To say that S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley’s first year in office has been an unmitigated disaster is an understatement. It’s been literally one unforced pooch screw after the next, a seemingly never-ending succession of corrupt deals and mindless gaffes that have resulted in Haley struggling to retain the support of even a majority of her own party.

“Every week there is a new scandal out of this young administration, all of which show a lethal mix of ineptness and disdain for governing,” Brian Hicks of The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier wrote recently.

“No matter what anyone at a state agency is ordered to tell you, it’s not a great day in South Carolina,” Hicks continued, mocking Haley’s mandated telephone greeting for state employees. “But it will be when Nikki Haley joins the growing ranks of the unemployed.”

Even longtime Haley supporter Ashley Landess of the S.C. Policy Council recently joined the growing chorus of opposition to Haley – who ran on a platform of transparency in government but has conducted her administration in a way that would have made Richard Nixon blush.

Worst of all, when confronted with the consequences of her many mistakes, Haley has lied, obfuscated or … more recently … played mute.

“Governor Haley has shown a thin skin with the press. She obviously doesn’t like being challenged,” Dean Pagani of Governor’s Journal wrote in a new piece called “South Carolina Siege Mentality,” which chronicles Haley’s disastrous  handling of the latest scandal du jour.

“A governor should not need protection from the truth,” Pagani added.

In fact things are so bad that when a Winthrop University poll came out a week ago showing Haley’s approval rating at an abysmal 34.6 percent – people wondered why it wasn’t lower.

Haley’s response to the poll?

“You’re referring to a local poll that also said President Obama was going to win South Carolina,” Haley said this weekend on Meet The Press. “And I think everybody knows this is one of the reddest of red states. And in a time where he’s showing he’s falling in swing states I just don’t believe that to be accurate.”

Not surprisingly, though, it was once again Haley’s statement which turned out to be completely inaccurate. The poll she slammed didn’t test Barack Obama’s electoral performance against any of the Republican presidential candidates – just his approval rating.

“She sure didn’t have a problem with this ‘local poll’ when we correctly predicted her gubernatorial victory in 2010,” Winthrop’s Scott Huffmon told NBC’s Ali Weinberg.

Of course the most damning number in the Winthrop poll was Haley’s 52.5 percent approval rating among Republicans – a figure which has nosedived precipitously in recent months.

But no matter how Haley wound up in this hole (or how deep the hole is), it’s clear that at the moment she is moving toward a colossally unsuccessful one-term governorship – not to mention what appears to be a very unhappy one.

How can Haley pull herself up out of the hole? Many view the her administration to be irredeemable, but we don’t believe that to be the case. Anyone has the capacity to change –

Also, as Haley’s fiercest critics it would be unsporting if we didn’t at least offer a few suggestions for her consideration. And while she’s made it abundantly clear that she “definitely” doesn’t read blogs, we know better.

Accordingly, here’s a simple five-step road map for Haley to take in the event she wants to turn her administration around …

1. Admit mistakes, ask forgiveness, promise to do better: The first step in any recovery is admitting you have a problem – something Haley has proven incapable of doing up to this point. In fact, this rigid adherence to her own infallibility has served only to compound her problems. We’re not saying Haley should come clean regarding all of her past falsehoods and indiscretions (she’d likely get thrown out of office or indicted if she did that), but a simple “I’ve made some mistakes. I’m sorry. I’m going to do better” would go a long way toward restoring her public standing.

2. Clean house: Haley hired a bunch of arrogant, inexperienced campaign workers to key positions on her staff … and it’s showing. Her worst choice? Chief of staff Tim Pearson, who is facing an open rebellion within his own ranks thanks to his dictatorial management style and the tight grip he holds over the flow of information to and from the governor. If Haley is ever to succeed, Pearson has got to go … although therein lies a major speed bump on the governor’s road to recovery. Given his starring role in covering up so many of Haley’s scandals, its unlikely that the governor will ever be able to cut him loose. Nonetheless … and in addition to canning Pearson, Haley also needs to find some adults to run her cabinet and manage her relationships with the state legislature, too.

3. Refocus on South Carolina: Haley’s recent acknowledgment that her administration doesn’t follow local news – only national headlines – is a telling indicator about where her priorities are focused. In fact, the only thing that’s been “transparent” about Haley’s administration through its first year in office is the governor’s naked national ambition. Here’s the thing, though, if Haley is ever to succeed nationally she will have to produce results here in the Palmetto State first – and we’re talking about more than just stroking taxpayer checks to select companies to locate in South Carolina. That may produce some short-term wins, but it’s not a strategy for long-term employment growth. Haley got a hall pass from the national press last week when she endorsed Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, but she can’t expect that treatment to continue if she continues on her current trajectory.

4. Offer substantive policy: Haley bragged on the campaign trail about being a “policy gal,” but so far she’s offered precious little in the way of substantive reforms. On taxes, spending, education and government structure – Haley has been a profound policy disappointment. In fact the only “reform” legislation she offered during her underwhelming first legislative session – her “Department of Administration” proposal – was nothing but a backroom deal that would have expanded, not streamlined government. This website has offered dozens of specific fiscally conservative reforms over the past year – any of which Haley could have taken and made her own. Her failure to embrace these reforms is precisely why she has lost the Tea Party. It’s also why she has lost fiscally conservative independents – people who simply don’t understand why a conservative governor approved more than 99 percent of the biggest spending plan in state history.

5. Reclaim her former ideology: One reason that Haley has failed so spectacularly on the policy front is that she no longer embraces the limited government ideology that defined her six-year record as a state legislator. And while Haley was obviously cutting plenty of shady deals that the public didn’t know about while serving in the S.C. General Assembly, she did manage to almost always position herself on the right side of the spending debate. Since becoming governor, however, Haley has morphed into a command economist of the first order – and abandoned her support for individual income tax relief, universal parental choice and meaningful government restructuring. Rather than sticking to her legislative principles, Haley went for several “quick wins” as governor – a strategy that backfired badly when fiscal conservatives realized what she was up to.

Obviously this isn’t an all-inclusive list … and we have never claimed to have a monopoly on good ideas (although we’re pretty damn close).

Even if she follows these steps, though, it may be too late for Haley. In aiming to deceive, she’s woven a pretty tangled web … meaning she may be so enmeshed in her own lies that getting out is impossible.

Also, we haven’t spoken with anyone in state government who trusts Haley any further than they could throw her … which is likely to prove incredibly problematic in the event she ever decides to articulate or advance a real reform agenda.

Finally, where Haley could have spent the last year making allies, she and her staff have made enemies … which will further complicate her ability to turn things around.

Still, we’re not convinced that Haley is irredeemable … if for no other reason than her current plight might force her into taking certain corrective political and ideological action. Of course we’d be lying if we said that we had seen any indication whatsoever that Haley understands her predicament – let alone what it’s going to take to extricate herself from it.

Right now she seems to be doubling down on dumb …

What do you think? Can Haley turn it around? And if so, what should she do? Vote in our poll and post your thoughts in our comment section below …

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