April 16, 2024

The Pointless Nikki Haley Campaign

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Nikki Haley, one of the many Republicans who swore to stop Donald Trump in 2016 and then became a loyal supporter, is now running against Trump. Her campaign is already a collection of meaningless platitudes and she is unlikely to win, but she is the essential example of why the current GOP cannot be trusted with power.

First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.


Why Did She Bother?

I will admit, as a charter Never Trumper, that I was also an early adopter of β€œNever Haley.” This is because I attach never to any candidate in 2024 who feinted at opposing Trump and then bent the knee to him later. But even in a party of cowards and hucksters, few people can rival Haley when it comes to platinum-tier opportunism.

Back in 2016, the then–South Carolina governor made a number of excellent points about why Donald Trump was unfit for public office. β€œI will not stop until we fight a man that chooses not to disavow the KKK,” she said at a Marco Rubio rally seven years ago this month. (Yes, a Marco Rubio rally. Such things once existed.) β€œThat is not a part of our party. That is not who we are.”

But it’s who Nikki Haley was, at least for a while. We might attribute some of her later cringe-inducing sycophancy for Trump to her position in his White House, but even after the January 6 insurrection, as the former Republican operative Stuart Stevens noted recently, β€œHaley was openly embracing her inner MAGA.” In late 2021, months after the Capitol attack, she said of Trump that β€œwe need him in the Republican Party” and β€œI don’t want us to go back to the days before Trump.” She’ll never snatch the green jacket from the Master’s Open in Sucking Up from Lindsey Graham, but she’s certainly putting in the effort.

The video announcing Haley’s candidacy was as vapid and weightless a product as any in recent political memory. Of course, it checked all the right boxes: Family, devotion to public service, all the usual generic gloss, and all of it presented as if the past seven years had never happened. As an Indian American woman in a party whose standard-bearer is an endless stream of misogynistic and racist nuttery, her chances seem remote. (Right now, Haley is polling somewhere between Mike Pence and a dust bunny; she’s tied at 3 percent with a hypothetical Rubio candidacy.) So why is she running at all?

One possibility is that she’s getting out in front and taking some heat from Trump as a way of providing top cover to other candidates who will then reward her with the vice-president spot. It’s also possible that she thinks she can win. But it seems that Haley is just another Republican politician who is willing to make deals with the MAGA base if doing so is the price of remaining in public life. Haley, like Graham, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Ohio Senator J. D. Vance, and so many others, sees principles as disposable, making her yet another example of why the GOP cannot be trusted with power. Haley knows how to say the right things about how the violence of January 6 was bad, but to this day she refuses to hold Trump accountable, and so there is no way to know if she or any other candidate will withstand the antidemocratic demands of Republican primary voters. For Republicans in elected office, the GOP base is now so hostile to our democratic institutions that loyalty to the Constitution has become an unaffordable political luxury.

Another warning sign is that Haley and others have no apparent interest in changing any of these views among the GOP electorate. For all her talk about β€œa new generation,” Haley knows that the Republican base doesn’t want to move on. Those voters, to judge from the polls, want Trump, unless he can’t win; in that case, they’d like a Trump who can win, a candidate who reeks of Trump’s cheap political cologne but who will wisely wear somewhat less of it while campaigning in the crowded spaces of a general election.

Some of the critics who come at the Never Trumpers from the right will likely argue that rejecting someone such as Haley means, in effect, that Never Trump means Always Democrats, based on the magical thinking that Haley and other Republicans, if only given the chance, can restore some sanity to the party. After all, Haley’s a relatively centrist Republican, the kind who was at home in the old GOP of candidates such as the two George Bushes, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. She isn’t going to lose all her political moorings just because the base fell in love with Trump for a while, is she?

Allow me to remind you that Elise Stefanik exists. She was once the kind of Republican that Haley claims to be, but led by her ambition and fueled by her liquid-nitrogen cynicism, she has since fused herself to Trump. (And it’s paying off for her: At 38 years old, she’s the House GOP conference chair.) To win in 2024, Haley and every other Republican candidate are going to turn into some version of Trump, or Stefanik, or Vance, and this makes every one of them untrustworthy around the levels of national power.

To note this is not to be a permanent friend or foe of any one party. Rather, it is a recognition of political reality. As a former Republican, I’d welcome the spirited primary between, say, former Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland, Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, and former Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts. But because I currently live on this planet, I recognize that the GOP race is going to be a Trumpier-than-thou contest among imitators of Trump’s hideous shtick, all of them pretenders to Trump’s gilt-and-glitz throne.

Donald Trump is still the leader of the GOP and its choice (so far) for president in 2024, and Haley, like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and others, is courting Trump’s base. This means appeasing people who refuse to hold Trump responsible for trying to overthrow our government. As I wrote when Trump ran for reelection in 2020, and as I will continue to insist so long as the GOP resists reckoning with his legacy, no person or party should ever get a second chance to betray the Constitution.

Related:


Today’s News

  1. The Congressional Budget Office said that the U.S. is on track to add almost $19 trillion in new debt over 10 years, about $3 trillion more than was previously forecast.Β Β 
  2. Some residents of East Palestine, Ohio, have refused to return home a week after an evacuation order was lifted, concerned about long-term health effects from the derailment of a train carrying hazardous chemicals.
  3. The Justice Department is closing its sex-trafficking investigation into Representative Matt Gaetz and will not charge him.

Dispatches

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Evening Read

A montage of Pitbull and a Shrek rave, seen via the lights of two smartphones
Joanne Imperio / The Atlantic; Youness Srhiri / Anadolu Agency / Getty

Don’t Be Embarrassed to Commit to the Bit

By Michael Waters

Before last summer, Adonna Biel, a 27-year-old who works in communications, did not consider herself a fan of the high-energy rapper Pitbull. She knew the hitsβ€”β€œTimber,” featuring Kesha; the club smash β€œI Know You Want Me”—because Pitbull was elemental to the 2010s pop music that Biel had grown up hearing. But she’d given Pitbull little thought until last July, when she heard that he was performing an hour away from where she lived in Washington, D.C. She mentioned it offhandedly to some work friends. Things escalated. Within days, Biel and five of her colleaguesβ€”who had spent hardly any time together outside of the officeβ€”got their hands on VIP tickets.

Not only that: They assembled a collaborative playlist of Pitbull tracks. They rented a car, which they dubbed the β€œPitbus,” to take them to the concert. On the ride over, one co-worker passed around a bald cap. (Pitbull is famously bald.) And at the concert itself, Biel bought a Pitbull shirt.

They did it all, Biel told me, to commit to the bitβ€”a phrase with roots in the stand-up-comedy scene but that has, in recent years, come to describe something of a Gen Z and younger-Millennial life practice. When you want to act in a way that’s a little embarrassing or out of character, it’s easier to frame it as a kind of extended charade.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic


Culture Break

Old photos of a horse in motion
Sepia Times / Universal Images Group / Getty

Read. Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism, and the World, a sweeping Silicon Valley history by Malcolm Harris.

Watch. Need a midweek movie night? Try one of these 26 films that critics were wrong about.

Play our daily crossword.


P.S.

On Monday, I wrote about the balloons shot down over North America by U.S. jets, and I suggested some classic rock about invading Martians. Today I’ll direct you to some classic television that you might have missed back in 1970, a British show titled UFO that I fell in love with instantly as a 10-year-old and plan to rewatch soon. UFO was one of the many shows that tumbled out of ITC, the production company founded by the legendary Sir Lew Grade. Some of these showsβ€”Danger Man and The Prisoner, with Patrick McGoohan, and Space: 1999, starring Martin Landauβ€”were great. Others were, shall we say, idiosyncratic but watchable. (Robert Vaughn, star of the ITC series The Protectors, admitted in later years that even he didn’t really understand some of the plots in the show.)

UFO is a blast, right from Barry Gray’s late-1960s, swinging-Piccadilly instrumental theme song to the imagined world of 1980, in which the show is set. The governments of our planet, you see, have figured out that aliens are coming to Earth to harvest our organs (of course), and so they have secretly set up the Supreme Headquarters Alien Defense Organization, or SHADO, which is hidden under a film studio outside London and led by an American astronaut masquerading as the studio boss. (Why a film studio? Oh, shush.) This whole thing is supposed to be a gigantic secret, which is a neat trick, because SHADO has forces everywhere, including jets, a submarine, and tanks, along with a fully crewed moon base where all the women wear purple wigsβ€”as one did on the moon in 1980, apparently. The whole thing is almost hallucinatory in its sets, colors, and cheap special effects, and I love every minute of it.

β€” Tom

Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.

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