RACE FOR NOMINATION - Nikki Haley would like you to think she is the moderate in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. In fact, she’s every bit as radical as Donald Trump. She’s just better at hiding it.
Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, has been gaining a lot of attention these days as she rises in the polls. Of course, that means that she is, in the words of one political analyst, on a “rocket ride to second place” since Trump is about 50 percentage points ahead of her in the polls.
Haley got a big boost from Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the political arm of the Koch brothers network, threw its support behind her last month. Haley represents the old-style Republican candidate that the Kock network always favored – someone who will cut regulations, give businesses even more tax breaks, and reduce government spending.
AFP had no fondness for Trump; it pointedly sat out the 2020 election. But it now represents a wing of the GOP that is rapidly shrinking. Trump is happy to promise big social programs, like a better version of Obamacare – which he never delivers on – the kind of populist promise that the Koch network despises.
Haley has now become the recipient of all the hopes of those in that shrinking wing of the party. She also supports the Ukraine and distrusts Vladimir Putin.
Haley also can rely on some vague memories of a time when she seemed to be pushing the party in a different direction. Her biggest challenge to the party’s love of all things white came in 2015, when she signed a bill removing the Confederate flag from the state capitol after a white supremacist killed nine members of a Black church. That was a bold move then, making Haley seem like a new kind of Republican
Except that Haley is long gone. Haley has embraced the extremism of the MAGA era. She hasn’t gone so far as to endorse indicting her enemies the way Trump has, but clearing that low bar doesn’t mean she’s a moderate. As for the Confederate flag, by 2019 she was referring to it as a symbol of “service and sacrifice and heritage” that was “hijacked” by the shooter.
That’s just one example. Haley has said she would sign a six-week abortion ban, which would effectively outlaw abortion for most women. This, after she had previously said it should be up to the states to decide.
There’s more. In a candidate debate, Haley said that she would send U.S. forces into Mexico to fight the drug trade, a move that Trump has promised (and that would be tantamount to a declaration of war).
And then there’s her attacks on LGBTQ+ rights.
It’s not just that Haley opposes trans students playing in sports. She’s actually said that Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill doesn’t “go far enough.” She suggested that the third-grade cutoff in the bill should have been something like seventh-grade.
Haley can position herself as moderate because, compared to Trump, everyone else seems moderate. She also has a politician’s skill of saying things that sound like she’s in favor of common ground, even when she’s not.
Not that it matters much for Haley’s prospects. Her campaign is every bit as DOA as DeSantis’s. Donald Trump owns the Republican party now.
(John Gallagher has been covering LGBTQ issues since 1991. He was formerly a senior news editor and correspondent at The Advocate. He is co-author of Perfect Enemies: The Religious Right, the Gay Movement, and the Politics of the 1990s.)