Why Didn’t We Riot? A Black Man Is In Trumpland: Nikki Haley, Governor, and the Birth of South Carolina
Editor’s Note: Issac Bailey is a longtime journalist based in South Carolina and the Batten Professor for Communication Studies at Davidson College. He writes a book called, Why Didn’t We Riot? A black man is in Trumpland. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. CNN has opinions on it.
I first met Nikki Haley during her initial run for governor of South Carolina in 2010 at a luncheon at Magnolia’s, a Myrtle Beach buffet-style restaurant popular with the locals. Though she had served in the state’s House of Representatives for several years, I didn’t know her well – and neither did most people in the state.
The luncheon was being hosted in the aftermath of the scandal plaguing South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who had snuck out of the country to see his mistress but told his staff he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail. I asked Haley if she would resign as governor if she made the same mistake that she had, after watching her give a stump speech.
As governor of South Carolina, she never messed up like Sanford, who also had strong presidential prospects before his escapades. But she messed up when she decided to embrace Donald Trump – rather than keeping him at arm’s length – providing further proof that even the most talented Republicans were willing to bend the knee to the former president.
Haley is in a good position. She is the epitome of the party. But her embrace of Trump made him look stronger and her weaker. She’ll have to climb a mountain of her own making to win the nomination against him.
If he stumbles or gets involved in too many legal battles, Haley should be considered a serious contender. You cannot be elected twice as governor of Deep South, Bible Belt South Carolina as a woman with dark skin and a Sikh background by happenstance.
Health officials in her administration told me at the time that there were simply better options, but it was clear to close observers in the state it was primarily about political expedience – especially when Haley declared that she would not expand Medicaid on President Barack Obama’s watch.
40% of the uninsured adults in the state would have received health care under an expansion, and low-income workers in retail andhospitality who are concentrated in Horry County would also have been given coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
A study by the White House concluded that expansion could have saved 200 lives in the state every year. And a University of South Carolina study estimated the state could have seen an additional 44,000 jobs added by 2020 with the multibillion dollar federal investment from a Medicaid expansion.
“Because of a Black Man, a Lady Who Stooled the United Nations,” said A.C. Haley, the U.S. Senator from South Carolina
Indeed, Haley, a self-avowed “pro-life” advocate, stood in the way of life-saving Obamacare – exposing her hypocrisy on an issue that has come to define the modern-day Republican Party.
Her stance on taxes was the same as before. Haley adhered to the tax cuts today, tax cuts tomorrow, tax cuts forever boilerplate conservative talking point while in the governor’s mansion. She wanted to cut income taxes in the state, even when fellow Republicans said the cuts would be too steep.
“Here is this guy who comes out with his manifesto, holding the Confederate flag and had just hijacked everything that people thought of,” she told Beck. There are not many people who are offensive in South Carolina. There’s always the small minority who are always going to be there, but people saw it as service, sacrifice and heritage. But once he did that, there was no way to overcome it.”
After the Charleston church mass shooting, Haley called on the state legislature to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol, becoming one of the defining moments of her governorship.
Haley had bipartisan respect for that decision. According to Jim Hodges, who was the Democratic Governor at that time, he spoke to Haley about the need to take down the flag, despite not having championed that cause before.
Then Haley reversed course when Trump became the nominee, and she landed the type of position in his administration that would provide her with the foreign policy experience she’d need for a presidential run: US ambassador to the United Nations. She could plausibly claim to have taken the position to serve her country – not Trump.
Her approach seemed to work. She was a good supporter of President Trump but had not offended those who considered themselves moderates and Never Trumpers when she left the UN. I was intrigued by what she had accomplished, as a South Carolina voter who swore off the Republican Party.
This is a nod to unity. Haley is the first woman of color to be a major candidate for the Republican nomination, and she acknowledges her difference…and then immediately blasts Democrats as racially divisive, referencing the 1619 Project and progressive lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
That’s precisely how Haley defended South Carolina against accusations that the flying of the flag of traitors who tried to establish a new country built on the premise of permanent black enslavement was harming the state’s image. It is a heads I win-tails you lose version of identity politics.
The overarching theme of the presidential announcement is unity. Her Tuesday announcement video references bringing people together.
She said that we turned away from fear towards God and the values that make the country freest and greatest in the world.
For those who would like to show their respect for the flag on their property. No one is going to stand in your way. She said that the statehouse was different after the shooting. It’s time to change the flag from the Capitol grounds but we are in a moment of unity, without ill will.
“I think it’s safe to say it probably was not on her priority list in her second term of things that she was going to focus on,” he told NPR. “The moment provided that opportunity, and I think she should get credit for moving quickly.”
“The KKK came to South Carolina from out of state to protest on our statehouse grounds,” she told a crowd at a Rubio event. We witnessed true hate in the eyes in Charleston last year. I will not stop until we fight a man that chooses not to disavow the KKK. That is not an part of our party. That isn’t the person we want as president. We will not allow that in our country,” she added, to loud cheers.
Trump put racial resentment at the forefront of American politics, across issues from immigration to policing to education. Trump’s support has been correlated with racist beliefs.
But a 2019 interview with Glenn Beck, she drew heavy criticism for additionally saying that Dylann Roof, the Charleston shooter, had imbued the flag with racist meaning.
“And where does Dylann Roof get it from?” she asks. “Where does he get this association, the Confederate flag, with white supremacy and racist ideology? It doesn’t appear in thin air. He didn’t steal anything.”
There is an argument about whether Confederate monuments should stand in the South, as well as Trump being against taking the flag down in South Carolina, and NASCAR banning it from its events.
Running for the Flag: The Palmetto Patriots’ Interview with Robert Slimp, a White-rights activist and former South Carolina governor Doug Brannon
“I was the proud daughter of Indian immigrants. Not black, not white. I was different,” she says. “But my mom would always say, ‘Your job is not to focus on the differences, but the similarities.'”
Casting Democrats as the opponent isn’t going to unify all Republicans, especially those who are disgusted with what the GOP has become. Doug Brannon is a former Republican lawmaker in South Carolina who led the 2015 charge to remove the Confederate flag.
“Mr. Trump gave people license to say things that before him they didn’t feel they could say,” Brannon told NPR. Because of him, they were emboldened.
Brannon doesn’t think there’s a Republican party anymore and hasn’t decided if he’d vote for a Republican or Democrat in the next election.
Teresa Cosby from the University of Furman believes that Haley is mistaken for a Moderate but she may be appealing to more Primary Voters in states like South Carolina if she is more extreme.
There is a fight between Republicans in the primaries. And you don’t pay any penalty for playing to that extreme-right ideology that is replicated at the national level in states like Florida and Texas,” she explained.
“It’s just going to score her points with people who want the Republican Party to return to some normalcy. But how many of those groups are left in the Republican Party?” she asked.
Haley, who was running for South Carolina governor at the time, made the comments during an interview with the now defunct “The Palmetto Patriots,” a group which included a one-time board member of a White nationalist organization.
The interview was posted on the group’s YouTube at the time and resurfaced over the years, most recently by Patriots Takes, an anonymous Twitter account that monitors right wing extremism. CNN studied Haley’s political career in her early interviews.
One of the Palmetto Patriots’ interviewers was Robert Slimp, a pastor and member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and one-time board member and active member of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a White nationalist group. The CCC is a self-described White-rights group that opposes non-White immigration and advocates a White nationalist ideology. The group allegedly inspired Dylann Roof, the White nationalist who killed nine people in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.
The Right to Sequestrate: What Haley Thinks about South Carolina, Black History Month, and What Happens If You Give Up on the Right Track
While she believes in the right of states to sequestrate from the country, Haley does not believe that they have the right to do so. She did not think South Carolina would get to that point of splitting from the United States when asked if she would support it.
“You know, I’m one of those people that doesn’t think it’s gonna get to that point,” Haley said before describing how she might rally governors to go to the federal government to settle disputes over “federal intrusion.”
“Yes, it’s part of a traditional – you know, it’s part of tradition,” she said. When you look at that, if you have black history month and you have Confederate history month, it’s the same. I think it is fine if it was done in a positive way and not in a bad way, focused on the traditions of the people who want to celebrate it, and then goes back to where it was done.
“I mean, again, I think that as we look in government, as we watch government, you have different sides, and I think that you see passions on different sides, and I don’t think anyone does anything out of hate,” Haley said. I believe that they do things out of tradition and beliefs that are right.
“I think you have one side of the Civil War that was fighting for tradition, and I think you have another side of the Civil War that was fighting for change,” she added. “You know, at the end of the day, what I think we need to remember is that you know, everyone is supposed to have their rights, everyone is supposed to be free, everyone is supposed to have the same freedoms as anyone else. I see it as tradition versus change, you know what I mean.
“Well, I think that for me, you know what I continue to remember is that you know we also know that our creator endowed the rights of everyone having you know, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” she said. ‘And so, when I look at it that way, I look at that’s still what needs to be what guides everybody, so that we make sure that we keep those three things in check.”