disasters of the past two decades. “It’s not a war about Ukraine,” she has said. “This is about a war on freedom.” Yes, Nikki, the Russians hate us for our freedom. Next to a potential Haley administration, the Biden White House would appear like a model of prudence and restraint.
None of this absolves Trump himself for empowering Haley, among many other hawks, during his first term. I find it gross that Trump is apparently pulling his punches with Haley, reportedly because he hopes she will draw suburban-mom primary votes away from likely rival Ron DeSantis. Nor, finally, am I suggesting that I adore what the rest of the current GOP field has to offer. Still, these things are a matter of degrees, and Haley is several degrees worse than anyone else. Worse, indeed, than Joe Biden.
If you think a three-front war against Russia, China, and Iran is a swell idea, by all means, pull for her. For the rest of us inhabiting Planet Sanity, say it with me: Never, ever, ever Haley. Not even as veep.