State of the Union: Is Nikki Haley running to the left of Don Lemon or to the right of Donald Trump?
On Friday, Nikki Haley addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which returned to the Washington, D.C. area after Covid caused a three year pilgrimage to Florida. She asked attendees, many sporting MAGA and Trump 2024 gear, for their vote. If they do vote for Nikki Haley, are they voting for a moderate or a hardliner?
The conference itself is always a bizarre affair. Its attendees are of a certain kind; the kind willing to drop $300 for a ticket and much more on travel and accommodations, to attend a four day feast on GOP red meat. They are either superfans or selling something, whether it’s a product, a policy, a cause. The superfans are an important constituent part of the base, but not indicative of the whole—typically boomers. The salesmen make up an eclectic bazaar, fellow travelers of the “big tent” party wherever it goes. Media row has its stars—Steve Bannon, Donald Trump Jr., and the like—but it’s mostly c-list conservative media influencers flaunting themselves down media row pitching interviews to radio shows no one has ever heard of. The superfan, salesman, and media stars all have a few things in common: they love America and hate wokeness and the liberal media.
The low common denominator makes for a low bar—a ballroom of conservative boomers is an environment where any Republican presidential candidate should do well; even Nikki Haley. But Haley was often caught waiting for spurts of applause to spread after delivering one of her tortured lines.
“In case you didn’t notice, the liberal media’s heads are exploding about my run for president,” Haley said to open her speech. “And we all know why the media can’t stand the fact that I’m a conservative. Think about it. I’m a woman. I’m a minority. I’m the daughter of immigrants. I am proof that liberals are wrong about everything they say about America.”
Haley might think this now, but it won’t be long until they’ll use her bid for the GOP nomination as proof that they were right all along: When Haley’s presidential campaign spectacularly fails, it will be because the Republican base is sexist, racist, or xenophobic—most likely all three. CNN’s Don Lemon is already laying the groundwork for this narrative, suggesting the former South Carolina governor is no longer “in her prime,” which could serve to her detriment.
The former U.N. ambassador had her own message for Lemon: “Hold my beer.” Only a few laughed—even the Boomers knew the meme didn’t really fit. A meme that did fit the moment: Steve Buscemi’s “How do you do, fellow kids?”
Haley told the attendees, “I’m 51. That’s younger than Don Lemon,” who she later called a “sexist middle age [anchor].”
Is her plan to win the GOP nomination by outflanking Don Lemon to the left? Or is she going after her two main opponents, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump, from the right?
Previously, she suggested that DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay,” bill didn’t go far enough. And though she never mentioned the former president by name in her CPAC speech (because if she did her presidential campaign would have ended then and there), she suggested that the president did not do enough to cut foreign aid to countries who vote against the United States in the United Nations. Furthermore, she suggested that Trump’s populist message wasn’t popular enough. “We’ve lost the popular vote in the last seven out of eight presidential elections,” Haley said. “Our cause is right, but we have failed to win the confidence of a majority of Americans. That ends now. If you’re tired of losing, put your trust in a new generation.”
Haley is running for president. From which lane, we don’t yet know. Neither does Nikki Haley.