Opinion: Nikki Haley’s Jon Snow moment

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“It takes no time to bend the knee,” Tyrion Lannister tells Jon Snow in the seventh season of “Game of Thrones,” urging him to “pledge your sword” to Queen Daenerys Targaryen.

“And why would I do that?” Snow thunders back.

Speaking in Greenville, South Carolina, Tuesday, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley sounded a similar tone, insisting she plans to stay in the Republican primary battle even if former President Donald Trump continues to dominate the race. “I feel no need to kiss the ring,” Haley said. “And I have no fear of Trump’s retribution. I’m not looking for anything from him. My own political future is of zero concern.”

Haley’s increasingly sharp criticism of the former president stands out in a party whose leaders are, for the most part, eager to show the MAGA universe that they are true Trump believers, whatever they may say in private.

Yet yesterday’s results in her home state’s primary might affect Haley’s stance. (After all, Jon Snow changed his mind about bending the knee in “Game of Thrones,” on HBO, which like CNN is owned by Warner Bros. Discovery). Trump won the South Carolina primary by a wide margin and is poised to continue racking up delegates in the March contests in what looks like an unstoppable march to the nomination.

“The immediate delegate math and the polls may not be on Haley’s side,” wrote Geoff Duncan, a Republican who served as Georgia’s lieutenant governor, “but believe it or not, many other numbers are. … During the fourth quarter of 2023, Haley out-raised Trump, $24 million to $19 million. The number was more than double the amount she raised in the third quarter. In January 2024, as the rest of the GOP field winnowed, Haley’s fundraising again bested Trump’s, $9.8 million to $8.8 million.”

Bill Bramhall/Tribune Content Agency
Bill Bramhall/Tribune Content Agency

“There is only one viable exit ramp from the Trump-Biden sequel, and that is Haley. During the 2016 South Carolina primary, there were still six serious candidates in the GOP race. There is no reason for Haley to stop now. Even if the Trump fever doesn’t break in time for 2024, there’s always 2028, and time for GOP voters to wake up to what might have been, and still might be.

W. James Antle III argued that “if Haley keeps going, she is likely to lose by progressively bigger margins as the race simultaneously shifts to multiple states and media markets. She may also be blamed for delaying the party’s consolidation around and joint fundraising with Trump while Democrats are sparing President Joe Biden from an even semi-competitive primary.”

If she plans to help Trump win in November or have a personal comeback in the future, she should heed her home state’s voters and pull the plug.

Looking longer term, Kara Alaimo observed, “The first woman to be elected president of the United States is very likely to be someone just like her. Women who try to lead bump up against many ridiculous and unfair stereotypes, but a big one is that we’re not strong. ‘Women simply do not fit the archetype of a leader in a country that stakes its superpower status on its military might,’ Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders Laura Liswood points out. ‘Men are presumed to be strong until they show otherwise. Women must prove they have strength.’”

“One thing that would help Haley overcome this challenge is the fact that she is perceived as a foreign policy hawk. That could give her or another conservative woman an easier time winning votes than a woman who is more progressive. We’ve seen this play out in Europe, where most women leaders are conservative,” noted Alaimo.

Haley’s name was not among the six people Trump confirmed are on his shortlist for the vice presidential nomination. They are: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.

Julian Zelizer wrote that the list “should be taken with a massive grain of salt,” given Trump’s penchant for misdirection. “If the names are in fact representative, however, they could suggest that Trump is aiming to appeal to various constituencies such as Black and Latino voters that Democrats have counted on for decades and trying to win over independents who have been lukewarm about his candidacy… the new list includes women, an Indian American and Black Americans.”

Ukraine War: Year three

Jack Ohman/Tribune Content Agency
Jack Ohman/Tribune Content Agency

When Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, many people predicted the war would last no more than a few weeks, with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces emerging victorious. Who has the edge as the war grinds into its third year? “I’m not sure that either side is winning,” said retired US General David Petraeus, in a conversation with CNN’s Peter Bergen. “The Russians obviously have been achieving incremental gains, and the Russians do have the initiative right now, having just forced the Ukrainians to withdraw from Avdiivka in the southeast.”

“There are several other areas in which the Russians are attacking in the east and south and using massive quantities of artillery that generally destroy whatever it is that they’re trying to seize and then using human wave attacks that are extraordinarily costly in terms of casualties, yet they seem to be able to sustain that.”

US officials have estimated that 315,000 Russians have been killed or wounded, which Petraeus characterized as “just staggering losses.”

“If the US can get this $60 billion package through and Ukraine makes fundamental decisions about how to increase its force generation — and that is a critical issue — and can continue to make progress with the development of both maritime and air drones, Ukraine, I think, can not only sustain its position but, in certain cases, make progress. But that’s a lot of assumptions. That’s a lot of ifs that all have to come together,” observed Petraeus.

The biggest “if” may rest with House Speaker Mike Johnson, who has bent the knee to Trump. On Presidents Day, Johnson shared a thumbs-up photo with the former president, an opponent of Ukraine aid. The visit with Trump came days after the House broke for vacation without acting on a Senate bill that includes $60 billion in aid for Ukraine.

“It seems like House Republicans, who long chafed under leadership that tried to channel their rabble-rousing energy into establishmentarian goals, are now realizing that having a speaker who avoids confrontation with his majority’s various factions can have its own problems,” wrote Patrick T. Brown. “Take the standoff over aid to Ukraine, for example — unwilling to risk support from either those favoring additional money and those seeking to scale down US involvement, Johnson let the bill sit while the House went on a two-week recess.”

The stalemate in Washington is eye opening for leaders in Europe, wrote David A. Andelman. “For many, it is clear democracies must begin considering in concrete terms how to defend themselves without the American nuclear and security umbrella under which they have thrived for more than a half century.”

The death of Alexey Navalny in a remote prison camp above the Arctic Circle “may seem to suggest that there is no future for the Russian opposition,” wrote Emily Parker. “But that is not necessarily true. Navalny provided a glimpse of what Russia could be. He accomplished what had once seemed impossible. Navalny skillfully used the internet to undermine the widespread apathy that prevented people from challenging authority. People realized that they were not alone, and that collective action could get results.”

Russian authorities have taken into custody a 33-year-old US-Russian dual citizen, Ksenia Karelina, who as Frida Ghitis wrote, “works as an esthetician in Los Angeles as she pursues her passion as a ballerina.” She was arrested after donating $51.80 to Razom, a US charity that backs Ukraine, and was in Russia to visit her 90-year-old grandmother, parents and sister, according to her employer. Karelina could be sentenced to decades in prison.

“Perhaps Putin is feeling more insecure and becoming more tyrannical toward the Russian people, toward visitors and even toward those who have left the country,” Ghitis observed.

“What started as an authoritarian leader who was eroding democratic norms looks to be morphing into a totalitarian dictator of the most dangerous kind — the frightened kind.”

For more:

Sasha Vasilyuk: I grew up in Russia and Ukraine. Here’s what I say, when people ask where I’m from

Fareed Zakaria: Conflict is the new normal

Alabama ruling on embryos

According to Alabama’s Chief Justice Tom Parker, the people of his state have adopted the view that “human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God, who views the destruction of His image as an affront to Himself.” Parker concurred in the state Supreme Court’s February 16 ruling that frozen embryos are protected by the law as people, a finding that sent a chill through the IVF industry and rippled across the nation.

“The irony in the Alabama court’s decision is that more Americans who want to be parents will be unable to achieve that dream,” wrote Mary Ziegler. “The ruling is extraordinary not only in declaring personhood before birth but also in applying the idea to embryos that haven’t been implanted in the uterus. But the ruling is not just bizarre; its consequences may be profound.”

“If an embryo is a person, it can no longer be destroyed, donated for research or potentially even stored. Some abortion opponents argue that if embryos are persons, each one that is created must be implanted — and that would make even storing embryos for future use impermissible. If any of that comes to pass — and in Alabama, it likely will — that will transform how in vitro fertilization (IVF) works, and will mean a lower rate of success for Americans who already struggle to start a family.”

Rebecca Mathews, an Alabama resident whose two children were conceived through IVF, took issue with the court’s ruling and with the chief justice’s invocation of religion to explain his decision. Noting that she is a Christian, Mathews wrote, “Instead of protecting life, the decision to equate frozen embryos with a living, breathing baby could end the practice of IVF and prevent millions of wanted and loved children from ever being created. In its zeal to uphold Christianity, the Alabama Supreme Court may have ended the dream of a family for millions of people who want nothing more than the chance to bring a baby into the world.”

AT&T outage

For much of Thursday, AT&T’s wireless network suffered a nationwide outage. Fears that it resulted from a cyberattack were eventually dismissed by the company, which attributed the outage to “an incorrect process used as we were expanding our network.” But the incident highlighted how dependent Americans are on mobile access and why protecting network infrastructure is so crucial, wrote Bob Kolasky, a former Department of Homeland Security official who now works in the private sector.

“Communications, such as those provided by AT&T, are one of the ‘lifeline functions’ designated by the US federal government as essential to national security, economic competitiveness and community well-being. Without these functions, which include transportation, water and energy, critical systems start to fail, and an incident in one industry can become systemic across the whole ecosystem,” Kolasky noted.

There needs to be transparent communications between government and corporate stakeholders about threats and vulnerabilities and anything that looks anomalous. There also needs to be proactive communications to the public about what is learned.”

For more on technology:

Timothy Karr: Big tech companies are saying the right thing about fighting deepfakes. But will they?

‘A form of Navalny’

When Trump finally got around to commenting on the death of Alexey Navalny, he put it in the context of his own legal woes, including his four indictments and a variety of civil cases. Citing the $355 million judgment imposed by a New York judge, Trump said “it is a form of Navalny.” Trump also said, “We are turning into a Communist country in many ways.”

But not all government action is proving harmful to Trump. The Securities and Exchange Commission has approved a merger between a blank check company and Trump Media & Technology Group, the owner of Truth Social. If shareholders bless the move and the stock price holds up, Trump’s stake in the company could be worth $4 billion.

“If nothing else,” wrote David Zurawik, “the position Trump now finds himself in with Truth Social should remind media and political analysts to be careful about counting the former president out. Remember all the analyses that catalogued his loss of media reach after he was suspended by Twitter, Facebook and Instagram following the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection?”

“But today, Trump is as omnipresent on mainstream and social media as ever — and, in some ways, his Truth Social platform is part of a right-wing messaging machine larger than the one we saw in 2016 or 2020 in its ability to promote his presidential campaign, malign his opponents and pollute the media ecosystem with disinformation and lies. Beyond his followers, his Truth Social posts still multiply exponentially across the media landscape as they are reported on and analyzed.”

For more:

Dean Obeidallah: Trump is going to have to sell a lot of sneakers to pay his judgments

Nick Anderson/Tribune Content Agency
Nick Anderson/Tribune Content Agency

Biden impeachment implodes

House Republicans are trying to find a way to sustain their impeachment investigation of President Joe Biden after the key witness has been indicted for making false statements to the FBI and creating false records.

As Dennis Aftergut wrote, Alexander Smirnov’s “testimony has been the ‘heart’ of House Oversight Committee Republicans’ stumbling ‘investigation’ into impeaching President Biden. … The Smirnov episode is Exhibit A in what happens when politicians grinding partisan axes make serious public charges without evidence against elected officials. That shameless behavior erodes citizens’ precious trust in government.”

“Prosecutors learn early that, in white-collar crimes, you’d better have indisputable documents or witnesses whose testimony is thoroughly corroborated before seeking an indictment. Otherwise, you can get seriously burned in the backfire.”

Dana Summer/Tribune Content Agency
Dana Summer/Tribune Content Agency

The moon and Mars

Clay Jones
Clay Jones

On Thursday, a commercial lander named Odysseus became the first US-made spacecraft in more than 52 years to land on the moon. Apollo 17, the last of its breed, put two astronauts on the moon in December 1972. They logged 19 miles on the lunar surface in an electric vehicle before returning to Earth.

NASA has ambitious plans to put humans back on the moon within three years. But it is also thinking far beyond the moon — the space agency put out a call for applications from people willing to live for a year in a 3D-printed habitat designed to mimic the future residence of astronauts on the surface of Mars.

“One of the main goals of these missions is to study individual and crew dynamics, and to see how they perform under stress,” wrote astronaut Leroy Chiao. “Space may seem like a quiet and placid environment, but performing a busy schedule of experiments in close confines can indeed be stressful. And understanding how a crew reacts to the challenges of a deep space mission is the point of this exercise, to a large degree…”

“One thing that kept us going on the ISS during long missions was that we were in frequent contact with friends and family on the ground. When I was there, even before live internet access was available on board, we would still get email synchronizations about three times during a 24-hour period.”

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Taylor Tomlinson

AFTER MIDNIGHT, airing Monday, January 22, 2024, with host Taylor Tomlinson. - Sonja Flemming/CBS
AFTER MIDNIGHT, airing Monday, January 22, 2024, with host Taylor Tomlinson. - Sonja Flemming/CBS

Taylor is a Millennial and, as Gene Seymour wrote, she’s “staking a claim on being a leading spokesperson for her generation.” But she’s not the Taylor you’re probably thinking of.

Taylor Tomlinson “is having what pop culture mavens would deem a ‘moment,’ or ‘Moment.’ She brings a radiant combination of empathy and raunch to audiences in desperate need of both, carrying the tradition of dirty comics who defined their own generations (from Lenny Bruce to George Carlin to Richard Pryor) and establishing on her own terms how another young, blonde female Taylor, being vulnerable and going blue, can revolutionize comedy.”

In addition to “Have It All,” the third of her Netflix stand-up specials recorded at the end of a nationwide tour, she has debuted “as host of CBS’s ‘After Midnight,’ or, as it’s officially titled, ‘@fter midnight,’ which replaces the way-past-prime time slot that once belonged to ‘The Late Late Show with James Corden,’” Seymour noted.

“It’s a smart show about dumb stuff on the Internet,” and Tomlinson is right for it. “She’s quick on her feet, knows her way around stuff like TikTok, and seems impervious to embarrassment from any quadrant of the digital universe. Why? Because her whole career up to this point has been about telling you all the bad stuff about her life before trolls or other pests get to it.”

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