Trump is Worse than Haley if …

Late last Fall, the big-money Republican donors who do not want Donald Trump to be their 2024 nominee finally gave up the ghost on the Ron DeSantis candidacy.  Florida's governor had long since revealed himself to be a genuine culture warrior, not the kind of wink-and-feint type that plutocrats prefer.  More to the point, he has turned out to be a combination of weird, creepy, unlikable, and unusually incapable of even pretending to enjoy being a candidate.  He is a remarkably inept politician.

By late 2023, with Mike Pence and most of the other more establishment-type longshots out of the presidential race and only Chris Christie (who ended his campaign this week) and Fascist Eddie Haskell still running, the only plausible alternative to DeSantis was Nikki Haley.  (Strangely, Asa Hutchinson has still apparently not officially dropped out, but he is in the Christie category of being willing to directly criticize Trump, which Haley and DeSantis can barely bring themselves to do.)  Thus, Haley was anointed as the new non-Trump hope.

This was viewed as good news among the non-fascists in the country, on the theory that almost anyone who is not Trump is better than Trump.  Haley certainly seemed to pass muster in this category, with Chris Hayes saying this on his MSNBC show on November 30:

Nominating anyone other than Donald Trump would almost certainly rip the party asunder. ...  Trump would then set himself to the goal of the total destruction of the Republican Party ... should they nominate anyone other than him.  ...  And [Republicans] all know that threat hangs over them, so anyone who takes up the effort to defeat Trump -- really, to really go after him, to try to beat him in this Republican Party anyway -- deserves support.

This was an especially odd statement, I thought, given that Hayes had just moments before pointed out that Haley polls better head-to-head against President Biden than anyone else.  And given that the mainstream press would surely swoon over Haley, wrongly calling her a centrist or a moderate and singing her praises as a "proven leader" rather than the most weather vane-y of politicians, it is easy to imagine that she would cruise to victory.  Why would Hayes -- a progressive who is usually (like me) impatient even with the Biden wing of the Democratic Party and is in no way fooled by what Haley truly stands for -- want that?

I will stipulate that there is a way to view Hayes's argument as the height of cynicism.  That is, he is pointing out that supporting Haley is a way to break up a conservative movement that has done so much damage to the US since it emerged in the late 1950's and early 1960's.  This would be simple divide-and-conquer tactics, with Biden (or another Democrat) notching an easy victory in November.

Even so, the last sentence in the block quote above suggests not cynicism but admiration, and not even of the grudging kind.  The idea is apparently that Haley deserves our support in challenging Trump in particular because she (and everyone) knows how awful it will be for her (and everyone) if she somehow knocks him off.  But why would that be good?  It can only be because people think that Haley is somehow not as bad as Trump.

Is she?  As the title of this column suggests, the answer is not clear.  On standard policy issues, Haley is a disaster.  In a column last Fall, I summarized a few of her most extreme views, from being a union-buster (which is how she describes herself) to opposing policies to slow climate change to being a hard-liner on immigration (including eliminating birthright citizenship).  She now dances around abortion questions because she has been in favor of criminalizing it but knows that that is now a political loser.  Haley is also a standard-issue moron when it comes to deficits and debt, and she even figured out how to pander against foreign aid in a way that was even more unhinged than the John Birch Society on its worst day.

There is, in short, no centrism or moderation in any of Haley's substantive commitments.  Even when she took a position in her argument with DeSantis last night in favor of aid to Ukraine, that was welcome but hardly a matter of being in any way progressive.  And given her track record of inconsistency, who knows how long it will take her to backtrack on that?

The larger point here, however, is not about policy but about the future of the US as a pluralist constitutional democracy.  Imagine that somehow Haley were to become President.  Would she take the lead to undo any of the voter suppression measures that the Republicans have embraced?  Would she convince Republicans to abandon gerrymandering or any of their other anti-voter policies?  Would she put non-extremists on the Supreme Court or the lower courts?  Of course not.

Even without Trump, Republicans would never give back any of the ground that they have taken in recent years.  They decided in 2016 to abandon any pretense of taking their post-2012 "autopsy" to heart, which would have seen them try to move out of the 1950's to become more competitive in contested elections.  Haley has been all in on every aspect of that, and her promises to pardon Trump if she is elected, or to support him as the nominee even if he has been convicted of one or more felonies, make it clear that she is no more likely than any other Republican to de-Trumpify her party than Matt Gaetz or Tom Cotton would be.

Am I saying, then, that there would be no difference between a Trump presidency and a Haley presidency?  No.  Again, the key word in the title of this column is "if."  Before I get there, however, I want to be very clear that all of the anti-voter and anti-democracy moves that Haley has supported mean that any Republican in the White House will begin a reign by Republicans that would have no obvious end.  Trump's return to office would mean that he would try to make himself dictator -- for more than one day, mind you -- but any other Republican holding that office would be part of an effort to make sure that no Democrat could ever win a future presidential election.

It is not, then, a matter of saying that Haley would be better than Trump because she would be better on the preservation of the American experiment.  But what would be different?  Trump is worse than Haley if you are one of the people he would put in jail (or worse), because Trump's taste for vengeance would almost certainly not drive Haley to do the same horrifying things that he has in mind.  She would surely prefer to create a one-party autocracy without the muss and fuss of political persecution and assassinations.

She also might be less of a sucker for foreign dictators.  Interestingly, however, although she would be less bad than DeSantis on culture war matters, she might not be particularly different from Trump, who at most only sort of cares about such things.

It is certainly not nuthin' to say that Haley would be less prone to extreme retaliation and would probably not stoke political violence.  Show trials of Democrats, attacks on independent media, and so on would be standard fare under Trump but not Haley.  By contrast, there is no reason to think that universities will fare well under any Republican leader, because much of that is happening at the state level and is also being driven in the private university sphere by the people who took down the presidents of Penn and Harvard.

Even so, these are serious reasons to say that, yes, Trump would be worse than Haley.  Fewer dead bodies and ruined lives are to be preferred, of course.  But when it comes to the rule of law?  There is no reason to doubt that Haley -- like everyone else in a party that now calls January 6 defendants "hostages" -- would happily end it.