When an attractive, young, conservative governor in peep-toe pumps — and someone who’s taken on the establishment in her own party back in her home state — sets off on a national media tour just as the veepstakes are revving up, the salivary response among Sarah “Pageview” Palin’s media fan base is involuntary.
Alas, however, early Mitt Romney endorser Nikki Haley, the South Carolina governor and author of a new memoir, “Can’t Is Not an Option,” is unlikely to be asked to join the Republican presidential ticket. She has only been in office for 18 months — sound familiar? — and has an approval rating that might have her rethinking her firm position that it is always a great day in South Carolina.
She couldn’t deliver her state to Romney in the primary. And even her predecessor, Mark Sanford, best known for his tearful press conference on the subject of his Argentine “soul mate” has seen fit to weigh in on her perceived shortcomings, unhelpfully tut-tutting the fact that she’s left even a little meat on the state’s budgetary bones: “She’s taken her eye off the ball,’’ he told the National Review, “and lost focus.” (Um, governor?)
And I’m sure you remember how long it was after Geraldine Ferraro’s 1984 vice presidential nomination before the Democrats took another crazy chance like that; yes, that’s still TBA.
Go on, Rs, prove you’re better than that — and that your (likely) guy can resist the allure of a man who looks so much like his younger self. Ds doing the happy dance over the prospect of a Romney-Ryan ticket might want to rest up instead; Ryan’s smarts plus purity could equal a less roguish and risky Palin.
But this column is about Haley, who in the latest stop on her book tour, during a lunchtime appearance at the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday, said she was “devastated” that so many women who saw the way she was roughed up during her gubernatorial run have told her they see that as a reason not to pursue elected office; that wasn’t supposed to be the takeaway, ladies.
Actually, campaign-season allegations that Haley’d had an extramarital affair not only went nowhere but may even have helped her, because voters disapproved of the mud-slinging. But if women see that and bolt — and they do — what is the takeaway, other than not enough of us want it badly enough to do what it takes?
In her book, Haley writes about being put down for being so far ahead of the other students as she was growing up — her first-grade teacher called her “Little Miss Smarty Pants” — and about the discrimination she experienced as the child of immigrants from India. First, that made her quietly sad, then quietly angry; in her family, anyone who cried was handed a glass of water and sent to his or her room.
When Haley’s interlocutor, Liz Cheney, asked her to address the idea that the Republicans are engaging in a “war on women,’’ she passed, saying only, “I’m a huge fan of women; I think we’re great.”
At least she avoided the silliness visited upon RNC chairman Reince Priebus after he answered that same question this way: “If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars, and mainstream media outlets talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we have problems with caterpillars.” On cue — and even as I say this I’m feeling strangely fuzzy, and hungry — very hungry — Democrats accused him of comparing women to caterpillars.
No Republican — or Democrat, for that matter — ever went wrong calling out the media, though, so Haley did venture this honey-toned warning, delivered with a smile: “I think the media’s a little frightened of women. I wear high heels and it’s not a fashion statement; it’s for ammunition.”
At another point, she again referred to her stilettos, which I’d put at 4 inches minimum, saying that back home in South Carolina, “I’ve got a completely male Senate. Do I want to use these for kicking? Sometimes, I do.’’ (Not to go all “caterpillar” on you, but if a man made a joke about bashing women with shoes, or anything else, it wouldn’t be okay, would it?)
Haley did receive an unexpected gift on Thursday, from the head of the Democratic Party in her state, no less: In a press release, Dick Harpootlian accused her of lately spending more time on TV than working for South Carolinians: “Only 18 months in office and she has already written her biography. It used be that only people who accomplished something significant had biographies written, but in the age of Snooki and Kardashian celebrities it should be no surprise.” I’d sooner be compared with a caterpillar, but that ought to sell at least a few copies, right?
Haley is well-spoken and does seem just as tough as she brags she is. But it’s early in her career, and if both parties learned anything from ’08, it’s surely that there’s a downside involved in pushing even the most talented political newcomer too far too fast.
Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors ‘She the People.’ Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.