An apology to faithful readers for the dearth of posts this week. In part, it’s because I’ve been blogging around on you. I’m participating in a TPMCafe Book Club discussion on Kevin Phillips’ latest provocative tome, American Theocracy. As my post indicates, I was certainly provoked by Phillips’ hypothesis that the “southernization of politics and religion” is largely responsible not just for the Bush Era, but for its most egregious excesses: huge public and private debt, an oil-focused energy policy, and the bungled war in Iraq. I probably pulled my punches in commenting on this hypothesis; one of the interesting features of TPMCafe Book Club is that it involves a direct discussion with book authors. It’s a useful structure, but one that inhibits me (unlike the brave Kevin Drum) a bit. No matter what he’s writing now, I will always esteem Kevin Phillips for his very first book, The Emerging Republican Majority, which did for political analysis what Bill James did for baseball analysis: create a statistical foundation for a truly comprehensive understanding of trends over many, many decades. In particular, Phillips consolidated an enormous amount of data on the non-economic determinants of voting behavior, especially religion, ethnicity, and amazingly persistant regional patterns based on large, traumatic events (most famously the Civil War). To this day, whenever I encounter one of those neo-populist Democrats who assume that today’s cultural politics represent an aberration from “natural” class-based politics, I direct them to Phillips book for a decisive rebuttal. Though The Emerging Republican Majority is generally regarded as a true classic, its influence took quite a while to develop. It was published in 1969, based in part on Phillips’ work in the 1968 Nixon campaign. Nixon’s subsequent re-election in 1972 seemed to confirm the title of the book, but the ’72 landslide was so enormous and national–and Republican non-presidential performance that year was so weak–that it didn’t do much to validate Phillips’ analysis. And then, of course, came Watergate, the Agnew and Nixon resignations, the Democratic landslide of1974, and the election of a Democratic president from the very region stipulated by Phillips as the hinge of the Republican majority. By the time of Reagan’s election in 1980–which really did validate his hypothesis–Kevin Phillips was largely a forgotten prophet. There’s another book that suffered a similar initial fate–one that in fact was explicitly modeled on Phillips’ classic. John Judis and Ruy Teixeira’s The Emerging Democratic Majority had the misfortune of being published just before the decisive Republican midterm victory of 2002, followed by Bush’s re-election. It will be interesting to see if they turn out ultimately to be prophets as well. I certainly hope they are.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
The long-awaited first Republican challenger to Donald Trump for 2024 is apparently arriving shortly, and I wrote about her at New York:
Ever since Donald Trump formally announced a 2024 presidential comeback bid last November, the big question has been when, exactly, one of the large number of potential Republican rivals would jump into the turbulent waters with him. There were credible reports that potential candidates were afraid to draw Trump’s concentrated fire. But now the Charleston Post & Courier reports that Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, will take the plunge on February 15.
The timing of the Haley announcement is odd, coming right after a show of force by Trump in South Carolina. At his January 28 event in Columbia, he demonstrated his support from the state’s Republican governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, senior U.S. senator, and three U.S. House members. Perhaps Haley is just playing catch-up or is concerned about preempting a rival presidential bid by the junior U.S. senator from South Carolina, Tim Scott (whom she appointed to the Senate). The Dispatch’s David Drucker believes she actually relishes the prospect of a one-on-one fight with Trump in the early going:
“What better way to distinguish herself versus Trump, DeSantis, and anyone else, than by becoming the second declared candidate in the primary? The contrast is stark. Republican voters can choose between a white, male, soon-to-be 77-year-old defeated former president who has led the GOP to three consecutive electoral disappointments, or a nonwhite woman in her early 50s, born of immigrant parents, with conservative bona fides on most critical issues that are unassailable.”
Being the first official Trump challenger will definitely provide priceless advertising for Haley’s on-paper credentials. In addition to the qualities Drucker mentions, Haley has checked the foreign-policy-qualifications box via her service at the U.N., something Ron DeSantis can’t match. She has shown excellent political instincts over her lengthy career (she got massive positive publicity for removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House grounds long after it had become a low-risk endeavor). Most of all, she has excelled in the essential Republican art of staying on good terms with Trump without looking like his toady.
Indeed, Haley’s odd relationship with Trump may soon be in a bright spotlight. She has offended him on multiple occasions, first by endorsing “L’il Marco” Rubio in 2016 while criticizing Trump, then by unsubtly letting it be known while serving in his administration that she was an independent player, then by harshly attacking his conduct on January 6. You can add to her sins against the 45th president that she is now breaking a promise to back him in 2024 if he ran. Yet he’s never gone medieval on her, and he seems strangely affectionate toward her even now, according to the Post & Courier:
“During his weekend campaign swing that included a stop at the S.C. Statehouse, Trump told national reporters he recently received a phone call from Haley. Trump said Haley told him ‘she’d like to consider’ a 2024 run of her own.
“’I talked to her for a little while. I said, “Look, you know, go by your heart if you want to run,'” Trump told reporters, adding that he would welcome the competition.
“’She called me and said she’d like to consider it, and I said you should do it.’
“Trump then reportedly told Haley, ‘Go by your heart if you want to run.’”
It’s possible this last comment from Trump should be translated as “Go ahead! Make my day!,” suggesting that he is prepared to tear her a new one in the weeks and months ahead. Or maybe he’s simply not that worried about Haley compared to the bigger threat posed by DeSantis.
So what kind of threat to either of these men is Haley ’24? Yes, she is the sort of candidate that might have been thought up by central casting. Originally, she was a politician from the hard-core, Jim DeMint-Mark Sanford wing of the South Carolina GOP who fit the Tea Party mood like a glove. But then she gradually made herself into a national-media icon of what post-Trump Republicanism might look and sound like. To conservatives of every hue, she’s unimpeachable on cultural issues, unobjectionable on foreign policy, and especially distinguished in the evergreen hobby of union-hating (she anticipated DeSantis’s attacks on perfidious corporations back in 2014 by telling potential investors in her state that they could take their “union jobs” elsewhere).
Haley’s ultimate problem as a presidential candidate is that she’s from a crucial early primary state. As Tom Harkin (whose presidential candidacy in 1992 took Iowa right off the table) could tell her, you don’t get much credit for winning your home state. But if she loses South Carolina, her candidacy will be dead as a mackerel.
Haley’s other big challenge is to overcome the perception that she’s really running for vice-president. She has been regularly featured on veep lists for Trump (even back in the 2020 cycle, when there were reports that the then-president wanted to dump Mike Pence in favor of her). And there’s not much question that Republicans need help with women voters, having placed a woman on their national ticket only once. And maybe that is her goal, or at least an acceptable consolation prize; despite years of being treated as a Republican star, Haley is only 51. But she’d better not wind up looking too weak in her home state, or the largely superficial image she has built as a political world-beater could vanish like a rare snowfall in the Carolina sun.