The GOP’s Civil War Gets Even More Fun

Nikki Haley’s well-received State of the Union response reveals yet another giant crack on the right.

01.13.16 8:05 PM ET

“Vice President Nikki Haley,” blared the blunt headline on Eric Erickson’s paean to the South Carolina governor after her Tuesday night State of the Union response. Erickson is not a Donald-bro, to put it mildly, so Haley’s obvious swipes at the GOP frontrunner sent him over the moon.

And he’s not entirely wrong to write: “Then there was Nikki Haley. She hit it out of the park. It was one of the best responses to a State of the Union address ever and the absolute best since Barack Obama’s election.

She showed humor, passion, and a willingness to hold the President accountable. She went so far as to admit Republicans had to share blame with the President, but presented how the GOP would fix problems it helped create.”

Then there were those who, uh, disagreed. Most famous of course was Ann Coulter’s tweet about how President Trump should deport her. A Breitbart.com article noted, grumpily, that the Republicans seemed to be using their little moment in the SOTU sun to be bashing Republicans—and not just the frontrunner but rank-and-file voters too: “According to Rasmussen, 65% of conservative voters say the United States should not let in any refugees from the entire Middle East— the point of view Republican leadership is presumably attacking with its State of the Union rebuttal.”

And there’s more: We have Laura Ingraham, who took the Dan-Snyder-esque all caps approach (“NOT SMART”), and Breitbart columnist John Nolte, who tweeted: “To the glee of our corrupt media, Nikki Haley is attacking our own frontrunner. The GOP Establishment is garbage.”

This is just five kinds of awesome, isn’t it? It’s yet more proof that the GOP could actually break in two, which will open the door to Haley’s defenders, desperate to beat back nominee Trump, rushing to someone like…well, like who is the problem, but they’ll be desperate enough to find somebody.

Now, from what I can see—and I admit I can only read so much of this stuff—Erickson seems to represent the majority view on what we might call the broad right. And Haley obviously did do a fine job last night, and she’d be as plausible a vice-presidential choice as a lot of people, especially assuming the Democrats stick with Hillary Clinton.

But now that I think about it, for which of the GOP candidates would it make sense to pluck Haley? Their birther battle aside, Cruz still wants Trump’s voters if The Donald collapses somewhere along the way, which means it’s not an obvious choice for him. Marco Rubio? So the GOP ticket would then have two nonwhite candidates. And two Southerners, but it’s the two nonwhites that seems problematic to me, and no, I’m not saying that because I think conservatives are a bunch of racists; I’m saying it because 70 percent of the general-election electorate is still white. So the only remotely plausible candidate (Jeb! is no longer this) who might choose Haley, it seems to me, is Chris Christie, currently trading at the long odds you’d expect.

But what’s most interesting here is the Haley narrative over the years and the uses to which conservatives have put her as needed. She burst on the scene, you’ll recall, in 2010. She was behind and kind of a “who?” and was going to lose to Gresham Barrett, a congressman and Citadel grad and everything a South Carolina Republican gubernatorial candidate was supposed to be, when, bam, Sarah Palin endorsed Haley, and everything flipped overnight. Barrett left the race something of a broken man, which I chronicled back in 2012.

Suddenly post-Palin, it was: new face of the GOP! A Sikh, of all interesting things! It helped that most Americans couldn’t tell you one thing about what a Sikh was; just as long as it wasn’t Arab. But yes, she’s brown—but she’s conservative, so she’s one of ours!

Then she actually became governor (although not by much—just four points in a heavily Republican state). There were glowing profiles for a little while, then a fairly major corruption scandal that nobody remembers a thing about anymore, involving charges that Haley screwed over the Port of Charleston in favor of the Port of Savannah (in neighboring Georgia) because some crony-donors of hers stood to benefit down in Savannah. Specifically, she raised $15,000 at a Georgia fund-raiser just days before her government lent its approval to the dredging of the Savannah harbor. For much of her first term her approval rating was in the 30s.

But she weathered it and won reelection handily. And she has governed quite conservatively. Here’s her ideology score as determined by a site called insidegov.com. She’s to the right of New Mexico’s Susana Martinez and Florida’s Rick Scott, and right up there with Alabama’s Robert Bentley. And she’s well to the right of Chris Christie (just go to insidegov and plug in all their names and you’ll see). Plus, she did the normal Republican governor thing of screwing 340,000 constituents out of health coverage by refusing to accept the Medicaid expansion.

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So everything was basically fine with her on the right, and then the Charleston church shooting happened. Here, fate grabbed her by the lapels. And yes, she did do the right thing when she ordered the Confederate flag removed from the state capitol grounds. She even said it never should have been there in the first place.

She had a little support on the right for that one, especially under the circumstances, with the blood of those slain African Americans still spattered on the walls of a historic church. But there was also tons of blowback. “Is the American flag next?” bayed one Fox nincompoop. Said Rush Limbaugh: “It’s not going to stop with the Confederate flag, because it’s not about the Confederate flag. It is about destroying the South as a political force. It’s about isolating, targeting, and identifying the South as Dylann Roof.”

We have yet to hear from Palin on Haley’s SOTU response. She’s in a bit of a pickle, or would be, if anyone actually cared anymore what she thought. But she’s spoken nicey-nicey about Trump in recent months. Now she has Haley, whom she helped create, attacking him. Where does she go?

Come to think of it, what Palin says on this one may in fact be instructive. And the fact that what Sarah Palin says is indicative of anything says exactly what needs to be said about the state of the GOP.