early and often

Nikki Haley’s Week of Living Dangerously

She may be a long shot for president, but Nikki Haley doesn’t mind taking risks. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Like several of her rivals for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, Nikki Haley is struggling to break through the massive wall of media and activist hype surrounding front-runners Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis. It’s tough competing with those birds. Just this week, Trump continued nailing down elected-official endorsements to embarrass DeSantis, while the Florida governor did some high-profile globe-trotting to shore up his résumé.

What’s a highly credentialed pol with a hazy image and no clear “lane” to the nomination to do? In Haley’s case, it looks like she’s decided to take some major risks to get attention.

Her week of living dangerously began with a heavily advertised speech on abortion at the headquarters of the hard-core anti-abortion group SBA Pro-Life America, with whom Haley has been closely identified in the past. SBA and its fiery, uncompromising president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, were fresh from calling out Donald Trump’s refusal to support a national abortion ban as “unacceptable,” and making it clear the group would not support any GOP presidential candidate who didn’t go along with at least a 15-week national ban. So you had to assume that whatever Haley chose to say, it would clearly meet that litmus test, particularly since Dannenfelser introduced Haley as someone willing to confront the difficult politics of abortion courageously. Indeed, before Haley’s voice stopped echoing, SBA put out a statement thanking her for supporting the 15-week national ban:

Trouble is, Haley did not actually say that in her speech. While she was careful not to rule out federal action to ban abortion, she made it clear she thought a national ban was politically impossible, making its proponents look foolishly fanatical. And the major thrust of her remarks was to urge anti-abortion activists to seek consensus with their pro-choice enemies over restrictions on rare and mostly symbolic late-term abortions. Haley all but urged her audience to forget about any measures that didn’t poll at over 80 percent. It’s hard to imagine an approach more absolutely alien to SBA’s “Save all the babies at whatever cost” philosophy.

So you had to wonder: Did Nikki Haley ratfuck her friend Majorie Dannenfelser by using her and her organization to depict herself as “moderate” on abortion policy? Even if the disagreement over the 15-week ban was some sort of misunderstanding, you can only imagine what was going through Dannenfelser’s mind as she listened to Haley call for singing “Kum Ba Yah” with baby killers. Her group’s entire raison d’être is to hold politicians strictly accountable for never giving an inch on the “right to life.” If Haley did stab Dannenfelser in the back, there will be consequences, or at least some very uncomfortable conversations.

But this wasn’t Haley’s only attention-grabbing bit of risky business this week. As DeSantis continued his culture-war attacks on his state’s leading employer, Haley offered this helpful suggestion for a way out of the struggle:

This snarky gambit enraged conservatives who are in solidarity with DeSantis’s battle against Disney and other “woke” corporations who dared to publicly disagree with his homophobic policies (which Haley has said do not “go far enough”). But it raised some other questions as well. Did Haley bother to run this breezy invitation by the current governor of South Carolina, Henry McMaster (who, as it happens, had endorsed Trump rather than Haley, his predecessor, for president)? And is she willing to welcome with open arms the estimated 42,000 union workers at Walt Disney World after telling the world in 2014 that no company should even think about coming to South Carolina with any “union jobs”?

Whether or not she can answer these questions, one thing is sure: Nikki Haley has definitely ruined any chance she might become Ron DeSantis’s running mate should he win the 2024 nomination. That is an estimable price to pay for an hour or two of giving his critics a good chuckle.

And finally, Haley’s made yet another attention-grabbing comment this week when she said, as reported by NBC News, that 80-year-old President Joe Biden would likely die within the next five years, so his supporters better be okay with Kamala Harris becoming president when that happens.

Sure, all Republicans will talk about Biden’s age and drop hints that he will either cede influence or the presidency itself to Harris, whom they imagine to be a “radical left” figure. But it’s considered to be in rather poor taste to speculate publicly about the death of the president of the United States. Unless, of course, you crave headlines like your political life depends on it.

We’ll see if this high-risk, questionable-reward pattern of conduct represents an actual strategy for Nikki Haley (whose path to the 2024 nomination is a bit hard to discern), or was just a spasm of spontaneity her staff and donors will soon get under control.

Nikki Haley’s Week of Living Dangerously