From the beginning of her overt jockeying for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley has drawn criticism for attempting to play all sides against the center – especially as it relates to her uneven positioning vis-à-vis former U.S. president Donald Trump.
Attempting to “eat her cake and have it, too,” has long been Haley’s modus operandi … but her “all things to all people” shtick has failed to engender much in the way of support from either the GOP establishment or from Trump’s conservative base.
Nor will it as long as those camps continue to grow further apart …
This news outlet’s founding editor Will Folks has penned several columns related to Haley’s calculated duality over the last few years – and last week he weighed in on the subject again as her ongoing dilemma received expansive national treatment in a widely cited Politico magazine piece from Tim Alberta.
(As expected, Alberta’s column had all sorts of brutal fallout for Haley).
But wait … what if a vice somehow became a virtue?
What if Haley’s basic problem could be turned on its ear and branded as something positive?
Turning a character flaw into a character strength …
What if naked ambition and cool calculation could somehow be portrayed as principled politicking and that rarest of qualities in our public discourse – independent thought?
Oh, and best of all for Haley … what if there were someone to blame for the negative light in which many on both sides of the Republican divide currently perceive her?
These were the high hurdles ahead of Haley as she (or one of neoconservative handlers) put fingers-to-keypad for an opinion editorial that ran in yesterday’s online editions of The Wall Street Journal.
And guess what … Haley cleared all of hurdles. With room to spare, in fact.
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“Republicans need to be honest about what worked and what didn’t over the past four years,” Haley wrote, branding her schizophrenic approach to the 45th president as “not a contradiction” but “common sense.”
“We should embrace the successes of the Trump presidency and recognize the need to attract more support,” Haley continued. “Most of Mr. Trump’s major policies were outstanding and made America stronger, safer and more prosperous. Many of his actions since the election were wrong and will be judged harshly by history.”
The good Trump did “brought millions of new voters into the Republican party,” Haley continued – though she acknowledged the party “also lost millions of voters” as well as “our majorities in the House and Senate.”
“I will gladly defend the bulk of the Trump record and his determination to shake up the corrupt status quo in Washington,” Haley concluded. “I will never defend the indefensible. I didn’t do that when I served alongside President Trump, and I’m not going to start now. If that means I want to have it ‘both ways,’ so be it.”
(Click to view)
(Via: Getty Images)
In fact, this newly articulated “Haley Doctrine” (#SortaTrump?) was described by its author as “the only way forward – for the party and the country.”
Oh, and the best part of Haley’s piece? Its convenient bogeyman, the “anti-Trump media” – which she accused of engaging in “a calculated strategy to pit conservatives against one another” over the former president.
“Hatred and polarization draw attention, ratings and clicks,” Haley wrote. “But what’s good for them is bad for America.”
Again, brilliant …
Look, we all know what has happened with Haley this year. She was indignant toward Trump for allegedly inciting of a riot at the U.S. capitol building on January 6 – stoking outrage against his handling of the situation in the hopes the GOP would finally abandon him (or that he would abandon the GOP).
But once it became clear the Republican base wasn’t bailing on Trump – and that Trump wasn’t bailing on the GOP – Haley changed her tune.
Seriously … does anyone think for a second she would have penned a column like this had polling shown a majority of GOP voters were rejecting Trump?
Of course not … she would have piled on.
Still, Haley’s attempt to recast her self-serving political machinations as some form of statesmanship … is absolutely brilliant. And on top of that, brilliantly executed. Her “I’m not a flip-flopper I’m a free thinker” has real long-term potential for Haley. In fact, assuming enough money is put behind this message, it could emerge as a defining counter-narrative for her as she seeks to reset the Republican conversation.
And make no mistake, there is plenty of money behind Haley. And no shortage of desire to reset the conversation.
Obviously, tremendous impediments still lay ahead for the ex-ambassador as she seeks to “flip the script.” Many Republicans – most of them Trump backers – do not trust her (and with good reason). More to the point, Trump’s acquittal by the U.S. Senate on his latest impeachment charge preserves his ability to campaign for the GOP nomination in 2024 – which could conceivably douse all other Republican presidential aspirations (including Haley’s).
But we have to admit: This image reclamation effort is off to an impressive start. And while it will take more than one agile column to undo the damage done to her brand, Haley has found a winning message for that purpose.
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