Nikki Haley’s decision to abandon parental choice during her general election campaign for governor of South Carolina has infuriated many “movement” conservatives … including us.
It’s the latest example of Haley’s “shift to the center” – not to mention another repudiation of the Tea Party support that propelled her to victory in the GOP primary and runoff elections. But here’s the question … will turning her back on choice (not to mention the tens of thousands of children trapped in failing schools) help Haley become governor?
Obviously she thinks it will … or else she wouldn’t have done it, right? Let’s examine that premise for a moment, though …
In the past, Haley has sponsored and spoken out aggressively in support of universal parental choice legislation. She’s also voted in favor of universal parental choice bills on multiple occasions, creating a public record that runs counter to her recently-adopted platform.
Of course in spite of her deliberately dismissive comments last week, Haley did not give the parental choice movement the coup de grace that supporters of our state’s failed status quo were hoping for. In fact, Haley said that if a universal choice bill reached her desk, she would sign it.
So … what exactly was she hoping to gain?
This is becoming a perfect case study of a politician wanting to have her cake and eat it too.
On the one hand, Haley wants to preempt potential attacks from the state’s liberal establishment by removing the issue of parental choice from the table altogether. In other words, she wants to run her campaign as if the issue didn’t exist. On the other hand, Haley can’t afford to retreat on the issue completely because parental choice remains hugely popular among her conservative base. Also, she can’t afford to flip-flop on the issue completely or risk being branded as a political hypocrite – a charge she’s already having to beat back as it relates to her one-time signature issue of government transparency.
The result? A delicate tap dance that has Haley seeking to serve two masters.
Clearly, such an approach has disaster written all over it …
First of all, if Haley thinks that the state’s educrat establishment is going to take it any easier on her this fall because she’s “retreating” on school choice – she’s in for the surprise of a lifetime. If anything, the left will attack her even harder now that it knows she’s afraid of the issue – while at the same time reminding voters every step of the way that she’s “trying to hide” from her real record. That could dovetail nicely with a broader message of Haley “not being who she says she is,” which Democrats are already exploiting with some success.
“She gains absolutely nothing,” one of Haley’s conservative colleagues in the S.C. General Assembly told FITS. “She’s not taking that club out of their hands.”
Haley also comes off looking like a typical politician in the process – which will hurt her among the very independent voters that she’s targeting with this new “centrist” strategy.
Meanwhile, Haley’s attempt to backtrack on universal choice – along with her stated support for re-instituting the grocery tax – is already starting to cost her among the “movement” that she purports to lead. Look no further than the scathing rebuke she received from S.C. Sen. Larry Grooms (one of the state’s few fiscally-conservative lawmakers) who described her education proposals as a “dressed up version of the status quo.”
Haley also isn’t doing herself any favors in pushing for a small corporate tax hike rather than the broad-based individual income tax support that fiscal conservatives favor. And while she’s doing her best to play the “corporations create jobs” angle (which they do), in South Carolina the vast majority of jobs are created by small businesses – most of which file individual income tax returns.
Now … will any of this matter come November?
Probably not. According to the latest Rasmussen Reports poll, Haley enjoys a commanding 14-point lead over her Democratic opponent, S.C. Sen. Vincent Sheheen – a liberal trial lawyer who personifies the failed “good ole’ boy” policies of the past. With the wind at the GOP’s back this year, Haley is still a virtual lock to become South Carolina’s next governor.
But that’s exactly our point …
As we wrote in discussing Haley’s suddenly “centrist” candidacy, the current electoral climate should have her “pressing the gas pedal to the floor on behalf of S.C. taxpayers, not pulling an ideological U-turn.”