Nikki Haley Is Finally Running a Real Campaign
Plus: The law and order guys go all in on defying the Constitution
Nikki Haley is angering a lot of Republicans by staying in the race for the presidential nomination. Since she outperformed some expectations in the New Hampshire primary, taking 9 delegates to Donald Trump’s 12, there has been a noticeable shift in her rhetoric and campaign’s behavior: She’s left behind the timid obsequiousness that characterized most of the Republican primary field from the beginning and taken a more aggressive stance towards the former president.
In the past week, Haley has said Trump is in a state of mental decline, has said she unequivocally sides with the jury following the most recent judgment against the former president for defaming a woman who accused him of sexual assault, and has heavily marketed t-shirts emblazoned with the words “BARRED. PERMANENTLY”—a reference to Trump’s threat that he will exile her donors from the MAGA movement. (The Haley campaign claims to have generated at least half a million dollars from the shirts so far.)
To put it lightly, conservatives are not happy about Haley’s belated Super Saiyan transformation. There was an effort within the Republican National Committee to declare Trump the presumptive nominee and squeeze Haley out by discouraging her supporters and donors. While Trump publicly denounced the plan, it was later reported that he was the one behind it. (Shocker.)
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), the sole sitting member of Congress supporting Haley’s campaign, told me, “This is January, and 40 states have not had their say-so,” adding:
That’s wrong, what [RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel] did. She represents 72 million registered Republicans, and that’s not her call. Let the people decide that have given to [Haley], the people who are supporting her.
Norman’s backing of Haley has always struck me as odd. He’s an ultraconservative member of the Freedom Caucus whose buddies have nearly all lined up behind Trump, and the ones who haven’t are facing retribution for daring to side with Ron DeSantis during his short-lived campaign. It was Norman who, you’ll remember, texted then–White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows after January 6th to ask that Trump declare “marshall law.” (His only regret, he now says, is misspelling “martial.”) Norman’s support of Haley is a bit of a throwback, reminiscent of the state party loyalties that were more politically salient during earlier eras in American politics.
I spoke with Norman further about some of the harder jabs Haley has tried to land since the New Hampshire primary.
Regarding Haley’s support of the jury that awarded $83 million to E. Jean Carroll for Trump defaming her after a separate jury found him liable of sexual assault, Norman suggested Haley isn’t up to date on the particulars of Trump’s many cases, saying:
Well, she says, too, she’s not following it. She doesn’t know the ins and outs, right or wrong. He’s got his charges. She’s in this race. She’s gonna stay in this race and it’s pretty exciting. She’s not surrendering.
Norman was likely referring to Haley’s remarks in January when she excused Trump’s behavior by insisting she is “not a lawyer” and hasn’t “paid attention to his cases.” She left that starting point in the dirt this Sunday, when she said on NBC’s Meet the Press, “I absolutely trust the jury, and I think that they made their decision based on the evidence.”
As to whether he agrees with Haley’s new opinion that Trump’s episodes of confusion and Cartman–like recall signals that the former president is “in decline,” Norman said, “She just points that out.”
In the same NBC interview, Haley said she’ll have to do better than she did in New Hampshire if her campaign is to continue. When you come in second place out of two, there’s really only one way to improve.
However, Norman isn’t confident that Haley can win their shared home state of South Carolina, saying, “Oh, I don't know. A day in politics is a lifetime.”
Haley’s sudden change of character might not last long. When Trump’s rivals finally break, all that’s required of them is to kiss the ring and bend the knee. Then everything is forgiven. For the time being, Haley is at least putting in a real effort to avoid bowing to the king.
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Please mess with Texas
Republicans are encouraging open defiance of the Supreme Court. After the Court ruled 5–4 that federal border agents can remove razor wire Texas authorities have installed along parts of the U.S. border with Mexico, Governor Greg Abbott rejected their ruling and promised to replace the barrier if they cut it down, setting up a showdown with the federal government.
The editorial board of the Houston Chronicle, the state’s largest newspaper, came out against Abbott’s refusal to comply with the law, writing:
Abbott, a former Texas Supreme Court justice, apparently thinks he knows better than the highest court in the nation what the U.S. Constitution says. Indeed, he’s ordering even more of the barbed deterrent strung up to keep migrants, including families with children, from entering the U.S. In a statement, Abbott made a convoluted constitutional argument that basically claims self-defense. That’s right, the governor of a state that has maimed migrants with razor wire, deprived them of water in the summer and left to them to drown in the river is arguing self-defense. What a man. What a maverick.
That hasn’t stopped Republicans from ardently supporting Texas in its defiance of the Supreme Court. The Republican Governors Association issued a 25-state letter of support for Abbott’s claim of a “constitutional right to self-defense” while members of Congress have openly egged him on, including at the highest levels of leadership.
I briefly spoke to Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee and a former chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. He defended Abbott’s position while lamenting the inability of different levels of government to work together:
I think the bigger issue for me is the, the [law] that allows for local law enforcement to detain illegals and whether that is constitutional because as I understand it, when they detain the illegal, then they give them an opportunity to return to their country or be faced with an ICE detainer that will put them in the federal system. And I think, you know, the sad thing is that the federal, state, and local—I mean, we should be working together, not divided on this. And this administration has decided to be divided on the issue and that’s only empowered and enraged my state.
While still excusing Abbott’s behavior, McCaul’s position is a fraction as rabid as that of some of his House Republican colleagues. During a press conference Monday with the Republicans from the Texas delegation1, Rep. Randy Weber said, “Governor Abbott is doing the right thing. He’s taking the bull by the horns. He’s prioritizing safety.”
Weber cited the Founding era in his defense of Abbott, suggesting that the story of how the Constitution was created somehow ought to inform our understanding of what Abbott is doing:
Here’s the fact: The 13 colonies—then the 13 states—were in existence before the federal government. The federal government didn’t establish the colonies or the states. The states established the federal government. Sometimes we forget that.
I think the Supreme Court got it wrong, five to four. Maybe we ought to tell them to go butt a stump, but I don’t want to do that on the national camera.2
Weber would do well to read up on the history—often very ugly—of state attempts to nullify federal law, which mostly came to an end with the Civil War.
He ended his brief monologue with an order to the White House, saying, “President Biden, step aside. Get out of the way. Stop your war on Texas for doing the right thing. . . . You picked the wrong state to mess with, you picked the wrong governor to mess with, and, quite frankly, you piss—picked—you picked the wrong state delegation to mess with.”
The Local angle
As a break from politics, I wanted to share something a bit different with you all today. Rick Owens, the legendary fashion designer, named his recent Fall–Winter 2024 collection “Porterville” after his hometown in inland Central California (formerly represented by Kevin McCarthy).
Owens is known for his very dark, minimalistic, and otherwise metal (in the musical sense) designs. The choice to name his collection after a place he doesn’t look back on too fondly is an interesting one. His recent interview with GQ shed more light on the decision:
You named the collection Porterville, but I’m sensing it’s maybe not a loving tribute to your hometown.
No, it’s not. I don’t mean it to be bitter, but I had experienced intolerance in Porterville. When we think of where we are right now, wars are based on intolerance. Intolerance is the seed of war, intolerance and greed. . . .
Well, you’re taking us back to Porterville.
I am, but resentfully and bitterly. And also, it serves my narrative because all of my shows recently have been so personal. They’re all about key places that have meant a lot to me and places that I really spent time in. But Porterville, it was a coincidence that it happened now during this time because I’ve been talking about intolerance being the seed of war, intolerance and greed, and my experience in Porterville was one of intolerance. I mean, I was a sissy boy in an intolerant conservative community. Intolerance is never going away, but we can balance it out, and that has been what the role that I’ve taken upon myself to do. I want to balance out intolerance by promoting alternatives to what are the standards of beauty, what are the enforced standards of beauty. And when you can blur the standards of beauty, you can open up minds to think of other things, too.
When was the last time you went back to Porterville ?
Five years ago, I went back to Porterville for the first time in 27 years because my mom was starting chemotherapy. Then, I brought her to Europe, and I took her to Venice where I was living last summer, and she died in Venice. And it was perfect. I had her in a suite overlooking the Adriatic. She’d never been to Venice before, and she's terrified of water. That last week, she wanted to go to the water, and she wanted to see what it was like. So we actually took her out and she put her feet in the Adriatic, and then she died a week later in the Excelsior where I believe [Sergei] Diaghilev died. I know that Diaghilev and [Vaslav] Nijinsky used to stay in the Excelsior like a lot of celebrated people. We took her to be cremated on Isola San Michele, where Stravinsky’s buried. So it was kind of perfect. I don’t really talk about it that much, but it’s a sensitive time in the world where intimacy is kind of a good idea, intimacy and honesty and warmth. And that’s the whole purpose about bringing people to the house. It was the most intimate, warm thing that I could do. Like I said, a festival atmosphere just did not seem appropriate now. Also, this is authentically part of the aesthetic world that I'm making stuff from. And that's at a premium now. I mean, nothing's authentic anymore, so to be able to provide that, that's a special thing.
And a silently observing Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), for some reason. I guess Montana is technically a border state.