No Actual Republican Politicians Are Wasting Political Capital on Nikki Haley
They are who we thought they were.
1. Go Packers
Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), the winsome, “serious”, “rising conservative star,” beloved by Trump-skeptical “good Republicans” was pecking away on his phone on a flight from Canada state-side last week when a fellow passenger eyed a juicy exchange (I recommend a privacy screen if you are worried about this happening to you).
Gallagher was texting with his fellow Cheesehead and late-aughts doppelgänger, former House Speaker Paul Ryan, and the congressman was receiving some actionable political advice from a mentor sitting in the comfort of his retirement suite.
“I think now is the time for a guy like you to endorse,” Ryan wrote, according to photos provided to POLITICO’s Playbook newsletter. “Plus, Her foreign policy/world views [sic] track closest to yours. She brings the most excitement. I like Ron, but don’t think he is the growth stock Niki [sic] is. Just following up per our talk September. Go Packers!”
Doesn’t seem like a crazy suggestion.
Gallagher has branded himself as one of the party’s premiere military hawks and is aligned with Haley on things like the TikTok ban. He also has said he wants generational change in the party: “No boomers” was his cheeky talking point in a local TV interview. And you might remember the ashen-faced bomb-shelter video Gallagher sent from his office on January 6th, begging then-President Trump to call off the rioters who had stormed the capitol at his behest, “This is banana republic crap that we’re watching happen right now. . . . Mr. President you have got to stop this, ” Gallagher snarled.
Considering his ideological congruence with Haley, opposition to a Trump candidacy on account of both age and treason, and the political momentum for the former South Carolina governor that Paul Ryan, Acela corridor pundits, and rich people across America keep insisting exists, it seems that if any GOP elected official was going to take the endorsement plunge, it would be a guy like Gallagher.
In an email to POLITICO last week, Gallagher’s spokesman wrote, “As Congressman Gallagher has repeatedly said, he has no intention to endorse any candidate at this time.” I followed up with Gallagher’s office on Thursday to see if anything has changed in the intervening time and have received no response.
I can’t say for certain whether or not Ryan made a similar pitch for Haley to his fellow Young Gun and recently defrocked successor, Kevin McCarthy. But if he had his luck wasn’t any better. Despite the fact that he is scurrying for the congressional exits, ostensibly freeing himself from political calculation, My Kevin announced this weekend that he endorses his master/tormentor one more time. (This continues a 16-year-long streak of Republicans succumbing to the populist insurgents, as we discussed on this week’s Sunday interview with McCain-profiler turned Killers of the Flower Moon writer David Grann).
Gallagher and McCarthy might be disappointing Paul Ryan with their cowardice, but they’ve got one thing going for them: At least there’s weakness in numbers.
As of this writing, among the 296 sitting Republican governors, senators, and representatives exactly one (1) has endorsed Nikki Haley, her fellow South Carolinian, insurrectionist Ralph Norman.
There are some signs that New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu might be on the cusp of doubling that endorsement tally in the coming days. And maybe there are some others holding their fire for perceived maximum impact, but . . . the clock is ticking.
Last week Jonathan Martin detailed the impotence of the Republican Trump resistance and in the course of the piece Mitt Romney dismissed the notion that endorsements could be helpful to Haley:
“If virtually all the GOP governors and senators were to say they would not support Trump, even in the general, I don’t think his poll numbers would be harmed, at all,” Romney told me. “They might even get better. I think the MAGA base dislikes our elected elites as much or more than they dislike Democrats.”
Romney’s political analysis is probably correct about what would happen if there were an anti-Trump endorsement surge from GOP elites.1
On the other hand . . . are we absolutely sure it wouldn’t make a difference?
And if the options are “do nothing” or “do something,” isn’t it worth trying the latter?
Let’s take Romney’s suggestion at face value. Imagine if every Republican politician who privately believes that Trump is a dangerous, selfish, incompetent, narcissistic psychopath announced together that they will campaign for Joe Biden if Trump is nominated and do everything possible to ensure Trump’s defeat.
Maybe that wouldn’t work. Maybe it would only drive people further into Trump’s arms.
Or maybe it would shake up a stagnant race.
At a minimum it would send a powerful general election signal.
Whatever the case, it would be preferable to sleepwalking into autocracy.
But let’s be honest: This is a West Wing fantasy. Because in the actual primary we are living through right now, it’s not even true that the supposedly “closet normal” Republicans are being strategically silent in their opposition to Trump. Most of them are actively helping him!
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3. The Real Growth Stock Is Trump
Take the Senate Republican closest to Mike Gallagher in terms of her “serious” reputation, youth, and relative normalcy: Alabama Senator Katie Britt.
A few days after the Ryan/Gallagher text exchange leaked, Britt decided to get off the sidelines—only not in the way Ryan suggested. In her view last week was the moment to endorse Trump! According to Britt, Donald Trump deserved this nod because he “kept Putin’s aggression at bay, stared down Kim Jong Un, and squeezed Iran dry.”
Britt has ample company. Trump has endorsements from 16 senators (including Romney’s former BFF Bill Hagerty), 86 members of the House, and 7 governors.
Which leaves us with an endorsement scoreboard of:
Trump 109. Haley 1.
So it’s not as if Republican politicians have decided to sit on their hands this cycle because they don’t want to help Trump. Or are waiting for the right opportunity to strike. They have overwhelmingly chosen to back him. This is the party’s new MAGA establishment and they are adhering to the demands of their body politic.
The only sense in which there is even a “fight” happening for the party is in the imaginary made-for-TV primary where face-saving “good Republicans” periodically pretend they are trying to beat Trump, rich guys leak their plans to light millions of dollars on fire to journalists, and talking heads provide horse-race analysis of who is up and who is down between the minor-league candidates who have not garnered any meaningful real-world support.
Among actual Republican primary voters this is background noise to the coronation.
So while I agree with the argument that politician endorsements might not matter a whole lot in changing voter attitudes, they are useful signals of who has political strength.
And here’s the reality: The Republican politicians with actual skin in the game, who have to respond to voter interests, know what is happening in their party. That’s why they are going for Trump in a landslide, by a margin even bigger than his 45-point polling advantage.
There is only one “growth stock” in the Republican Party and it is Trump.
Given that fact pattern, the choice facing the Mike Gallaghers of the world is whether to put up a concerted, probably quixotic fight to try to change this trajectory—or to accept their banana republic reality while hoping nobody eavesdrops on their text messages.
We all see which path they have chosen. There’s no going back now.
If it is correct, then it raises a question about whether those elected Republican elites should reflect on why they want to represent a party made-up of voters who loathe them and are loyal to a racist aspiring autocrat.