A leftover from a few days ago that made me laugh. I had forgotten about it until I saw an interview last night in which Haley claimed that Democratic leaders are “mourning” Qassem Soleimani. That’s mostly untrue (mostly), but it’s interesting coming from the person whom everyone expects to be the most formidable “moderate” Republican in the 2024 primary field. Usually Haley’s the sort of politician who goes around warning high-school students that right-wing politics needs to mean more than just “owning the libs”:
“I know that it’s fun and that it can feel good, but step back and think about what you’re accomplishing when you do this — are you persuading anyone? Who are you persuading?” Haley asked. “We’ve all been guilty of it at some point or another, but this kind of speech isn’t leadership — it’s the exact opposite.”
“Real leadership is about persuasion, it’s about movement, it’s bringing people around to your point of view,” she added. “Not by shouting them down, but by showing them how it is in their best interest to see things the way you do.”
Now here she was last night owning the libs hard on Own The Libs TV:
“The only ones mourning the loss of Soleimani are our Democrat leadership and Democrat Presidential candidates.” pic.twitter.com/IZJJqpxkBE
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) January 7, 2020
Note that she posted the clip to her own Twitter account. That’s how eager she was for people to see it. Since when does Haley resort to bombthrowing like that? Her brand as a politician is about comity during crisis, and she’s clearly planning to run in 2024 as a sort of “adult in the room” given her experience as a former governor and ambassador to the UN. What hath driven her to such depths of lib-owning?
Laying aside Haley’s prospects for a moment, try to imagine the insanity of a primary in which Trump’s VP had to square off with not one but two of the Trump children while Papa Trump tweeted insults at him from the sideline. I don’t think the writers of the virtual reality we now inhabit are quite gonzo enough to attempt that storyline, but don’t count them out. They’ve surprised us before.
As for Haley, you can see her political dilemma there in one graph. As Axios says, “An early poll like this is largely a measure of name ID. But it’s also a vivid illustration of just how strong Trump’s brand is with the GOP.” Right, and Haley’s brand in 2024 whether she likes it or not will be restoration of the pre-Trump GOP, not continuation of the Trumpy status quo. That’s what her many populist opponents will accuse her of wanting to do (she’ll strenuously deny it) and that’s what many of her traditional Republican supporters will be hoping she’ll do. But that’s poisonous in a party that’s now dominated by Trump and Haley knows it, as evidenced by her periodic genuflections of approval towards the president to remind Republican voters that she’s a big fan. Philip Klein wrote about her difficulty last month, trying to be Trumpy enough to satisfy Trump voters in 2024 while not being so Trumpy that she alienates her core base of old-school establishment fans. In the end she’ll likely end up pleasing nobody. And since she’s no longer in government and probably won’t be again before 2024 unless Trump wins a second term and appoints her to something, her opportunities to impress Republicans on either side are limited.
Which is why she said what she said on Fox last night, I gather. She felt that the moment called for a little pandering to Trumpers so she went on Hannity and owned the libs. Next week she’ll be saying something about partisan “healing” in a time of bitter divisions or whatever for the benefit of the other wing of the party.
The question is, how will her pandering to Trumpers ever be enough to win them over so long as the president retains his influence over the GOP, which he shows every intention of doing? Unless she lands his endorsement, she’ll have Trump himself insisting in 2024 that she’s not the proper choice for MAGA Nation. Pence is. Or Don Jr is. Or, gulp, Ivanka the Democrat is. Or some other Trump ass-kisser like Ron DeSantis is. Haley’s dream scenario is that there are enough traditional Republicans left in the party to hand her the nomination as the populist vote splinters among numerous candidates; then the long hours she’s put in trying to ingratiate herself to MAGA voters will pay off later when they decide that they like her enough to at least turn out for her on Election Day. She’s not owning the libs to win Trumpers’ primary votes, in other words, she’s owning them so that Trumpers don’t decide to boycott the general election on grounds that she’s just too different from their preferred brand of Republican.
But can all of that really work in practice?
Haley's competitive advantage over a Pence or Don Jr would be a hypothetical appeal to swing voters, which she would have to build/maintain while doing Fox News hits defending Trump. And meanwhile the other Rs can just hug the president with 85% party support.
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) January 7, 2020
Again, she’s caught in the middle — too Trumpy for Trump skeptics, not Trumpy enough for MAGA Nation. Especially with so many more credible populist options to choose from.
I think it depends on what happens next year. If Trump loses badly, the party will conclude that it needs a fresh approach for 2024. That’s Haley’s cue, the sort of thing that’ll get her a closer look even from voters who aren’t huge fans. If Trump either wins or loses only narrowly, which seems likely, the lesson will be “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Stick with Trumpism, or at least populism. That means anyone from Pence to Josh Hawley to Tom Cotton to Ted Cruz to Tucker Carlson to, yes, maybe even Don Jr. Who, according to Axios, actually finished ahead of Pence in the new poll among younger Republicans as someone whom they’d consider voting for.
Longshot exit prediction: Facing the prospect of another own-the-libs nominee like Don Jr or a true nationalist ideologue like Carlson, establishment Republicans will try to convince Ivanka to run and the president to endorse her. Better a fake Republican than a real populist!