During a press conference on Monday, Gov. Nikki Haley will ask that the Confederate flag on the grounds of South Carolina's capitol be removed, according to the Post and Courier. The move from the popular governor (reelected last year by 15 points and with 79 percent approval last April) will almost certainly help encourage the state legislature to vote for removal. As it stands, the legislature needs a two-thirds vote to make that happen -- a high bar.
Why is Haley taking the lead here? There are a few clues.
During last year's campaign, Haley addressed the subject of the flag in a debate, after her Democratic opponent made it a campaign issue. Back then, she didn't consider it a priority.
"Over the last three-and-a-half years," she began, "I spend a lot of my days on the phone with CEOs, recruiting jobs to this state. I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the confederate flag." She went on to explain that the image of South Carolina's diversity was bolstered by her election and the appointment (then election) of Sen. Tim Scott (R).
But the comment above is significant. The Times' Jonathan Martin spent the weekend talking to people in South Carolina, and tweeted some updates about what he'd learned. Here's what he described as "the bottom line."
And then there's the bottom line: the bottom line. Biz community wants flag down. SC has become hub for Boeing, BMW, tourism.Pols won't risk
— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) June 22, 2015
We don't know that Haley has started to receive calls from CEOs that are different in tone. But if the business community is starting to express concern, it's clearly a powerful reason for Haley to shift her position.
Haley is also smart enough to be looking ahead. She's termed out in 2018, and would certainly like to hold higher office -- perhaps in Congress or perhaps in the administration of a successful 2016 Republican presidential candidate. That means making a national name for herself, and this issue presents a good opportunity. She was elected in 2010 as a political reformer and making a move like this is in keeping with a "telling hard truths" image.
What's more, the political risk for her in the state appears to be small. Strong support for keeping the flag isn't very high. And in the legislature, there's some momentum in Haley's favor. The bill to remove the flag was introduced in the state House by a Republican; at least one other Republican in the House and one in the Senate are already on-record in support of it. In other words, outside observers may see Haley as moving on this early but she may, in fact, just be jumping in front of an oncoming wave.
If so, that's brilliant politics. Every politician's goal is to get the credit for something popular that would have happened anyway. She can deliver for worried businesspeople. She can take a moral stand. And most of all, it lets Haley do for her national aspirations what the 2016 candidates couldn't: Take a bold position.