Man alive. I would have bet cash money, and not a small amount, that Haley would eventually endorse Rubio in South Carolina. I’ve operated under the assumption for months that she’d be his VP if he wins the nomination. Sure, there’s bad blood between Haley and some of Rubio’s advisors, but bygones will be bygones when there’s a place on a national ticket at stake. Haley’s political persona has always seemed to me much more like Rubio’s than Ted Cruz’s — sunny, disinclined to bomb-throw, self-conscious about being a “next generation Republican,” willing to make common cause with the left even on fraught policy matters (immigration, the Confederate flag debate). The playbook, I thought, was for Rubio to perform well in New Hampshire, earn a bunch of influential vote-of-confidence endorsements from prominent Republicans in South Carolina (starting with Haley), surprise everyone with a strong showing there, and then battle Cruz and Trump on an even footing in the SEC primary and Florida. You can remove Haley from the playbook now.
The most striking thing about this is how gratuitous it is. It’s not a case of some reporter badgering her to answer, yes or no, if Rubio’s too far left on immigration. Haley volunteers it. And not only does she volunteer it, she uses the word “amnesty.” It’s practically an attack-ad soundbite. If she wanted to respectfully disagree with Rubio, she could have either said “I disagree with him about comprehensive immigration reform” or just omitted him here altogether. That’s the difference between this and other cases of potential VPs criticizing the eventual nominee, as Biden did to Obama during the 2008 Democratic debates. Biden was a fellow candidate and had to try to dent O; Haley didn’t have to say a word here about Rubio, and she certainly didn’t have to ding him on his biggest liability. The fact that she made a point of bringing it up makes me think she must have already quietly committed to another candidate. Some righties on Twitter are suggesting Christie, but c’mon. Nikki Haley’s endorsement in South Carolina is a precious thing. She’s not going to waste her influence on him unless he shocks the world in New Hampshire and comes into SC with all kinds of momentum. Occam’s razor says she’s on Team Cruz and is helping him out here with a splashy attack on his establishment rival. In fact, she’s specifically asked here about whether Cruz, like Trump, is one of those “angry voices” she criticized in her SOTU rebuttal last night. Any Rubio fan would eagerly answer that in the affirmative. Haley’s answer: Nope, not really — but have I mentioned that Marco Rubio is pro-amnesty? Damn.
So there’s your ticket, I guess: Cruz/Haley. We could do worse. Here’s Haley, plus a new ad from a pro-Cruz Super PAC attacking Rubio on — ta da — amnesty.