The Case for VP Haley

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

From the Boiling Frogs on The Dispatch

You wouldn’t know it from my cheery disposition, but the polls lately have put me in a dark place, overcome with desperate thoughts.

Where will I work after the Trump Justice Department shutters The Dispatch for publishing “subversive material”? What sort of contrived national emergency will be cited in 2028 to justify suspending the 22nd Amendment? Which Anglosphere country is most likely to grant me asylum?

And this one, which is really dark: Should I hope that Donald Trump chooses Nikki Haley as his running mate?

The prospect of a Trump-Haley ticket seemed to have died earlier this year when the nominee declared that anyone donating to her henceforth would be “permanently barred from the MAGA camp,” whatever that means. Ten days ago, however, Axios cited multiple sources alleging that Haley was “under active consideration” by Trump’s campaign for VP. Trump himself quickly denied it, but Trump denies a lot of things that turn out to be true.

A few days after the Axios story emerged, Gordon Sondland (remember him?) published an op-ed at the Wall Street Journal explaining why a Trump-Haley ticket would be “a perfect match” for the GOP. That piece felt like a nudge to the campaign on behalf of the conservative donor class that they’d be more likely to reach for their wallets this fall if one of their favorite old-school Republicans ended up on the ballot.

Meanwhile, political junkies were oohing and ahhing over the results of the latest Republican primaries in Maryland and Nebraska. Both of those primaries were “closed,” meaning only registered members of the party could vote. And a competitive race in the Democratic Senate primary in the former state ensured that few liberals there would bother to re-register as Republicans in advance simply to stick it to Trump by voting for his opponent.

Even so, Nikki Haley ended up getting 21.7 percent in Maryland and 18.2 percent in Nebraska. She’s pulled similar numbers in other primaries since leaving the race. The bloc of disaffected “Haley Republicans” appears to be sizable, persistent, and potentially lethal to Trump if he can’t find a way to convince them to come home to the GOP in November.

Choosing her as his running mate could do the trick. He’s nervous enough about losing disgruntled anti-vaxxers to Robert F. Kennedy Jr. that he’s reportedly considered choosing Kennedy as his running mate, allegedly even dispatching “emissaries” to discuss the idea. If he’s willing to consider an alliance with a kook to lure back one part of his base, he might consider an alliance with the center-right Haley to lure back a different and probably bigger part.

Trump-Haley. It could happen. Should a Never Trumper in a dark-even-for-me mood want it to?

For classical liberals, there’s a moral argument against Nikki Haley joining the ticket and a practical argument against it—and the two are connected.

The practical argument is that she might help Trump win.

How many times in this newsletter have I implored conservatives to end the “Republican hostage crisis” by boycotting any election that has Trump at the top of the ticket? Reaganites won’t regain leverage over the direction of the party until they show populists they’re willing to tank the GOP’s presidential prospects if their concerns about post-liberalism aren’t addressed.

That’s less likely to happen if Trump sweetens the pot for them by making a Reaganite like Haley his running mate.

Remember Clifford Asness, the inspiration for last week’s newsletter about “Never Trump vs. Never Again”? Asness was a loud-and-proud Haley guy in this year’s primary; few Republicans have spent as much money as he has trying to prevent a third Trump nomination. But he’s so angry at Biden for inching away from Israel’s campaign in Rafah under pressure from the left that he’s now thinking of supporting Trump in November as the lesser of two evils.

Adding Haley to the ticket might lock him down. The same will be true of others among the 20 percent or so who keep voting for Haley in Republican primaries. If you fear a second Trump term would be an ideological disaster for conservatives and a civic disaster for America, any development that gets us closer to it should be opposed.

The moral argument against putting Haley on the ticket is that America deserves to suffer the consequences of its terrible choices. If this moronic country is willing to gamble on Trump again after his coup attempt four years ago, it should be forced to experience populism without the brakes on.

This time, let’s dispense with the “adults in the room” like James Mattis and John Kelly—and Nikki Haley—who might keep Trump from steering off a cliff. Let’s lean into kakistocracy instead. The only way we’ll learn our lesson about authoritarianism, it appears, is by getting a potent, unfiltered dose of it. Had we gotten it in Trump’s first term, his career might already be over.

Think of it like an infection. Plainly, we haven’t developed antibodies to post-liberalism yet; only a raging illness that makes us all very sick will generate the immunity we need to prevent future illness. Assuming it doesn’t kill us in the process, of course.

So forget Trump-Haley and give us the Trump-RFK “pox party” we deserve. The worse, the better!

Any way you slice it, having Nikki Haley on the ballot this year would extend the shelf life of Trumpism. It would improve his chances of regaining power; it would reduce the odds of him discrediting himself as president; and it would reconcile conservatives to a party whose soul has been thoroughly poisoned for at least four more years and probably longer.

All of that being so, imagine my despair in finding myself suddenly thinking that … maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Not a good idea, to be clear. But not the worst thing that could happen.

My epiphany stems from this: Trump is probably going to win whether Haley is on the ticket or not.

I suspect that before the polls have closed in western states on Election Night, the conventional wisdom will be congealing that it was utter madness for Democrats to have nominated an 81-year-old for president. Especially when many of his own voters have spent the past two years warning pollsters they believe he’s too old to serve effectively in a second term.

Inflation and the border and Israel will all get their due, but in hindsight the silver-bullet explanation for why Biden lost will be that the race ended up inescapably as a failed referendum on his fitness for office. Having Trump on the other side of the ballot made it more competitive than it should have been, but ultimately Democrats bet big and badly on the belief that Americans would overlook Joe Biden’s condition if Trump was the only alternative.

If that’s the outcome for which we’re headed, Vice President Nikki Haley suddenly sounds not so bad.

It’s easy to like the idea of Americans being forced to live under a kakistocracy of their own choosing when the prospect of it happening is abstract, but it isn’t anymore. It’s less than six months away. And it’s not just “Americans” who’ll have to live under it. I will too. And you. And your family.

For the same reason I preferred not catching COVID to catching it and falling gravely ill in order to build natural immunity, I would prefer to deal with the authoritarian threat in some way that doesn’t require the political equivalent of the country being placed on a ventilator.

We all would, if we’re being honest. If I told you that Rudy Giuliani would be attorney general in a second Trump administration, you might laugh and make jokes and snort that it “serves us right” for reelecting a constitutional menace. But if you had a chance to replace him with Mitt Romney or Liz Cheney, you’d seize that opportunity with both hands, no?

That’s the case in a nutshell for Vice President Haley. We deserve to have Trump drive us off a cliff, but none of us actually want to go off that cliff—especially at a moment when we’re headed right for it and the vehicle is picking up speed and the sweat is beading on our foreheads.

When President Trump inevitably starts babbling about ditching NATO or pulling U.S. troops out of South Korea, it will be a small comfort to know that a hawk as staunch as Haley is inside the room, pushing back. Remember, if not for the “adults” at the DOJ and the Office of the White House Counsel during Trump’s first term, his coup plot either would have succeeded or thrust America into a far more dire constitutional crisis before failing. You might “want” to see what a Trump presidency without the brakes on looks like out of morbid curiosity—but you don’t really want it.

There are other reasons to grudgingly prefer a Trump-Haley ticket.

If I’m right that Trump is destined to win, it would be good if traditional conservatives got a share of the credit. Winning with J.D. Vance as vice president would “prove” the MAGA theory that populist nationalism is the key to electoral success even if the ticket ended up underperforming expectations. It might be decades before conservatives regained any influence on the right. Winning with Haley, on the other hand, would “prove” that only a movement that satisfies its conservative wing can prevail, especially if the ticket ended up doing better than expected with wayward constituencies like college graduates.

Having Haley as the VP nominee would also drive fanatic nationalists nuts.

In its piece about her becoming Trump’s running mate, Axios remembered how vehemently Trump’s allies denounced her during the primary. Donald Trump Jr. vowed to “go to great lengths to make sure” she wasn’t chosen for VP while Tucker Carlson promised he’d advocate against a Trump-Haley ticket as strongly as he could. They’re bluffing, of course, but having a Reaganite a heartbeat away from the presidency in Trump’s second term would irritate the MAGA faction to no end and cause real dissension on the right whenever the president’s policies ended up emulating hers.

Every time Trump disappointed his base by choosing some conservative priority over a populist alternative, she’d be scapegoated. Every time a damaging leak from within the administration appeared in the press, she’d be blamed. In 2028, the party might plausibly be paralyzed by a deep rift between normie Republicans who’d expect VP Haley to succeed Trump as nominee and populists threatening to break away if the GOP didn’t dispense with her immediately.

That would be fun. And if it turns out that the hardcore Tucker-style populist ideologues really do regard Haley as a dealbreaker on the ticket, there’s a small chance that she might cost Trump this election. Imagine millions of anti-vaxxers who were prepared to vote for him suddenly switching to RFK because they can’t abide a “uniparty” candidate as his vice president. Unlikely—yet glorious.

There’s a third reason to prefer Haley as VP, though. She’s the only option left with a scintilla of dignity.

A few weeks ago I named Tim Scott and Marco Rubio as among the least objectionable choices remaining on Trump’s vice presidential shortlist. Whatever one thinks of their MAGA cosplaying, I argued, each has been recognizably conservative on policy for a long time. Those conservative instincts might reemerge as VP and influence Trump for the better. We could do worse.

But what if Scott and Rubio are no longer “closet” conservatives pretending to be populists to curry favor with the leader? What if, like Mike Lee, their ambition and cowardice are driving a bona fide ideological conversion that would make them docile at best and zealous at worst with respect to Trumpism upon becoming vice president?

No candidate in 2016 was more morally righteous than Rubio in critiquing Trump’s pernicious influence on politics. Eight years later, here’s the pitiful state to which he’s been reduced:

Scott gave a similar non-answer two weeks ago.

At around the same time Rubio was endorsing “Stop the Steal II” for NBC News, fellow VP hopeful J.D. Vance was explaining to CBS what America could learn from Hungarian strongman Viktor Orbán. And in Israel, a third short-lister, Rep. Elise Stefanik, was turning her address to the Knesset into a low-key campaign speech for Donald Trump.

Does anyone actually want to see one of these cretins rewarded for their amorality with the vice presidency, however much a fallen America might deserve them?

Wouldn’t it be gratifying to have Nikki Haley get the job after taking Trump on while these four are left reckoning with the fact that they prostituted their very souls for nothing?

I don’t mean to valorize Haley in saying that, as she’s had many undignified moments in trying to navigate the politics of the Trump era. And joining the ticket would necessarily mean having more: She’d be expected to make arguments that a sensible person shouldn’t make and to parry arguments that a decent person shouldn’t resist. But she acquitted herself well during the primary by not pawning her conservatism for knock-off populism, as Ron DeSantis did, and she’s acquitted herself well since leaving the race by declining to endorse Trump.

As his running mate, she’d be starting from a vastly higher baseline of dignity than any of the current short-listers are. That’s not an unalloyed good—he shouldn’t get to hide behind a fig leaf of his running mate’s dignity after all that he’s done—but if we simply must be governed by him and his rabble of cronies, having one person with a modicum of integrity near the top would be a minor reassurance.

It could even be important if he ends up losing the election. Marco Rubio and Tim Scott are bending over backward to show that, as his running mate, they’ll support Trump if he tries to overturn another election. Placed in the same position, Haley might not. And that refusal could undermine the effort’s public credibility as Americans are once again forced to try to puzzle out which side is actually trying to steal the election from the other.

At this point, an obvious objection arises: What if putting Haley on the ticket is the difference between defeat and victory for Trump?

It’s fine to say that she’d have certain virtues as vice president, but none of those virtues would justify returning him to the presidency. Any Never Trumper would and should agree that if Haley’s presence on the ticket would end up helping Trump decisively with key swing blocs—college grads, women, independents—then we should hope that he passes her over.

But what if it doesn’t actually matter who Trump’s VP is?

After a coup attempt, two impeachments, and four criminal indictments, which voter out there hasn’t made up their mind about Trump yet but might be tipped into supporting him if he chooses Haley as his running mate rather than Rubio or Scott?

Granted, the 20 percent who keep voting for her in Republican primaries is impressive and meaningful. But I don’t think those people are truly “Haley voters.” I think they’re a mix of centrist and Reaganite conservatives who chose her as a respectable protest vehicle to express their dissent about the direction of the party.

They’re not anti-Trump because they’re pro-Haley; they’re pro-Haley because they’re anti-Trump. And so if Haley herself decides she’s no longer anti-Trump, it’s anyone’s guess whether most of those voters (Cliff Asness excepted) would follow her lead or simply shift their allegiance to some other staunch anti-Trump conservative who continues to articulate their grievances about the GOP.

There’s an alternate universe in which figures like Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney, Chris Christie, and James Mattis endorse Joe Biden this fall to try to create a “permission structure” for Trump-hating “Haley Republicans” to cross the aisle. In that universe, do those Republicans remain loyal to Trump just because Haley’s on the ticket with them, or do they follow the lead of Cheney et al. by casting a second vote this year against a demagogue whom they despise?

My guess is that they remain loyal to Trump, but not because of Haley. Because he’s a Republican.

The difficult truth is that Haley is unlikely to be named VP because Trump doesn’t need her to be VP in order to win. If he trailed Biden by 5 points in the polls, he might be so desperate to win over her voters and unite the right that he’d conclude he has no choice but to join forces with her. He’s not trailing, though; he’s winning because some critical mass of “Haley Republicans” continues to prefer him to Biden notwithstanding their aversion to him in the primaries.

They’re conservatives, but they’re also partisans. And as we’ve seen over and over ad nauseam since 2016, when those two identities conflict, one clearly and consistently takes precedence over the other.

“For years, Republicans have wondered whether MAGA champions and traditional conservatives can coexist,” Gordon Sondland wrote in making the case for a Trump-Haley ticket. “Can Matt Gaetz and Mitt Romney be happy under the same political roof? Yes, they can. MAGA doesn’t need to change, and neither do traditional Republicans.” That’s almost totally wrong, as MAGA does need to change for the good of America and Mitt Romney is emphatically not happy under the same roof as Matt Gaetz. But I think Sondland’s right about coexistence: Populists and conservatives will “coexist” this fall by both backing Trump in heavy numbers. And that’ll be true whether Haley is on the ticket or not.

Read more at The Dispatch

The Dispatch is a new digital media company providing engaged citizens with fact-based reporting and commentary, informed by conservative principles. Sign up for free.