Something big happened. That something, of course, was that South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio ahead of Saturday's primary in Haley's home state.
Haley joins Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) in backing Rubio's bid to become the Republican nominee. But because Haley's national profile, governing experience and status as an almost irrefutable rising star in the Republican Party eclipses that of Scott, this is the endorsement that more than a few people regard as a very, very big deal. It may be Rubio's most consequential endorsement to date — or even the biggest endorsement of the GOP nominating contest, period.
But that's really not the only reason that Republican strategists and activists got so excited Wednesday night.. A more formal Rubio-Haley collaboration — a fantasy dream ticket of young, brown or faintly tan Americans with governing experience and strong Republican principles — suddenly seems all the more likely to become real.
And there was plenty of excitement about just that. Witness this compilation.
The Republican Party, these excited folks will say, could shed its image as the exclusive political home of old white men. A Rubio-Haley ticket, they will claim, will speak volumes about the role of conservative economic and social ideas in crafting inspiring lives of un-inherited, totally bootstrapped prominence. They will offer a living, breathing, politically viable testament to problematic but often referenced "tolerance" inside the GOP.
And almost certainly, it won't be long before someone comes right out and says somewhere publicly, some version of this: All of the above would allow a Rubio-Haley ticket to draw some much needed voter diversity to the GOP. Such a phenomenon could change everything for the party in 2016 and many presidential elections to follow. After all, Republicans won't have much of a shot at the White House if they can't at some point begin to convert larger numbers of nonwhite voters.
There are just a few rather large and complicated problems with the Rubio-Haley fantasy. Optimistic Republicans, please take a deep breath.
With two large and notable exceptions, Haley's political track record is one that puts her at the far right of the Republican Party. In fact, Haley's rise to the governor's office came by way of the tea party wave. The tea party's remaining supporters most often publicly acknowledge only an avowed commitment to fiscal conservatism. But the animating ideas behind the slogans and the signs — never forget those signs at tea party rallies — make readily apparent that there's something more than a howl for fiscal restraint happening there.
Those voters have been a reliable part of the coalition to put Haley in office in South Carolina. And while many of these voters remain loyal to Haley, some of those same voters and those like them watching Haley from afar expressed the most bitter disappointment when Haley, last summer, joined with what were mostly Democrats calling for the Confederate flag to come off state capitol grounds.
Haley did so after a gunman, apparently motivated by a desire to spark a race war, shot and killed nine people inside a historic black Charleston, S.C., church. And some of that same contingent of voters — now in the thrall of Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump — were also somewhere between disappointed and utterly angry when Haley used the GOP's official State of the Union response to reject Trump's brand of hate and fear-stoking politics.
Those are the big exceptions mentioned up above. They angered significant chunks of the Republican voter base. But they still probably wouldn't be enough to overcome her larger track record with less conservative voters.
And indeed, nonwhite Americans are increasingly not aligning with the GOP's brand of conservatism — including Indian Americans. We have the data to show it. As a group, Asian American voters delivered 73 percent of their votes to Obama in the 2012 election. And, among Indian-Americans specifically, that figure was even higher: 84 percent.
And there's something else — something sensitive but significant — that also must be mentioned, if Haley's Indian-American heritage is posited at all as a draw for nonwhite voters. Take 10 minutes and peruse a pair of hashtags written out like this: #Jindian and #BobbyJindalIsSoWhite.
There is a lot there. It's all aimed at former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal (R), another Indian-American governor and and onetime 2016 presidential candidate.
Jindal, also once regarded as a Republican rising star, at some point decided to be the leading Muslims-should-be-regarded-with deep-and-codified-suspicion candidate in the 2016 race. And, there were already those stories about the person named Piyush Jindal, son of Hindu immigrants, becoming a Louisiana Catholic named Bobby Jindal who hunts, courts the endorsements the "Duck Dynasty" empire, and proudly displays official and unofficial portraits of himself with bizarrely fair skin.
That may sound, to some people — particularly those who are politically conservative — like the ideal path for the son of immigrants making a life for himself in the United States. Some might describe all of the above as nothing more than unimportant personal choices with little social or political significance.
But to others, many of whom are themselves first- and second-generation Americans, that looks and sounds a lot like something that moves beyond reasonable and practical efforts to assimilate. That's a journey that ventures into the demeaning territory of imitating a specific version of American, Southern whiteness. To them, Bobby Jindal is a curated version of Piyush Jindal.
There are a lot of reasons to believe that, were a Rubio-Haley ticket to become a reality, some voters — particularly the nonwhite voters the GOP needs — might have and more openly express similar concerns about Nimrata Randhawa Haley, the woman more widely known as Nikki Haley. And if they do, there will be more to that list of concerns than Haley's choice of names.
Her views on the existence of bigotry in the United States and the best remedies for it offer an unavoidable example of the way that Haley's politics are more readily aligned with the most conservative parts of the GOP than most voters of color.
Haley's thinking seems to boil down to this: Discrimination is rare. The problem is only as large as those discriminated against allow it to be. It is a mind-over-matter issue that can be overcome with grit, determination, grace and genuflection. Whatever you do, don't challenge, don't confront. Don't demand systemic change.
Haley's views on discrimination seem to boil down to a set of ideas that few people who face systemic and pervasive discrimination in American life are going to find terribly functional, comforting or politically engaging.
Then, there is Rubio. Rubio is a young member of the contingent of mostly older Miami-based Cuban Americans solidly aligned with the Republican Party. In addition to domestic political opinions that put many of these voters more closely in line with Republicans than Democrats, many older Cuban-Americans — particularly those who escaped the Castro regime — believe that Republicans more stringently oppose communism.
But most young Cuban Americans are different. Some have never visited the island nation or only recently done so. Most subscribe to a kind of politics that is much more domestically centered and Democratic Party-leaning.
In 2008, President Obama won the uber important state of Florida by claiming more Cuban American votes than other Democrats before him and prevailing with other Latino voters. In 2012, Obama quite nearly won the Cuban American vote in Florida and again carried the state.
So, unless Rubio's policies can come close enough to the center to appeal to more of those voters — or there's been some kind of mass migration back toward the Republican Party since 2012 — Cuban American voters in Rubio's own Electoral College-rich state are far from a lock.
And like Haley, Rubio has some other — actual and perceptual — political problems that will make a large or even small crossover of nonwhite voters unlikely. Rubio helped to draft and co-sponsor the "Gang of Eight" Senate immigration reform package in 2013. But instead of identifying aspects of the failed immigration reform package that Rubio is willing to stand behind now, Rubio has tried to zig, zag and avoid the issue entirely. This week Rubio has described the bill itself as a kind of legislative exercise never intended to become law.
That explanation doesn't sit well with those who think Rubio is too soft on immigration and those who support comprehensive immigration reform. It's likely to make them view him with greater suspicion, if not enmity too. There are about 11 million people — almost none of them Cubans due to their singular set of immigration options, but most of them Latino — who live with a degree of uncertainty and difficulty that will make that legislative exercise idea hard for them and those eligible to vote who care about them more than a little salty.
A Rubio-Haley ticket might be many things. But a panacea for the GOP's sundry political and demographic challenges? It certainly is not.