Politics / May 24, 2024

The Soulless Hypocrisy of Nikki Haley

Haley has abandoned her opposition to Trump for political expediency. Joe Biden should use Haley’s words against her—and Trump.

John Nichols
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley announced that she would vote for former President Donald Trump during an event at the Hudson Institute on May 22, 2024 in Washington, DC.
Former UN ambassador Nikki Haley announced that she would vote for former president Donald Trump during an event at the Hudson Institute on May 22, 2024, in Washington, D.C.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

The thing to understand about Nikki Haley is that she has always been an extreme right-wing Republican. Like her ideological soulmate former House Republican Conference chair Liz Cheney, Haley genuinely believes in the anti-union, anti-choice, anti-fairness agenda that has been the defining premise of the Republican Party since the days of Ronald Reagan.

That, along with the former United Nations ambassador’s hyper-militarized approach to foreign policy, was why she often parted company with former president Donald Trump, whose self-absorbed authoritarianism has always outrun any interest he might have had in conservative ideological purity.

But, above all, Haley is a political hack who has never tempered her overarching ambition with moral clarity. That explains why she quietly endorsed Trump on Wednesday.

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The former governor of South Carolina wasn’t about to put her country ahead of her political future, as Cheney appears to have done. She wants a future in Republican politics, and, in 2024, that requires what former Illinois Republican representative Adam Kinzinger described as Haley’s “pathetic” show of loyalty to Trump.

In the end, Haley’s cynical approach to politics is still more likely to boost Trump’s November rival, Democratic President Joe Biden, than the candidate she is endorsing. That’s because Haley got so into running against Trump during the first months of 2024 that she left a legacy of blunt assessments and brutal takedowns that can and should be echoed in Biden’s fall campaign appeals.

During the course of her 2024 Republican primary challenge to Trump—which continued in a zombified form on ballots across the country even after she dropped out—Haley softened the focus on her ideology and turned up the volume on her objections to the former president. Those objections became so pointed, and were voiced so robustly, that Haley became the primary season’s last remaining credible alternative to Trump.

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While she was actively campaigning for the nomination, Haley won Vermont and the District of Columbia, and posted respectable finishes in primaries and caucuses across the country. Only when the right-wing billionaires who were funding her campaign turned off the money spigots in early March did Haley quit. But her name remained on primary ballots, and her candidacy emerged as a vehicle for Republican voters who were seeking to register their opposition to the GOP’s embrace of the former president’s crude racism, xenophobia, and “dictator-for-a-day” authoritarianism.

Voting for Haley became a way to say “no” to Trump.

Ultimately, Haley lacked the courage to keep saying “no” herself.

But many of the 4,356,256 Republican primary voters who backed her in the primaries will continue to reject Trump. And many more of them—in swing states such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Hampshire, Georgia, and Arizona—would be likely to do so if they are prompted by the Biden campaign.

Biden’s got plenty of material to work with.

Haley supporters didn’t vote for a candidate who was going to jump on board the Trump train. They voted for a candidate who called Trump out with increasing vigor as the campaign progressed. No matter what Haley says now, the Biden campaign should continue to amplify those criticisms.

Where to begin?

Here are just 10 of the many messages Haley voters have already responded to this year, and that they should be encouraged to continue to respond to in November:

1. “Everything Donald Trump touches is chaos, and Republicans keep losing as a result,” Haley said in early February. “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.”

2. Later in February, Haley was under pressure to suspend her losing campaign and endorse Trump—as the former president’s other rivals had already done. Instead, Haley suggested that Trump was the one whose continued candidacy made no sense. “This may be his survival mode to pay his legal fees and get out of some sort of legal peril,” she said of Trump’s presidential bid. “This is like suicide for our country.”

3. Candidate Haley enthusiastically ripped into Trump for his legal troubles—and said they would surely harm down-ballot Republican candidates in the fall. “Donald Trump is in court today,” Haley argued in mid-February. “Meanwhile, he’s spending millions of campaign donations on legal fees. All of this chaos will only lead to more losses for Republicans up and down the ticket.” That line of attack inspired a Politico headline: “Haley: Trump’s court ‘chaos’ will sink Republicans in November.”

4. Haley has regularly portrayed Trump as a huckster who is trying to shake down the Republican Party for money to pay for his many legal battles. “My biggest issue is I don’t want the RNC to become his legal defense fund. I don’t want the RNC to become his piggy bank for his personal court cases,” she said. “We’ve already seen him spend $50 million worth of campaign contributions toward his personal court cases. Now we see him trying to get control of the RNC, so he can continue not to have to pay his own legal fees.”

5. When Haley and Trump were still competing with each other for the GOP nomination, Haley made the salient point that her strong primary showings were proof that Trump was destined in lose in November. “He lost 40 percent of the primary vote in all of the early states,” she said while campaigning in Minnesota. “You can’t win the general election if you can’t win that 40 percent.”

6. Last December, when asked about women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct, Haley was forceful. “They should be heard, and they should be dealt with,” she explained, before adding, “I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up.”

7. Haley branded Trump as fiscally irresponsible and blamed him for creating overwhelming debts and deficits. She also dismissed GOP claims that the economy was better when Trump was in the White House. In a January op-ed for The Des Moines Register, Haley wrote, “Everyone talks about the good economy under Trump—but at what cost? He put us $8 trillion in debt in just four years. Our kids will never forgive us for that.”

8. Just weeks before she ended her primary challenge to Trump, Haley depicted him as a dangerous stooge of Russian President Vladimir Putin. “In South Carolina, he gave a speech, and he said he would actually encourage Putin to invade our allies,” Haley told CNN in late February. “Think about that— that means he’s siding with a dictator who kills his political opponents. He’s siding with a tyrant who arrests American journalists and holds them hostage. He’s siding with a thug who’s made no bones about the fact that he wants to destroy America.”

9. Haley has made an issue of Trump’s age and mental acuity, noting instances where Trump said things that were wildly untrue. “He said multiple times that he ran against President Obama,” she said. “These things happen because, guess what? When you’re 80, that’s what happens.”

10. In February, Haley told The Wall Street Journal that voting to make Trump the Republican nominee for president would be “like suicide for our country.”

That was true in February. It will be truer still in November, and Biden has every right, and responsibility, to make that fact clear as he runs against a Republican nominee whom Haley dismissed as a mentally infirm loser.

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The thing to understand about Nikki Haley is that she has always been an extreme right-wing Republican. Like her ideological soulmate, former House Republican Conference chair Liz Cheney, Haley genuinely believes in the anti-union, anti-choice, anti-fairness agenda that since Ronald Reagan’s nomination for the presidency in 1980 has been the defining premise of the modern Republican Party. That, along with the former United Nations ambassador’s hyper-militarized approach to foreign policy, was why she often parted company with former President Donald Trump, whose sef-ansorbed authoritarianism has always outrun ideological purity. But Haley is also a political hack who has never tempered her overarching ambition, which explains why she quietly endorsed Trump on Wednesday. Haley wasn’t about to put her country ahead of her political future — as Cheney appears to have done — and her concept of careerism required what former Illinois Republican Reprsentative Adam Kinzinger descrtibed as a “pathetic” show of party loyalty. In the end, Haley’s cynical approach to politics is still more likely to boost Trump’s November rival, Democratic President Joe Biden, than the candidate she is endorsing. That’s because Haley got so into running against Trump during the first months of 2024 that she left a legacy of blunt assessments and brutal takedowns that can and should be echoed in Biden’s fall campaign appeals.    During the course of her 2024 Republican primary challenge to Trump, and in an odd afterlife that saw voters across the country keep casting ballots for her, Haley softened the focus on her ideology and turned up the volume on her objections to the former president. Those objections became so pointed, and were voiced so robustly, that Haley became a widely-recognized alternative to Trump. While she was actively campaigning for the nomination, the former governor of South Carolina won Vermont and the District of Columbia, and posted credible finishes in primaries and caucuses. When the right-wing billionaires who were funding her campaign turned off the money spiggots, Haley quit. But she remained the most widely-recognized vehicle for Republican primary voters seeking to register their opposition to the GOP’s embrace of the former president’s crude racism, xenophonia and “dictator-for-a-day” authoritarianism. Voting for Haley became a way to say “no” to Trump. Ultimately, Haley lacked the courage to keep saying “no” herself. But 4,356,256 Haley voters in the Republican primaries — many of them in swing states such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Hampshire, Georgia and Arizona — have already done so, and those numbers are likely to rise. Haley supporters didn’t vote for a candidate who was going to jump on board the Trump train. They voted for a candidate who called Trump out. No matter whatHaley says now, the Biden campaign should continue to amplify those criticisms. Haley can say that she’s voting for Trump. Here are just ten of the many messaages Haley voters have already responded to this year, and that should be encouraged to continue to respond to in November:
  1. 1. “Everything Donald Trump touches is chaos, and Republicans keep loosing as a result,” Haley said in early February. “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.”

2. Later in February, Haley was under pressure to suspend her losing campaign and endorse Trump — as the former president’s other rivals had already done. Instead, Haley suggested that Trump was the one whose continued candidacy made no sense. “This may be his survival mode to pay his legal fees and get out of some sort of legal peril,” she said of the Trump’s presidential bid. “This is like suicide for our country.”

3. Candidate Haley enthusiastically ripped into Trump for his legal troubles — and said they would surely harm down-ballot Republican candidates in the fall.” “Donald Trump is in court today. There will be a verdict on another case tomorrow,” Haley argued in mid-February. “Meanwhile, he’s spending millions of campaign donations on legal fees. All  of this chaos will only lead to more losses for Republicans up and down the ticket.” That line of attack inspired a Politico headline that read: “Haley: Trump’s court ‘chaos’ will sink Republicans in November.”

4. Haley has regularly portrayed Trump as a huckster who is trying to shake down the Republican Party for money to pay for his many legal battles. “My biggest issue is I don’t want the RNC to become his legal defense fund. I don’t want the RNC to become his piggy bank for his personal court cases,” she says. “We’ve already seen him spend $50 million worth of campaign contributions toward his personal court cases. Now we see him trying to get control of the RNC, so he can continue not to have to pay his own legal fees.” 5. When Haley and Trump were still competing with one another for the GOP nomination, Haley made the salient point that her strong primary showings were proof that Trump was destined in lose in November. “He lost 40 percent of the primary vote in all of the early states,” she said while campaigning in Minnesota. “You can’t win the general election if you can’t win that 40 percent.”

6. Last December, when asked about women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct, Haley said, “They should be heard, and they should be dealt with,” she explained, before adding that, “I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up.”

7. Haley branded Trump as fiscally irresponsible and blamed him for creating overwhelming debts and deficits. She also dismissed GOP claims that the economy was better when Trump was in the White House. In a January op-ed for The Des Moines Register, Haley wrote, “Everyone talks about the good economy under Trump — but at what cost? He put us $8 trillion in debt in just four years. Our kids will never forgive us for that.”

8. Just weeks before she ended her primary challenge to Trump, Haley depicted the presumptive Republican presidential nominee as a dangerous stooge of Russian President Vladimir Putin. “In South Carolina, he gave a speech, and he said he would actually encourage Putin to invade our allies,” Haley told CNN in late February. “Think about that – that means he’s siding with a dictator who kills his political opponents. He’s siding with a tyrant who arrests American journalists and holds them hostage. He’s siding with a thug who’s made no bones about the fact that he wants to destroy America.”

9. Haley has made an issue of Trump’s age and mental accuity, noting instances where Trump said things that were wildly untrue. “He said multiple times that he ran against President Obama,” she said. “These things happen because, guess what? When you’re 80, that’s what happens.”

10. In February, Haley told The Wall Street Journal that voting to make Trump the Republican nominee for president would be “like suicide for our country.”

That was true in February. It will be truer still in November, and Biden has every right, and responsibility, to make that fact clear as he runs against a Republican nominee who Nikki Haley dismissed as a mentally-infirm loser.

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