It’s become conventional wisdom among the punditocracy that former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador Nikki Haley is on track to be the first woman Republican presidential nominee. She’s one of the few members of the Trump administration to escape with their reputations more or less intact, even having gotten away with publicly disagreeing with the president from time to time and remaining in his good graces.
There have been persistent rumors that now that he knows the conservative evangelical voters are his most loyal Christian soldiers, Trump has been thinking about dropping his sycophantic wingman, Vice President Mike Pence, in favor of the charismatic Haley as his re-election running mate. Some people believe having her on the ticket might be helpful since so many women in this country are violently repelled by him.
In a sane world, Haley would be an obvious choice for either spot on a GOP ticket. She is a Southerner, and she’s accomplished and experienced while also being anti-feminist and very conservative. As the daughter of Indian immigrants, she is also a woman of color, which not too long ago was considered an asset for a party that boasts very few nonwhite members and is in desperate need of somehow refuting the notion that it has become a de facto white nationalist political party in a country that is more and more diverse. After Mitt Romney’s loss to Barack Obama in 2012, the GOP did a full post mortem — driven largely by then-House Speaker Paul Ryan — that concluded the party needed to do serious outreach to minority voters or risk becoming a permanent minority itself.
But then Trump happened. And now the party couldn’t refute its white nationalist ideology even if it tried, or more to the point even if it wanted to. Over the course of the last few days, the president and his accomplices in the Congress and throughout the rest of the GOP leadership have demonstrated that they are all in.
Haley has had nothing to say about Trump’s repeated racist rants on twitter and TV about the four Democratic congresswomen going “back to where they came from” because they “hate America.” Her only tweet since it started was the following vague irrelevance on Sunday morning.
Since then she’s tweeted about Wimbledon and a cute baby but she’s had nothing to say about Trump’s scandalous commentary.
You can’t blame exactly her. It’s uncomfortable for Haley to say anything, since her parents are immigrants and all. And frankly, rank-and-file GOP voters are making it clear that they like Trump’s upfront white nationalism as much as the official white nationalists do. Early polling shows that Trump is actually gaining support among Republicans for his overt racism (while losing support from independents), which suggests that Haley will not be able to paper over this diversity problem while keeping the racist voters on the team. The GOP base doesn’t want to paper it over. Trump has liberated them from all pretense.
But there’s another Republican woman who looks like she’s making a move. That would be third-term congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who now holds the third most powerful position in the House GOP leadership. Unlike Haley she isn’t reluctant to join the fight. In fact, she was waging twitter war with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., well before Trump’s recent Twitter tantrums.
Cheney has established that she can take on the traditional VP role of attack dog by being almost as vicious as the president himself. On Tuesday she delivered a fiery denunciation of the four progressive women of color whom Trump has been vilifying for days, brazenly asserting that in spite of all the evidence he has provided, the complaints about them have nothing to do with their race, religion or gender. Instead, she embellished the script every GOP official but Trump is following by saying that the issue is their determination to destroy the country with their allegedly socialist views:
It must be pointed out that the GOP outrage over these Democrats’ alleged failure to recognize that America is “the greatest nation that ever existed” is thick with irony. Their own president delivered an inaugural address known as the “American Carnage” speech. As far as he’s concerned, every American leader for the last 60 years or so has been an embarrassment who turned the U.S. into a weak and subservient nation, laughed at and exploited by every other country in the world.
Cheney is clever. She let Trump do the dirty work of saying out loud what the base wants to hear. Then she piled on with a long laundry list of lies, tying a fantasy Democratic ideology to Trump’s racist, Islamophobic, misogynist commentary without ever having to say the words herself. She has a talent for going for the jugular in a more traditional way that might just reassure any wavering GOP female voters that she represents a return to the old-fashioned Republican insults they know and love — racist dog-whistles and red-baiting.
At the moment, there’s a lot of speculation that Cheney will run for the Wyoming U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Mike Enzi. Polls show she would win the primary against another woman who has already announced, which means she would almost certainly win the seat in one of the reddest of red states. It’s also true she’s on the leadership fast track in the Republican House caucus, and may stay put there, believing that’s her best springboard to higher office. Whatever she chooses, she will be a powerful force in Republican politics.
Liz Cheney is almost certainly thinking about running for president, as is Nikki Haley. But at this point in the GOP’s evolution, only one of them will be seen by most Trump-crazed Republican voters as a leader they can trust. It won’t be the woman of color whose parents came to America to start a new life. It’s the white woman who’s an authoritarian nationalist with a Republican establishment pedigree a mile long, who eagerly marches in lockstep with the president. Now that‘s a woman Trump voters can sincerely admire.
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