Let us start by nothing that we understand that Nikki Haley, who is barely registering in polls, has to do something to get some attention. And since it is Republican primary voters she will face first, it is to them that she needs to kowtow. After all, there's no use worrying about the general if you don't make it through the primary. So, her not-at-all-unusual battle plan is presumably to pivot to the center, should she ever get the opportunity.
With all of that said, Haley is off to a really bad start, in our view. We were dismissive of her presidential hopes, and nothing that has happened in the last week has changed our opinion. To start, and this really isn't getting enough attention, the man who delivered the opening prayer at Haley's campaign launch event was evangelical pastor John Hagee. Once he had finished, Haley took the stage, gushed about how much she loves Hagee, and said "To Pastor Hagee, I still say I want to be you when I grow up."
So, what's the problem here? Well, in short, Hagee is a horrible person. He's asserted that the Holocaust was the fault of the Catholic church, and that Adolf Hitler was a "half-breed Jew." He's also predicted that the Antichrist, when he rises, will probably be Jewish and gay. Hagee has asserted that various disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, were God's punishment for America's tolerance of LGBTQ people. The pastor also regularly uses his pulpit to warn parishioners that while Christianity is a religion of love and peace, Islam is a religion of violence, and that Muslims want all Christians dead. When Donald Trump has dinner with someone who holds these hateful ideas, it's national news. When Nikki Haley has a person like this give a blessing, and then says she aspires to be like this person, barely a blip on the media radar. Strange.
Meanwhile, the current iteration of the Republican Party really, really depends on senior-citizen voters. The GOP has won that demographic in every presidential election since 2004; without those wins, the two Republican presidential wins of the 21st century would have been losses. And so, what is Haley doing right now? Alienating senior-citizen voters. It turns out that many of them are offended by the candidate's suggestion that people over the age of 75 are likely to be mentally infirm, and so any officeholder over that age really needs to undergo a cognitive test.
It's understandable why Haley chose this angle; she wants to attack 80-year-old Joe Biden head on, and to casually suggest that maybe 76-year-old Donald Trump should be put out to pasture. However, when you get big blowback from the voters you need the most, it might be time to change tacks. And that's before we consider the fact that Biden is going to tailor his campaign pitch to seniors, and to argue that he's the one who will save Social Security and Medicate. Let's also note that first-in-the-nation New Hampshire, a state important to Haley's primary hopes, has more senior citizens, per capita, than all but seven other states.
So, in view of these considerations, what did Haley do? She doubled down, and started naming names of politicians who really need to undergo examination. First up was Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), which might be on point, but is also kind of a cheap shot. Plus, DiFi is already retiring. Next up was Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), whose mental decline is gossiped about, but not well supported with evidence. And Haley's third target was... Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Sure, he's up there in years, and he's the sort of lefty that Haley's audience really loves to hate. But c'mon, the man is mentally sharper at 81 than many people are at 41. Taking potshots like that just serves to emphasize that Haley isn't making a serious policy proposal.
Again, we realize that the long-term plan is to pivot, but politics-watchers have long memories, and Haley is doing and saying the sorts of things that will not be easy to back away from. Imagine she is on a debate stage in 2024, and the moderator asks: "What did you mean when you said you aspire to be like a man who blamed the Holocaust on Catholics and described Hitler as a half-breed Jew?" Or, "Do you still think people above the age of 75 are likely to be mentally infirm?" There are no good answers to those questions. (Z)