Nikki Haley just got burned, playing the old establishment Republican game
Nikki Haley appears to have discarded her political career by faithfully following what establishment insiders and political "experts" have believed and taught for decades. The former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador seems genuinely baffled that former President Donald Trump refused to meet with her after Haley very publicly trashed Trump.
Isn't that simply how the game is played? Well, yes. Haley is doing things correctly the way they used to be done. You posture for the media, distance yourself from any controversy, then later patch it up after the storm blows past. You cynically abandon your friends, hoping that the alligators will eat you last. Then you have a summit meeting and cut deals behind closed doors.
However, the Republican Party's base is writing her political obituary. Haley quickly wrote an article in the insider-leaning Wall Street Journal redefining what she said and then wanted to go down and hoodwink Trump. It's all just part of the game, right?
But that's the problem. Republican voters have been fed up with inside-the-Beltway games for years. The norms of politics are exactly what the conservative base is hopping mad about. And this is by no means just about Haley. It's about a whole school of thought affecting thousands of Republican elites at the federal and state level. It's about the consultant class teaching candidates that this is how it's done.
Republican voters want leaders who lead, not hide under their desks playing "duck and cover." They want Republican politicians to decisively challenge and defeat leftist lies, not run for the tall grass. Year after year, we watch easily answered lies from the left spread as truth because the Republican establishment has no stomach for robust debate.
The Republican base wants Winston Churchill, faults and all, not Neville Chamberlain. There was no guarantee that Churchill would defeat the Third Reich. But it was a sure bet Chamberlain wouldn't even try. They want General Ulysses Grant, accused of being a drunk, not the dapper, preening General George B. McClellan, who amassed a great army but wouldn't attack the Confederacy. The first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, sided with the disheveled General Grant with whiskey on his breath over the vain, do-nothing, respectable General McClellan.
The Republican base wants candidates with fire in their belly. Show me what you're willing to fight for. Democrats fight like hell. Republicans cower in fear. Apparently they don't really believe what they believe in.
So Republicans were mad as a volcano when Mitt Romney allowed Barack Obama to roll all over him. The conservative base was ready to turn its back on insiders many years before Trump rode down the escalator to announce his candidacy in 2015. This is not about crossing Trump. It's about being fed up with those who won't even try. And the voters are never, ever going back.
But establishment Republicans have perfected the art of pretending to be conservative when they are really not. Therefore, the conservative base is searching for a "tell." Are you a fighter? Or are you a wimp?
We are looking for clues as to whom the politicians really are, not whom they pretend to be. Are they going to break their promises? Are they going to betray us once we give them our vote and get them into office?
These are just proxies for whether the candidate is going to sell us out once elected. Conservatives are not asking for candidates to agree with us on everything. We are looking for someone to stand up and fight for our country's future. How loyal is the candidate? How conservative is the candidate in the face of criticism? These are tells, not unrealistic demands.
So when candidates like John McCain, Mitt Romney, Nikki Haley, Liz Cheney, Sen. Ben Sasse, Lisa Murkowski wilt under the glare of criticism and agree with our opponents, we know they will never stand up to the left. We know they are going to let us down. And raised in the swamp, they probably don't even understand why the base is furious.
Since the uprising of 1964, intensified by the Reagan Revolution of 1976 and 1980, the Bushies who in 1988 vowed to continue Reagan's aggressive overturning of the apple cart, the Republican Party's voters have been screaming at the top of their lungs, demanding change.
It has been clear for all to see: either the Republican Party must jettison the status quo like the plague or the Republican Party will cease to exist. The status quo is going over the waterfalls. The GOP will either cling to the status quo as they fall over the falls to their doom or let go and start anew.
When you consider the voters at the margin making the difference, the Republican base fired the Republicans in 1992 by staying home and sitting on their hands. They fired the Republicans in Congress again in 2006. George W. Bush's narrow squeaking victory in 2000 should have set off blaring sirens of alarm. Yet the insiders just turned over and stayed asleep.
The inside-the-Beltway crowd continues merrily along the same old tracks, stuck in their ruts, while the whole point of Republican voters' unrest is to overturn the tables, throw out the old games, and get serious about their families' future. They are sick of the games.
People still talk about "Republicans" as if there were one single Republican Party. There are at least two Republican parties and actually three or four. To talk about what Republicans are doing, saying, believe, or want is to naïvely ignore reality.
So it is astonishing how almost no one understands Republican Party politics. Everything about the Republican Party's 60-year-old civil war is viewed inaccurately through the wrong framework. Nothing is as we are told it is. The analysts don't get it — any of it. It is so easy to understand for those willing to open their eyes. Yet the entire Republican Party leadership and political class has their "eyes wide shut."
Resolving this 60-year-old split must happen sooner or later. And none of this started with Donald Trump or because of Trump. That's another reason why bashing Trump infuriates the base. If insiders think this is about Trump, they do not grasp the situation.
Caricature by Donkey Hotey, CC BY-2.0 license.