The former governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, is on some level hard not to root for. Haley can easily be read as a foil to former President Trump: a young woman of color who allows herself to be cast as a return to traditional Republican values. Haley has the classic political background that many look for in a presidential nominee: starting in the South Carolina State Legislature before moving on to governor, and then serving as the US ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump Administration.
Her campaign frequently emphasizes her commitment to democracy and her role as a champion of domestic violence issues. Her extensive political resume is supported by a commanding public presence and comparatively youthful energy. Watching Haley in the Republican debates and her campaign events, I was continually impressed by her articulate expression of her conservative values. As she would start to speak, part of me couldn’t help but wish that she would win the Republican nomination.
This is the first moderate trap presented by Nikki Haley. It is true that in many ways Haley is less of a radical Republican than Donald Trump. She did not explicitly support the insurrection that occurred on Jan. 6, nor did she explicitly support many of Trump’s legal challenges of the validity of the 2020 election. However, to call Nikki Haley a “moderate” Republican would be a gross misrepresentation of her campaign platform.
Haley is a passionate advocate for “fetal rights” and has pushed for many extraordinary restrictions on abortion during her political tenure. Despite being the daughter of immigrants, Haley is also a staunch advocate for restoring Trump-Era policies, including support for Title 42, which allowed border agents to deport migrants before they had the opportunity to seek asylum. The policy was later officially repealed under the Biden administration. Despite a strong conservative platform, Haley intentionally allows herself to be cast as a centrist Republican, in contrast with the former President, to appeal to moderate Republicans looking for any alternative.
However, there are more moderate traps presented by Nikki Haley. I have heard one too many Democrats highlight that if Haley loses the Republican nomination, then Biden has functionally secured his reelection to President. This evaluation is made in the assumption that unlike “moderate” Nikki Haley, Donald Trump would not be able to secure a large enough quantity of Independents or moderate Republicans to prevail in the general election. While this reasoning is not fundamentally flawed, I caution that our political memory should not so quickly move past the results of the 2016 Election, an electoral upset with which Wellesley is all too familiar.
As the 2016 election approached, analyst after analyst argued that Trump was too extreme to appeal to the majority of Americans. Days before the election Hillary Clinton had all but been declared the winner, and yet she lost. If Haley loses the Republican primary, this is far from ensuring a second Biden term. So, the moderate trap of Nikki Haley is two-fold: her victory would not mean a return of a “moderate” Republican Party, and her loss should not be construed as a Biden victory.