In advance of South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary in the 2016 race, Nikki Haley was blunt about her feeling on frontrunner Donald Trump.
Trump was “everything a governor doesn’t want in a president,” Haley said. “I want someone who is going to hold Republicans accountable, and I want someone who is going to make a difference, not just for our party but for every person they represent in the country.”
A month earlier, in her response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech, Haley condemned the sort of politics that Trump represented. “During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices,” Haley said. “We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.”
She endorsed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio just days before the Republican primary in the Palmetto State — calling him “humble enough to remember he works for all the people,” a not-so-subtle shot at Trump’s bombast and self-centeredness.
Then Trump won. South Carolina, then the Republican presidential nomination. Then the presidency. And Haley agreed to become his US Ambassador to the United Nations, a position she served in for two years before leaving for the private sector.
All of which brings us to Haley’s latest take on Trump, which she offered up in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.
“He has a strong legacy from his administration,” Haley said of Trump. “He has the ability to get strong people elected, and he has the ability to move the ball, and I hope that he continues to do that. We need him in the Republican Party. I don’t want us to go back to the days before Trump.”
Which raises a question: Why?
Consider the state of the Republican Party prior to Trump’s emergence in 2016. Yes, Obama was in the White House. But Republicans controlled 54 seats and the majority in the Senate. They had almost 250 seats — and the majority — in the House.
By the time Trump left office in 2020, Republicans had lost not only the White House but also the House and Senate. Trump had been impeached not once but twice — the second time coming in the wake of the January 6 riot at the US Capitol that left five people dead and more than 100 police officers injured.
Haley, following January 6, offered a harsh critique of Trump. “His actions since Election Day will be judged harshly by history,” Haley said just days after the insurrection. And then there’s this quote from a lengthy Politico profile of Haley that ran in February: “We need to acknowledge he let us down. He went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him. And we can’t let that ever happen again.”
What’s changed Haley’s mind (again)? Political reality, mostly.
And that reality is this: She wants to run for president — whether in 2024 or beyond. Haley has learned that there is simply no oxygen in the current iteration of the Republican Party for criticism of Trump. And so, she is forced to mouth these paeans to the Republican Party of Trump when it’s clear that a) she hasn’t historically believed it and b) it is demonstrably false that the GOP is in better shape, electorally speaking, post-Trump than it was pre-Trump.
Such is the nature of the current state of the Republican Party: You have to say things you know aren’t true to maintain future viability in the party. What a world.
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