An Open Letter to Nikki Haley
Your party is broken. So go for broke—tell the full truth about Trump.
Dear Ambassador Haley:
You’re not going to be the next president of the United States, but I hope you stay in the race. You haven’t exactly been a profile in courage over the past year, but you’ve shown flashes of real bravery in this campaign, especially in your stalwart defense of Ukraine.
Why are you running for president? Is it out of personal ambition or because you love our country? Let’s be honest: It’s a little bit of both. That’s okay. Lincoln’s law partner once wrote that the Great Emancipator’s ambition was “a little engine that knew no rest.” For the best politicians, the drive for acclaim becomes a push for accomplishment, as their ambition leads them to achieve great things for the public. For the worst, the desire for esteem eclipses any sense of patriotism they might carry in their hearts.
I think you are a patriot who has been bobbing and weaving for years because that’s what you thought you had to do for the good of the republic. You were wrong about that: This moment in American history calls for bold truth-telling, drawing lines in the sand, and cutting through the flood of BS coming from Donald Trump and his minions. Even if what we might call the Glenn Youngkin strategy seemed to make sense months ago, the time for that is over. It’s time to embrace your inner Liz Cheney.
Madam Ambassador, memento mori. When, some distant day, you shuffle off this mortal coil, what will your grandchildren read in your obituary? You were a two-term Indian-American governor of a former Confederate state who, in a time of crisis, took down the flag of secessionists and slavers. This was no small thing, but what did you do when a sitting president tried to steal an election, sent a mob to attack the people’s representatives in Congress, and pushed our country to the edge of a constitutional crisis—if not outright into one? A line from a future newspaper: “Haley then spent a year meekly using the passive voice and mumbling about deficit spending.” A bold, forward-looking governor reduced to dissembling about the cause of the Civil War lest she offend Lost Cause neo-Confederates whose approval she desperately sought. And all it got you was a third-place showing in Iowa and 43 percent of the vote in New Hampshire. You’ve closed the door on being Trump’s vice president. What else are you realistically hoping for from this campaign—that Republican voters will turn against Trump as his legal troubles mount? The polls make clear that’s just not realistic.
YOUR LIFE ISN’T OVER and your obituary is not yet written. The country we love can still be improved by your words and deeds over the coming months. Go to your home state and tell the truth. You’re incredibly smart and well spoken—imagine how much better you’ll sound when you liberate yourself from trying to placate the MAGA cult and say what you actually think: “He’s a moron. He’s a liar. He’s done grievous harm to our country. He dines with Nazis. He needs to be held accountable, both legally and politically. They’re not ‘hostages,’ they’re criminals. We don’t do dictators in America, even for a day.” Those speeches would be electric. After South Carolina, go to every other state and tell the truth to people who only listen to politicians with an “R” after their name. Whatever vestiges of reform-minded, optimistic conservatism left over from the 2010s still lives in your bones, you can embrace them again. “We have our problems,” you can say, “but we’re a great country and a land of opportunity.”
I don’t care if your campaign is running out of money. You have a voice and, I’d imagine, an open invitation to talk to any reporter or appear on any TV program you want. Fly commercial. Carry your own bags. Trump made the news cover him in 2016 and hardly spent any money, all with a skeleton staff. You can do it too.
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Of course, you’ll make enemies. People will hate you. Guess what: They already do. Free yourself from being intimidated and pushed around by little dweebs like Charlie Kirk. In your heart of hearts, do you really care about getting a pat on the head from Steve Bannon and people who corner you at events to explain how Nancy Pelosi chartered a fleet of buses to secretly unleash a mob to attack our Capitol? I doubt it. Don’t worry about pissing off the local chapter of the Sons of the Confederacy. Run for office on your own terms, have a good time, and embrace the “strange new respect” from people you probably care more about impressing anyways.
If you want a future role in government, it’s probably only going to be a national security or ambassadorial role in a Democratic administration. Start detoxifying yourself now.
But again, this isn’t just about personal ambition or comfort. You need to pay a penance for the years you’ve spent helping Trump minimize and distort the damage he inflicted on the country after the 2020 elections. If America is going to be saved from the specter of another Trump presidency, the coalition to re-elect President Biden will need Nikki Haley Republicans. Voters with a history of voting against the Democrat, who still feel a natural affinity for the party of Lincoln and Reagan, need people like you to tell them, “It’s okay this time to vote the other way. More than that, it’s absolutely necessary.”
In one corner of today’s GOP stand J.D. Vance, Elise Stefanik, Tim Scott, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and thousands of other politicians, voters, political consultants, and think tankers who have sold their soul to MAGA out of personal ambition. In the other corner stand Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, Mitt Romney, Chris Christie, and the Constitution of the United States. It’s a smaller group, but a noble one—and they could use your help.