In her first public appearance since officially announcing her presidential run, Nikki Haley kept it safe: The former South Carolina governor touted her Indian American identity, declared that America is not racist, and noted that the left’s focus on race is a form of pathetic self-loathing. And, as expected, she declined to mention her former boss and primary rival for the nomination, Donald Trump.
But she also shared a rather blunt message for her fellow Republicans: We’ve turned into losers.
“We’ve lost the popular vote in 7 of the last 8 presidential elections,” Haley told supporters. “Our cause is right, but we have failed to win the confidence of a majority of Americans. Well, that ends today.” The line, which was also included in her video announcement on Tuesday, is expected to be a regular feature of her campaign.
For those Republicans wishing that Trump—the frontrunner for the nomination—will finally self-implode and exit the race, Haley’s message likely came as a huge relief, a sorely needed warning that by continuing to back Trump, the GOP is at significant risk of losing the White House once again.
But Haley’s warning was also much too simple, even naive. Suggesting that Trump is the main hurdle in securing the popular vote appears to willfully ignore the fact that the GOP’s long-cherished policies have vanishing support. In fact, Haley’s first stump speech had little to say about the issues that have likely contributed to the party’s 20-year losing streak: a more diverse electorate and the party’s relentless opposition to policies overwhelmingly popular with American voters, such as abortion rights, gun control, and rising concern with extremism.
That Donald Trump didn’t cause the GOP’s rot and is more of an unhinged expression of that rot is now pretty widely accepted. But that realization doesn’t appear to have dawned on Haley. After all, she chose John Hagee—the incendiary pastor who once declared that the anti-Christ would be gay and claimed that Adolf Hitler collaborated with the Catholic Church to kill Jews—to lead Wednesday’s invocation, noting “Pastor Hagee, I still say I want to be you when I grow up.”
It’s my working theory, more like a guess, that perhaps the GOP’s losing streak has a lot to do with policy, as well as such warm and public embraces of awful characters like Hagee, than the candidates themselves. But it looks like Trump took the bait anyway—and in some corners, that’s all that really matters.