Nikki Haley Serves Up a Hilarious Bowl of Civil War Word Salad

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Nikki Haley is so confused about what caused the Civil War that she had to ask a potential voter to help her out. During a New Hampshire campaign event on Wednesday, one of the voters on hand had a simple question for Haley: What was the proximate cause of the Civil War?

Thus began the former South Carolina Governor’s strained intellectual journey. “I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how the government was gonna run, the freedoms of what people could and couldn’t do,” Haley said. “What do you think the cause of the Civil War was?”

When the voter, who has remained anonymous, politely reminded Haley that it was she, and not they, who was running for president, Haley dug deep and brought forward another few sentences of balderdash.

“I think it always comes down to the role of government,” she said. “We need to have capitalism, we need to have economic freedom, we need to make sure that we do all things so that individuals have the liberties, so that they can have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to do or be anything they want to be without government getting in the way.”

The questioner pushed back, saying, “In the year 2023, it’s astonishing to me that you answer that question without mentioning the word ‘slavery.’”

“What do you want me to say about slavery?” Haley snapped back.

Haley’s not wrong to assert that the Civil War was about certain “freedoms” and economic rights. It’s just that the main division, as far as rights and freedoms are concerned, centered on whether the South could continue to have an economy based on owning other human beings as chattel.

It’s not as if the states that provoked the conflict were trying to be secretive about their grievances. When South Carolina, Haley’s home state, seceded from the Union in 1860, the secessionists explicitly stated that their decision was rooted in “increasing hostility on the part of the nonslaveholding States to the institution of slavery.”

This isn’t the first time that Haley has tried to downplay the role of slavery and racism in the Civil War. When she ran for South Carolina governor in 2010, Haley said the war was between sides fighting for “tradition” versus “change” and insisted the Confederate flag was “not something that is racist.”

After she was elected, Haley continued to fly the Confederate flag on the statehouse grounds until 2015, when another uniquely American tradition—a mass shooting perpetrated by a white supremacist gunman that resulted in the deaths of eight Black parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina—finally forced her hand. But even as she ordered the flag removed, Haley said the shooter had “hijacked” the Confederate flag from people who saw it as a symbol of “sacrifice and heritage.”

While Haley’s wilful blindness about the Civil War is upsetting, it shouldn’t be a surprise. Her comments came just hours after her fellow South Carolinian Lindsay Graham insisted the conservatives are “tolerant.” The senator seemed to forget the hundreds of bills across the country restricting people from living their lives as they wanted (that is to say, differently from how Republicans want them).