With her national ambitions on hold, her less-than-ambitious agenda stalled, her Tea Party base in revolt, her poll numbers tanking and the state and national economies both moving in the wrong direction, it’s not surprising that S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley is rethinking her approach to the job she assumed just five months ago.
The only real good news for the first-term GOP governor (aside from the taxpayer-funded vacation that she and two government employees took to Paris this month)? The fact that the Republican gubernatorial primary – in which she will likely face State Treasurer Curtis Loftis (or another well-funded GOP challenger) – is at least two years away from heating up. Of course with every scandalous update about her shady pre-gubernatorial business dealings, concerns mount that Haley may not make it that long.
Not surprisingly, Haley’s disastrous start has resulted in a rumored political reorientation – specifically an effort to shift her away from insider deal-making and back to her Tea Party roots.
But has this rumored ideological shift also resulted in a shift of influence within Haley’s inner circle?
For years, former S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford’s political organization had what aides referred to as the “Iron Triangle,” a core decision-making group that consisted of the governor, First Lady Jenny Sanford and top strategist Jon Lerner. Only on rare occasions (like Sanford’s 2002 decision not to run negative ads against Bob Peeler) did a two-thirds majority of that group not end up making command decisions.
For Haley, the “Iron Triangle” has always consisted of her, Lerner and chief of staff Tim Pearson.
Until now, that is.
Sources close to Haley tell FITS that there’s a new “wartime consigliere” in Haley’s inner circle, a strategist who is boasting that he is “the only person Haley completely trusts” to right her sinking ship.
Who are these sources referring to? Robert Cahaly.
If that name sounds familiar, it should. Less than a year ago Cahaly – whose client roster includes RINOs like S.C. Speaker Bobby Harrell and Lt. Gov. Ken Ard – was arrested on charges that he made illegal political “robo-calls.” Not only that, at the time of Cahaly’s arrest, several of the Speaker’s allies hinted that SLED may have arrested him as a result of political pressure applied by Haley, then Gov.-elect.
While SLED officials denied those rumors – it was clear that there was no love lost between the consultant and the incoming chief executive, whose bitter 2008 feud with Harrell resulted in her being demoted from a powerful House committee.
Haley and Harrell have since mended fences – and she has also formed unlikely alliances with Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman and other leaders of the state’s “Republican in Name Only” establishment.
That detente with the status quo also apparently extends to Cahaly, who we’re told has assumed considerable influence over the governor in a very short period of time. In fact, our sources say that Cahaly has been doing extensive polling for Haley in recent months – and that she trusts his numbers more than the data she’s receiving from Lerner.
Obviously Lerner isn’t completely out of the Haley loop. He did a highly-publicized – albeit inaccurate – poll for Haley last month, and several sources tell FITS that he was working the phones earlier this month on behalf of Haley’s failed effort to haul lawmakers into an emergency legislative session. He’s also still getting paid by Haley, according to her most recent campaign finance disclosure.
But it’s clear that his influence is on the wane – while the influence of Cahaly is on the rise.
Now … will Haley disclose her work with Cahaly? Or will he – like the governor’s “administrative guru” – be compensated via some other, less transparent arrangement? Also, how exactly does the rapid elevation of a status quo loyalist fit in with Haley’s rumored shift to the right?
We’ll have to wait and see …
Stay tuned to FITS as we continue to follow this shake-up at the top of the Haley power structure.