YES AND NO …
With GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump‘s campaign arguably at its general election nadir, one of his most vocal establishment “Republican” antagonists was given the opportunity to plunge a dagger in his back.
S.C. governor Nikki Haley didn’t take the bait, though.
Haley didn’t offer a ringing endorsement of her party’s standard-bearer, but she didn’t disavow him either – a surprising move given the antagonism she has consistently displayed toward his candidacy.
“Trump is the better candidate of the two,” she told reporters this week, referring to the choice between the GOP nominee and his main general election rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
That’s a smart move by Haley … whose national ambitions were dealt a devastating blow earlier this year when she decided to back the GOP establishment in its war against Trump’s populist revolt.
Needless to say, that decision didn’t pan out.
Haley – who still has one eye on the national stage – would have committed career suicide by effectively endorsing Clinton’s candidacy. Seriously … ask Ted Cruz how his “non-endorsement” of the GOP nominee turned out.
(Wait … maybe she did).
Here’s the thing, though …
Haley’s eminently sensible decision to refrain from “ditching the Donald” presents her with a golden opportunity to rehabilitate herself nationally – assuming she is smart enough to recognize it for what it is worth (and see it through to its conclusion).
Obviously Haley is never going to become a cheerleader for Trump the way she was a cheerleader for liberal “Republican” Marco Rubio. There is simply too much water under the bridge between the two politicians for that to happen – and even if Haley were inclined to play such a role (which she obviously isn’t), such an effort would come off as disingenuous (which is exactly what it would be).
But Haley doesn’t have to embrace Trump to become an effective instrument of attack against Clinton. Hell, she doesn’t even have to mention her old nemesis by name. All she has to do is bash the Democratic nominee as being inherently corrupt – not to mention an extension of the failed economic policies of Barack Obama.
Sure, such a tack would help Trump – but it would also help Haley.
In fact, we would argue Haley’s effectiveness as an anti-Clinton surrogate (well-spoken, female, minority, etc.) would only be enhanced by her prior opposition to Trump’s candidacy. After all, no one could ever mistake her as a shill for him or his policies.
Taking on Clinton would also give Haley an opportunity to educate herself on a wide spectrum of national issues where Clinton is exceedingly vulnerable – equipping her with an intellectual policy depth she currently lacks.
Unfortunately, Haley doesn’t seem to grasp the opportunity set out before her.
“I’m not going to spend the next three months going back and forth on what either candidate says because I have a state to run,” Haley told reporters this week.
Haley clearly didn’t care about “running the state” when she was barnstorming for Rubio – and even if she did care about doing her job now, the most recent South Carolina elections have neutered her politically in her home state.
In other words, she has nothing better to do …
Like many other establishment “Republicans,” Haley did everything within her power to deny Trump the GOP nomination – and it backfired on her. Badly.
Now she has a choice: She can compound the damage done by sitting on her hands over the next three months, or she can redeem herself among the millions of GOP voters who rebuked her and the rest of the party elite this election cycle.
Haley has now gone on the record saying Trump is a better choice than Clinton – now she should seize the opportunity to explain “why.”