Opinion: Nikki Haley Bends the Knee to Trump, Humiliates All Her Supporters

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty Images
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty Images

By announcing her intention to vote for Donald Trump for president, Nikki Haley did the most Nikki Haley thing possible: She caved to Trump and depressed every conservative Never Trumper who pulled the lever for her.

For those paying close attention, however, this outcome was predictable, given the last decade, or so, of Haley’s career. Perhaps a quick recap is in order: In 2015, she criticized Trump’s temperament, saying, “That’s not who we are as Republicans. That’s not what we do.” (Spoiler: It is who we are and it is what we do, at least in the post-Trump GOP.)

In her 2016 State of the Union response to then-President Barack Obama, Haley cryptically warned, “During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices.” A month or so later, she said Trump represented “everything a governor doesn’t want in a president.”

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Next, Haley admitted she would vote for Trump in 2016, but said she was “not a fan.” This vague response was enough to facilitate her appointment as Ambassador to the United Nations. Upon leaving her post, Haley wrote a book that lavished praise on Trump.

That rosy view lasted until the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, which inspired Haley to say, “We need to acknowledge [Trump] let us down… He went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him. And we can’t let that ever happen again.”

By Oct. 2021, Haley changed her tune yet again, saying of Trump, “We need him in the Republican Party. I don’t want us to go back to the days before Trump.”

Fast forward to her 2024 campaign, where she said, “I would not run if President Trump ran,” before changing her mind and running against him.

See a pattern? When it comes to Trump, Haley is conflicted, inconsistent, and unstable. Whether ambition or cowardice are to blame is unclear.

So why were some of us still holding out some small glimmer of hope that this time would be different?

Haley’s presidential campaign suggested she had grown as a Never Trump leader.

“At the start of the campaign, Haley sounded like she was running for vice president, promising to support Trump as the nominee even if he were convicted of crimes,” A.B. Stoddard recalls. But “[b]y the end of the campaign, she said she no longer felt obligated to support him, that he was responsible for failing to stop the violence on Jan. 6, and that she isn’t sure, if returned to office, that he will follow the Constitution.”

Haley’s latest flip-flop on Trump is probably her worst because she had become something of a symbol of the conservative resistance. She has been garnering roughly 20 percent of the vote in Republican primaries, despite dropping out of the race months ago.

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In this regard, she was serving as something of an avatar of the Never Trump conservative movement that was starved for a leader. Haley could have been that leader. Instead, she sold us out.

It’s one thing to be defeated. It’s another thing to go into exile. What Haley has done is more like surrendering. It has the effect of not just disappointing the troops, but also demoralizing them. For many of us, though, this is déjà vu all over again.

My biggest faceplant came when I naively believed that Marco Rubio was the future of conservatism. But it wasn’t Rubio’s 2016 GOP primary loss that disillusioned me; his seamless transformation into MAGA Marco is what really broke my spirit.

Former Sen. Ben Sasse was another promising conservative politician who disappointed me. Sasse had much to recommend him, but he didn’t have the courage to remain true to his principles in the admittedly challenging Trump era.

You can probably tell that (like many Never Trumpers) I had a “type”—young, charismatic, and conservative pols who gave inspiring speeches. Realizing this inherent weakness, I was less susceptible to the charms of Nikki Haley than I might otherwise have been.

That is good news because if there’s one thing we have learned (besides not trusting Nikki Haley), it's that there is no correlation between these superficial attributes and the ones that really matter.

Having been let down before, my attitude regarding Haley could best have been described as cautiously optimistic.

Mitt Romney Has a Point About Pardoning Trump

One strategy employed by die-hard sports fans desperate for self-preservation is to bet against their favorite team. This serves as a sort of hedge; either your beloved team wins, or you pocket some cash. To avoid having our hearts broken yet again, many of my Never Trump conservative brethren have employed a similar defense mechanism: As Mel Brooks advised, we “hope for the best” and “expect the worst.”

And, in this regard, Nikki Haley is merely the latest Republican to disappoint in a long string of disappointments.

Here’s hoping that we someday get a decent center-right leader with character and integrity. And I don’t care how old or boring they are.

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