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“Mutually Assured Destruction”: How Nikki Haley Revealed The Danger Trump Poses To The GOP

More than a few conservatives were shocked when South Carolina governor Nikki Haley offered an extended critique of Donald Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric in her State of the Union response last night. Though she didn’t mention him by name, the next morning she didn’t shy away from saying that’s who she was talking about when she said things like, “No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country” and “Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference.”

Here was the Republican Party’s choice to rebut President Obama, taking the opportunity of this formal setting to criticize the Republican Party’s frontrunner for the presidential nomination.

There’s no question the party is divided along multiple fault lines. But hearing it from Haley, who is thought by many to be a future contender for vice president and maybe even president, brings up some interesting questions about what Republicans will do if Trump becomes their nominee, and how his candidacy affects the complex balancing act they’ve been trying to achieve on issues of race and representation.

Here’s how that balancing act works. On the one hand, most of the influential people in the GOP sincerely want the party to present a more diverse face to the electorate. When someone like Nikki Haley or South Carolina senator Tim Scott or Marco Rubio comes along, they couldn’t be more pleased. Here, they can say, we’re not just a white party — look at these dynamic young Republicans who are members of minority groups.

That comes with a caveat, which is that in order to be embraced and held up by the party, you have to be in agreement with the party’s entire agenda, particularly on issues that touch on race. The party needs minority validators, who can push back when Democrats say that their policies are discriminatory in effect or even racist in intent. It’s much more powerful to have a black Republican argue that the party’s efforts to make it harder for black people to vote are motivated solely by its deep and profound commitment to the integrity of the ballot, or to have an Hispanic Republican make the case for crackdowns on undocumented immigrants, than it is to have a white Republican make those same arguments.

Having a few of those validators may not be enough to bring large numbers of minority voters into the GOP. If nothing else, however, it can keep moderate white voters from feeling like voting Republican means you don’t believe in a diverse and modern America.

But then along comes Donald Trump. One of the things that makes Trump so different as a candidate is that he says things explicitly that other politicians only imply. When it comes to stirring up nativist fears, Trump is cheerfully unsubtle. Mexicans are rapists, we should keep out the Muslims out — whatever you might be thinking but wouldn’t want to say out loud, Trump will happily say for you. Trump doesn’t bother coding anything. It’s no accident that there’s now a white nationalist group making robocalls to Iowa voters in support of his candidacy. Trump strips away the veneer of principle Republicans try to place on policies that benefit only their kind of people.

So one of the dangers of having Trump as the party’s nominee isn’t just that he’s a repellent buffoon who’ll lose the election, though that’s true. It’s also that his naked nativism and outright bigotry discredits the party if it ends up choosing him. His appeal can’t just be explained away, even if Republicans may try to say that he only has the support he does because of economic anxiety, an argument that Brian Beutler has been mocking to great effect. That’s a problem for every Republican running in a district or state where their victory isn’t assured.

So it’ll be fascinating to see what other Republicans do if Trump becomes their nominee. It’s one thing for someone like Haley to criticize Trump now, when we’re still in the primaries and someone else might win. But it will be much harder to do in the general election. Most Republicans will feel they have no choice but to line up behind him and work to get him elected, since the alternative is four years of a Democratic presidency. But what about someone like Haley — an extremely conservative Republican, but also the daughter of immigrants who knows full well that her background is a big part of what makes other Republicans so interested in her future ambitions?

One possibility is that Republicans will give him nominal support, but not much more. With a few exceptions, he’ll have the endorsement of all the prominent politicians, but they’re not going to put too much effort into making sure he wins the White House, especially if it means putting themselves out as his surrogates, where they’ll have to answer for everything he’s said and wants to do.

After all, losing the White House again could actually be good for the party at the state and local level, as it has been during the Obama years. As long as they can get people to forget the Trump candidacy as soon as possible.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, January 13, 2016

January 14, 2016 - Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, GOP, Nikki Haley | , , , , , , , ,

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