Nikki Haley has been captivated by past views of Donald Trump

When Haley endorsed Trump’s then-rival, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, in the South Carolina Republican primary in 2016, it looked like moderate Republicans might have their dream ticket. It also helped that Rubio, a son of Cuban immigrants, won the support of the state’s first black senator, Republican Tim Scott.

For reformers who believed the party needed to look more like modern America, the visuals of the three together on stage couldn’t have been better. However, Trump ended up winning that crucial primary, giving him an unstoppable momentum. When it came to shaking up the conservative base, racial demagoguery trumped racial healing.


Since then, Haley has embodied at least three different variants of Trump’s Republican. The first is the over-ambitious Trump appeaser. Despite being a foreign policy freshman, Haley opportunistically accepted the job at the UN precisely because she was a foreign policy freshman. With a future presidential bid in mind, she filled a gap on her resume.

Then she became a Trump mollifier, someone who, to her credit, endeavored to curb his worst instincts. At a time of America First unilateralism, when UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres feared Trump could destroy the international organization with a single tweet, she helped shield it from a catastrophic withdrawal of US funds.

Since the January 6 riot, she has become another well-known conservative figure: the brave critic. In a speech before the Republican National Committee shortly thereafter, she said Trump “will be judged harshly by history.” Then she quickly backtracked when it became clear that January 6 would not bring a moment of rejection of Trump, but rather another wave of Republican radicalization.

A real profile of conservative courage came from then-Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who lost her seat in Congress in last year’s midterm elections. In contrast, Haley looked cowardly once again.

Perhaps we should consider her campaign film more of a hostage video than a biography. Because the truth is, any Republican with serious presidential aspirations, be it Haley or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, are still prisoners of Donald Trump and afraid of his personal base.

So reviewing your career means wondering what could have been and mourning the ugliness of the here and now. Sometimes I think back to that muggy day in South Carolina and how lowering the Confederate flag could have heralded a healthier brand of conservatism.

Unfortunately, the Republican Party continues to be shaped not by Haley’s political bravery after June 17, 2015, the night Dylann Roof committed his murders, but by what happened 24 hours earlier on June 16. That was the day Trump descended his golden escalator and announced his candidacy for the presidency.

dr Nick Bryant is the author of When America Stopped Being Great: A Contemporary History.

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