Republican Presidential Primary candidate Nikki Haley learned this week that only one candidate in this race can get away with saying crazy things.
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Time and again, we have seen that a single gaffe can derail a presidential campaign. For example, consider Howard Dean, whose 2004 run ended following his “Dean Scream,” or Michael Dukakis, whose infamous joy ride in a tank arguably marked the turning point in his unsuccessful campaign against George H. W. Bush.
Nikki Haley, whose chances were not good to begin with, learned this lesson earlier this week when she tried to explain that the cause for the Civil War was a disagreement over “how government was gonna run — the freedoms in what people could and couldn’t do” — without mentioning slavery.
That might be a satisfactory answer for a Klan rally, but certainly not for a town hall meeting in New Hampshire. And, rightfully, both the media and her rivals had a field day ripping her apart.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for example, who is polling at 11.7 percent to Haley’s 11 percent, told reporters the following morning that the former UN ambassador’s misstep shows she is “not a candidate that’s ready for prime time.” Chris Christie said her response “should make everybody concerned about her candidacy.” The former New Jersey governor, who is polling at 3.4 percent, went on to say that “she did it because she’s unwilling to offend anyone by telling the truth.”
Chris Christie slams Nikki Haley:
"If she's unwilling to stand up and say that slavery is what caused the civil war because she's afraid of offending constituents in some other parts of the country. If she's afraid to say that Donald Trump is unfit…What's going to happen when… pic.twitter.com/nSXmW89y7A
— Republicans against Trump (@RpsAgainstTrump) December 29, 2023
Her dithering response to the Civil War question is also the kind of answer that can turn off major blue state donors and stop the steady flow of money that had previously gone her way.
Given her apparent cluelessness, all those reactions make sense.
Yet it would be just as understandable if Haley feels hard done by. After all, former President Donald Trump seemingly commits worse gaffes on an almost daily basis. If you listen to one of his meandering speeches at his rallies, he probably says a dozen things that would torpedo anybody else’s campaign. For example, it would be tough to take Haley seriously if she kept rambling on about wind turbines killing all kinds of wildlife from birds to whales. And DeSantis would be skewered if he started paraphrasing Nazi ideology and railing against immigrants for “poisoning the blood of our country” as Trump has done.
This isn’t to say that the asinine things the former president says get zero media attention. With regard to the latter, for example, the Biden administration released a statement accusing Trump of “parrot[ing] Adolf Hitler,” and there were plenty of news organizations who covered that response.
However, compared to Haley’s blunder, there is one big difference. When Trump says something like this, it doesn’t harm him in the polls at all. Essentially, his supporters praise him for “saying it how it is.” In fact, in a recent Des Moines Register poll, 42 percent of likely Republican caucusgoers said they were more likely to support Trump after he made that “poisoning the blood of our country” remark. Meanwhile, the rest of the country simply shrugs and says, “Well, that’s just Trump being Trump.” Because everybody has come to terms with the fact that he is a moron/wannabe-dictator/compulsive liar/mentally ill/ white-nationalist/insert whatever other descriptor fits his latest transgression/ crook .
In other words, if Trump had said what Haley said, he would have been celebrated by the MAGAverse, and it would have done no damage to him at all. For the former South Carolina governor on the other hand, it’s the kind of moment that could doom her entire campaign just as her longshot bid for president was gaining some momentum.
This example also shows why Trump is going to walk away with the Republican nomination, even if he has been convicted of something before the convention: He is judged with a different measuring stick and plays by his own rules.
We’ve been racking our brains and can’t come up with anything the former president could say that would cause him to lose support. If tomorrow at one of his rallies he were to advocate for a ban of all abortion from the moment of conception with zero exceptions, the ban of all contraceptives, and prison terms for women who have miscarriages, he would likely be celebrated by the Republican base. Conversely, if he were to say that women should have abortions whenever they want as a way to keep America “pure,” pointing out that minorities have more children than white people, the very same people would no doubt cheer him on.
No other candidate has that luxury. As she found out the hard way, Haley certainly does not — and neither does President Joe Biden.
The media, especially the right-wing propaganda machine, is just waiting for Biden to stumble, either verbally or physically, because that would support the narrative that the current commander in chief is too old to serve a second term — and that may very well be true. If he keeps falling over or having “senior moments,” this is of course a legitimate story and should be a concern for voters. However, all candidates should be held to the same standard — and Trump has these moments all the time.
In other words, it should be news that Haley is trying to cater to the GOP’s racist base by omitting “slavery” from her response to the question of what caused the Civil War, and it’s fair that there is a debate over whether Biden is mentally or physically equipped to serve out a second four-year term.
That being said, it is even more important for people and the media to point out the obvious: Trump is batshit crazy, and the only time he should ever come close to the White House again is when a future president pardons him for “the good of the country.”
But that president won’t be Haley, which must feel terribly unfair to her.