Gov. Haley and the heat of the national spotlight
By Phil Noble
It’s the call that every aspirant in the political hinterland dreams of: “Will you give our party’s response to the State of the Union Address?”
The answer is always “yes” – and then the drama begins. The stakes are incredibly high. Many fail, some miserably (see Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2009) but the opportunity is exposure to more than 30 million people as the alternative voice to the President of the United States.
Gov. Haley got the call – pretty heady stuff for a kid from Bamberg, S.C., or anywhere else for that matter.
Enough about the drama, so how did she do?
The speech itself had two parts. The first short section was an obligatory, gratuitous slap at President Obama with familiar lines about Obama Care, the deficit and terrorists. It was just a little red meat thrown to the Obama haters and then she moved on to talk about a “vision of a brighter American future.”
But though she never used his name, her words were not really about America but about Donald Trump. She talked about Trump’s racism, inflammatory language and immigration. Then she talked about the good way that South Carolina responded to the Emanuel Nine shooting and then threw in a not so oblique reference to the troubles of Ferguson and Baltimore – “We didn’t have riots, we had hugs.”
Most of all, it was a repudiation of Trump. She used her own personal story as the daughter of Indian immigrants juxtaposed with Trump’s rhetoric – “…it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. 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 continued, “Some people (Trump) think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That is just not true….We would respect differences in modern families, but we would also insist on respect for religious liberty as a cornerstone of our democracy,” (i.e. Trump’s ban on Muslim immigration).
David Brooks, the influential columnist for The New York Times, summarized Haley’s speech as the Republican Establishment’s case against Trump and indeed it was. The reaction from the Trump forces was swift and venal; pundit Anne Coulter tweeted “Trump should deport Nikki Haley.”
Haley’s address rekindled the speculation that she would be the perfect Vice-Presidential candidate – but presumably not for Donald Trump. Her boosters cite the obvious: she is an attractive woman of immigrant parents who’s handling of the removal of the Confederate flag was a rare example of racial sensitivity by a Deep South Republican. She’s the perfect antidote to the “angry old white men” problem that is crippling the Republican Party with the fastest growing segments of American votes – women, the young and people of color.
There is so much irony in all this that it’s hard to know where to begin.
First, the Establishment Republicans. It is indeed rich that Haley is now the darling of the very folks she ran against when she was first elected. She was a rabid Tea Party favorite. Who can forget the picture and endorsement by Sarah Palin on the steps of the State Capital in Haley’s first gubernatorial campaign (never mind that they had to pay Palin)? Palin went all out for Haley with recorded robo calls and TV ads that blasted the Establishment and praised Haley as a “kindred spirit.”
In many ways, Haley and Palin were a lot alike – both are attractive, they came from nowhere politically, and they were light on substance and long on flash. But the difference is that Palin gave up being governor of Alaska and Haley has continued as governor of South Carolina.
Second, the flag. Prior to the shooting of the Emanuel Nine, no one ever used the words “Gov. Haley” and “racial sensitivity” in the same sentence. She had been an ardent supporter of keeping the Confederate flag flying and the list of issues where she had ignored the interest of the 30 percent of her citizens who are African American is very long.
Third, the Vice President nomination. The talk is hot and heavy and on the surface it all makes sense, she’s on everyone’s short list of possible candidates. But, I’d bet dollars to donuts it will never happen. The reason is Haley’s “problems” from her past.
In her first campaign and early days of her administration she was dogged by allegations of multiple illicit sexual affairs – complete with lurid details by a blogger/lover and an affidavit by a lobbyist. Then there were all sorts of allegations of financial irregularities and conflicts of interest that put tens of thousands of dollars in her pocket.
Are the allegations true? Isn’t it a double standard to raise sexual issues as she is an attractive woman? Were the payments she received legitimate or a clear corrupt conflict of interest?
As regrettable as it may be, in the hyper media age we live in – it doesn’t matter if they are true or not.
What matters is the allegations are there and though largely forgotten by most South Carolinians, they have never really been resolved. Now fast forward to about five dozen reporters, investigative journalists, hungry bloggers and political rumor mongers descending on Columbia 10 minutes after she is picked for Vice President and… well, you get the picture.
And so does every political operative with access to Google who is charged with vetting Gov. Haley for consideration for the Vice President slot.
It’s unfortunate, it’s ugly, it’s disgusting – and it’s also the way it is today.
So, I’m glad that Gov. Haley is taking the high road in condemning Trump and talking about the need for racial and religious tolerance. She presents a good image for our state. Let her enjoy her time in the spotlight.
But, let’s not let ourselves get carried away. As many politicians have learned, too much time in the white hot heat of the national political spotlight, and you can get burned. Ask Sarah Palin.
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform. email@example.com