One of my abiding frustrations as a political writer has been the credulity of so much of the mainstream media when it comes to the well-rehearsed act of right-wing ideologue and opportunist Nikki Haley. On the basis of a meh tenure as governor of South Carolina, marred by a hatred of unions that was conspicuous even in that vast statewide company town, and then a brief stint as Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, Haley has already made herself a prospect to succeed Trump as the GOP presidential nominee in 2024. That’s to her credit as a politician. But it’s less understandable that people who should know better have looked to her as a bright, shining hope for a non-racist, post-Trumpian GOP. That was evident as recently as a November 2019 puff segment about her on CBS Sunday Morning that appeared even as she was publishing a sycophantic “memoir” telegraphing her total fidelity to MAGA and its boss.
Some of this unearned praise for Haley as a post-Trump symbol is probably attributable to her smooth, telegenetic qualities; her gender and ethnicity (she is an Indian-American woman in a very white male party); and the excessive credit she received for taking down a Confederate battle flag from South Carolina’s statehouse at the precise moment it was no longer politically risky. But people are really beginning to catch on that this very ambitious pol sees her presidential future not as an alternative to Trumpism but as a younger, more attractive face for it. Her latest major public utterance may have blown her cover for good, as Aaron Blake noted:
Nikki Haley navigated the choppy waters of the Trump administration better than anyone. Using a relatively low-profile gig as ambassador to the United Nations, she picked her spots. She distanced herself from President Trump when it made sense — such as on Charlottesville and when she was ensnared in a bungled rollout of new Russia sanctions — and she bear-hugged him when that made sense. The result was she walked out the door with a remarkably bipartisan reputation. A poll in April 2018 showed that Republicans approved of her by a margin of 75 percent to 9 percent, and even Democrats liked her: 55 percent to 23 percent.
All of this makes the game she’s playing now extremely conspicuous. Given even more freedom to pick her spots after leaving the administration a year ago — and with a future that many suspect includes a White House bid — she has now made it abundantly clear that she’s betting on Trumpism sticking around.
What got Blake’s attention was Haley’s extremely Trumpy turn on Sean Hannity’s show, which featured a nasty smear aimed at the entire Democratic Party:
Haley made perhaps her most strident comments to date Monday night on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show. Talking about Trump’s decision to kill Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian Quds Force commander, she said Democrats were “mourning” his loss.
“The only ones that are mourning the loss of Soleimani are our Democrat leadership and our Democrat presidential candidates,” Haley said. “No one else in the world.”
Then she tweeted the quote and video for good measure, making clear this wasn’t just something she had stumbled into saying.
It was a doozy, all right:
And it was, of course, a Big Lie, as Phillip Bump observed:
The conservative site Free Beacon has tracked the responses of Democratic presidential candidates precisely in an effort to demonstrate how Democrats are expressing skepticism about the strike that killed Soleimani. But even they note that most Democratic candidates largely prefaced questions about the rationale for and effects of the attack with descriptions of Soleimani as a threat to the United States … [T]here’s no evidence that Democratic candidates or leaders are “mourning” Soleimani — just that they’re skeptical either of how his death came about or of the extent to which President Trump considered responses.
Hannity ate it up, though. And that was probably Haley’s main objective here: getting Trump’s buddy to host and amplify the imprimatur she gave, as a respected Republican foreign-policy “expert,” to this juvenile smear of leading Democrats as being terrorist-lovers, if not traitors.
Bump wryly quotes a passage from Haley’s 2016 State of the Union response, which helped make her a national figure and was generally understood as a rebuke to then-candidate Trump: “During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation.”
She didn’t, and she won’t.