I Feel Like I’m Taking Crazy Pills About Nikki Haley
In all of the game theory strategizing, we’ve lost sight of what her campaign is exposing in the Republican party.
Tonight on the livestream our friend Amanda Carpenter is back! Amanda left The Bulwark to go to one of my favorite organizations: Protect Democracy. And she’ll be bringing her colleague Ian Bassin, who served as associate White House counsel for Barack Obama, onto the show with her.
So come hang out with me, Amanda, and Ian tonight at 8 p.m. in the East.
I have already spent too much time writing about Nikki Haley but this morning it struck me that all of the strategizing and gaming out and meta-conversation was obscuring the most important truth of her candidacy:
Nikki Haley’s campaign is a burlesque show about the truth. Her performance is yoked to the amount of truth she tells Republicans about Trump. This tells us everything we need to know about the disposition of Republican voters.
All campaigns titrate their messages: Sen. Jones chooses to emphasize his fiscal conservatism and attack Gov. Smith’s social moderation. But usually these decisions are about emphasis. How hard does Jones want to go in attacking Smith’s pro-life bona fides? Jones wants to hurt Smith with primary voters, but doesn’t want to paint herself into a corner for the general election.
The Haley campaign isn’t about issues or emphasis. It’s about objective truths. Did Donald Trump commit sexual assault? Of the 91 criminal indictments he faces, are any of them serious accusations? Is Trump’s incitement of an insurrection sufficient to trigger Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment? More than a dozen of his top administration officials say he is unfit for office—are they correct?
Haley can’t touch any of these truths. Doing so would instantly render her nonviable in the party because—and this is the Big Thing—telling any of these truths would cause the majority of Republican voters to instinctively reject her.
This is a very big deal! It is unprecedented! Why isn’t this fact the dominant topic of conversation surrounding Haley’s campaign? Because it is this fact—not the question of how much truth should Haley tell, or whether she will continue past South Carolina—that will shape American politics in the coming months and years, no matter what happens in the 2024 election.
This isn’t a knock on Haley. Politics is the art of the possible. But “what is possible” in the Republican primary is a screaming alarm about the desires, allegiances, and cognitive abilities of Republican voters.
That is the THE story of our time.
I feel like we could see this more clearly if it weren’t about Trump.
Let’s pretend that Republican voters had some other taboo. Let’s pretend that Republican voters believed the earth was flat and refused to vote for any candidate who said the earth was round.
If Nikki Haley ran a campaign in which she said things like—
“I don’t pay attention to the shape of the earth, because it doesn’t affect kitchen-table issues.”
“Joe Biden says the earth is round and that’s all you need to know about him.”
“There are extremists who believe in Flat Earths and Round Earths and I’m in favor of the American Earth.”
—what would we think? We would freak out because if saying that the earth was round would doom Haley’s campaign, then it would mean that > 30 percent of the voting age population in America was immune to basic facts, reason, and logic.
And it would be a HUGE deal, right?
It’s important to keep your eye on the ball and not to look away from this stuff. That’s what we do here, every day. We focus on the real so that you can see around the corners. Come and ride with us.
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But you’re going to forking love it.
By now you’ve heard the news: Charlie Sykes is leaving The Bulwark.
Allow me a minute to shine a light on how important Charlie has been, not just to The Bulwark but to the cause of democracy.
In March 2016, Charlie had Donald Trump on his radio show. At the time, Charlie was the dean of Wisconsin conservatism and Trump was rolling toward the Republican nomination. Some people in Conservatism Inc. had already caved to Trump. Most were wavering.
For 17 glorious minutes, Charlie took a blowtorch to Trump.
How much did it matter? Trump lost Wisconsin, blunting his momentum. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that Charlie may have singlehandedly pushed Wisconsin into Cruz’s column and given the Republican party a chance to save itself.1 Had Republican elites coalesced around Cruz, they probably could have stopped Trump after Wisconsin. But only because Charlie bought them time.
He gave up his radio show rather than conform himself to Trumpism, which made him nearly unique in his industry. Just about every other talk radio guy got right with their audience. Charlie refused to go along with aspiring authoritarianism.
I first met Charlie at The Weekly Standard and was impressed from the start that as good a talker as he was, he was an even better writer.2 His writing was concise and thoughtful. It revealed a clarity of mind, but also a sense of humor.
Few people are lucky enough to be great at something. Charlie was great at multiple things.
When we stood up The Bulwark we didn’t quite know what we were doing. We had some ideas about what might be accomplished, but those evolved. Originally we had a tagline about “conserving conservatism,” but it became clear pretty quickly that (a) conservatism had transformed irreversibly, and (b) America had a bigger problem. Trumpism began as an attack on conservatism, devolved into a takeover of the Republican party, and mounted an overt assault on liberal democracy itself.
So that’s where we’ve made our stand. The pro-democracy movement is an enormous, self-assembled machine. It is composed of tens of millions of gears, most of which operate independently.
If The Bulwark has been a useful cog, then a lot of that is because of Charlie’s energy and the work he’s done here over the last five years.
So I hope that over the next week you’ll tell him how much you appreciate him. He deserves it.
And while it’s sad to lose Charlie as a colleague, everyone at The Bulwark is family. And family is forever.
3. Bari Weiss Is Just Asking Questions
Bari Weiss’s Free Press is super-duper anti-woke. The problem with having “anti-woke” as your lodestar is that it leads you to dabble in all sorts of other things. Like vaccine skepticism and . . . George Floyd wasn’t actually murdered maybe?
Yes, that is a thing Bari Weiss is now publishing, with a piece about a Derek-Chauvin-is-innocent documentary called The Fall of Minneapolis.
Radley Balko has the takedown:
As far as I know, the Free Press is the first major publication that doesn’t self-identify as conservative to cover the documentary reverently, and to amplify its claims . . .
The documentary makes a lot of outlandish claims, but I want to focus mostly on the two that I’ve seen most often. These are also the two claims that Hughes spends most of his piece promoting.
The first claim is that when Chauvin put his knee on Floyd’s back and neck for nine minutes, it could not have been criminal assault because the Minneapolis Police Department has trained its officers -- including Chauvin -- to use that very technique.
The second claim is that Floyd’s official autopsy found that he died of a heart attack brought on by cardiovascular disease and drug use. Therefore, Chauvin could not have been responsible for Floyd’s death.
Both of these claims are false. The first claim is not only incorrect, the documentary engages in deceptive editing and convenient omissions to push it. In other words, the documentary is lying. The second claim is also incorrect, but the explanation is a bit more complicated.
Read the whole thing and subscribe to Balko’s newsletter.
It’s a neat trick that Bari Weiss pulls: She’s doesn’t actually say the crazy stuff herself. She publishes other people saying the bad stuff so that she can remain a respectable mainstream celebrity.
Radley Balko, on the other hand, is the real deal and deserves your support.
During that stretch of the 2016 campaign (we’re talking late March and early April), Cruz won 4 of 7 states and Wisconsin was the big prize.
That, too, made him unique in his industry.