Once in office, she showed guts in responding to the mass murder carried out by a white supremacist at a Black church in Charleston in 2015. Haley led the charge to remove a giant Confederate flag from the State House, a move the legislature took reluctantly.
The last time I had any hope for the GOP was in February 2016, when Haley endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose presidential campaign I was then advising on foreign policy. The picture of Haley, Rubio and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) — an Indian American, a Cuban American and an African American — campaigning together was a symbol of how the party could embrace the country’s multicultural future. “I will not stop until we fight a man that chooses not to disavow the KKK,” Haley thundered. “That is not a part of our party. That is not who we want as president.”
We know how that turned out. Trump won the South Carolina primary, the nomination and the presidency. Every GOP leader in the land, Haley included, bent the knee. Yet Haley somehow managed to keep her distance from Trump even while serving as his U.N. ambassador. “She acquitted herself admirably at the United Nations,” I wrote after her departure at the end of 2018.
There is nothing admirable about how Haley has conducted herself since. Her ambition — she desperately wants to be president — is obvious. Her principles are not. Haley was initially supportive of Trump’s attempts to overturn the election results. “Despite what the media tells us,” she tweeted on Nov. 13, “election fraud does happen, and policies like ballot harvesting and mailing ballots to people who don’t request them makes it easier. That needs to stop.”
In a mid-December interview with Tim Alberta (whose Politico profile of her is a masterpiece of political reporting), Haley twisted herself into rhetorical pretzels to avoid condemning Trump’s assault on our democracy. She suggested his lies about the election were somehow okay because “genuinely, to his core, he believes he was wronged.” She also predicted that he would accept defeat after losing a Supreme Court challenge. “If this case falls through,” she said, “he’s going to go on his way.”
Instead of going away, Trump incited a violent insurrection. The day after the Capitol was stormed, Haley showed another flash of courage in denouncing the president at a Republican National Committee meeting. “His actions since Election Day will be judged harshly by history,” she said. A few days later, she told Alberta: “He went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him. … We can’t let that ever happen again.”
Her condemnation of Trump got wide media play, but reading the Politico article more closely, it’s obvious that she only came out against him because she thought his appeal would wane. She predicted that Trump was “going to find himself further and further isolated” and lose “any sort of political viability.” That hasn’t happened. Trump proved just as popular with Republicans after Jan. 6 as before it. (In a recent poll, 76 percent of Republicans said they would support him for the nomination again.)
So Haley, the ambitious politician, decided to recalibrate. On Jan. 25, the day that the House transmitted an article of impeachment to the Senate, Haley went on Fox News and went into full Trump defender mode. “They beat him up before he got into office and they’re beating him up after he leaves office,” she said. “I mean at some point, give the man a break.” What’s a violent insurrection between friends? Get over it!
Politico reports that Haley even tried to go to Mar-a-Lago to meet with the Republican idol. He cruelly turned her down. But she continues with her pathetic efforts to ingratiate. On Sunday, Trump rehearsed his old grievances and lies, including the Big Lie about winning the election, in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference. Suggesting that she had listened to a different speech than the rest of us, Haley abjectly tweeted: “Strong speech by President Trump about the winning policies of his administration and what the party needs to unite behind moving forward.”
I feel like a chump for ever thinking that Haley was a politician of principle. If she believes in anything other than her own ambition, it’s not clear what it is. Which, in a way, makes her the perfect candidate for a Republican Party that no longer seems to have any principle other than an insatiable lust for power at any price.