Cindi Ross Scoppe

Scoppe: Nikki Haley’s simple message: Don’t be a jerk

SC Gov Nikki Haley prepares to give the Republican response to the State of the Union address.
SC Gov Nikki Haley prepares to give the Republican response to the State of the Union address.

SIX YEARS ago, Nikki Haley was the flame-thrower, fueled by tea party anger and libertarian funding, the inexperienced back-bencher whose smidgen of responsibility had been stripped away by the House speaker of her own party in a raucous falling-out. Even after she won the GOP nomination for governor, she remained so anti-establishment that the state Chamber of Commerce refused to endorse her.

My, how our world has changed.

Tuesday night, Gov. Haley became the embodiment of the national Republican establishment. Not simply because she delivered the party’s official response to President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address — that task has not always been reserved for establishment figures — but because what she said was so anti-anti-establishment.

The extraordinary thing about her speech was that there was nothing extraordinary about it. Or there shouldn’t have been.

She didn’t say anything that was new, even for her; her most quoted comments went no further than she had gone in a speech in September at the National Press Club.

She didn’t say anything that we shouldn’t expect any honest person to say: Our broken government and the erosion of public trust are not the fault of Democrats alone; Republicans share the blame.

She didn’t say anything that we shouldn’t expect any even mildly rational person to say: Don’t “follow the siren call of the angriest voices.”

She didn’t say anything that we shouldn’t expect any decent human being to say: Essentially, don’t be a jerk.

And don’t ignore the foundational principles of our nation by punishing people solely because of their religion.

Just stop and think about that for a moment. Who could have imagined, six years ago, or even one year ago, that a presidential candidate could suggest that we bar Muslims from entering the United States and not be forced to slink off into the shadows? That this would make him even more popular?

We must stop illegal immigration, said the governor who pushed our Legislature to pass one of the toughest anti-immigration laws in the nation, who in September charged that Donald Trump wasn’t being tough enough on the issue and who in November called for barring Syrian refugees from entering our state. But we also must make sure we are “welcoming properly vetted legal immigrants, regardless of their race or religion, just like we have for centuries.”

And this is extraordinary? So extraordinary as to merit condemnation in the darkest corners of the twitterverse and even among some Republicans in the Congress? So extraordinary as to draw rave reviews from the Republican establishment and the mainstream media?

Well, yes, because of where a large minority of our nation — and perhaps a majority of Gov. Haley’s Republican Party — has gone in these past few years. In these past few months.

Today we live in a world where this sort of thing is extraordinary. Courageous even.

Nikki Haley has displayed a much softer side of herself since the Emanuel Church massacre in June, particularly when it comes to race relations. And of course she has played up her leadership in removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds — an action that faux Republicans consider sacrilegious.

But on actual policy, and certainly on red-meat political rhetoric, Nikki Haley hasn’t changed a bit since her bomb-throwing, ultimate-outsider, tea-party-darling days.

She still denounces Obamacare as bad medicine and dismisses the idea of expanding Medicaid. She still brags about pushing the Legislature to pass that anti-immigration law and an equally divisive law she says requires people to show a state-approved photo ID in order to vote (the law doesn’t actually do that, but if it were up to her it would). When the Planned Parenthood videos went viral last year, she got her DHEC director to launch a round of abortion clinic inspections, and used largely technical violations to produce shut-down orders.

Even in her extraordinary ordinary speech, she delivered an unwavering rebuke of the president’s policies foreign and domestic.

She’s still demanding that lawmakers cut taxes by $1.4 billion a year before she will allow them to spend $400 million a year fixing our roads. (No, that’s not a typo; yes, it’s crazy.) She refuses to ask for federal assistance for flood-ravaged farmers, saying they should have bought insurance.

What has changed in these past six years is the whole political world around Nikki Haley. Around all of us.

That world has gotten so enraged and ugly and irrational that Nikki Haley can channel Barack Obama’s denunciation of angry nativism — think a moment about the idea of Nikki Haley channeling Barack Obama on anything — and in so doing be celebrated as the darling of the GOP establishment.

I am proud of the fact that our governor used her moment in the national spotlight to deliver a simple and direct call for human decency.

I am horrified by the fact that we would need a political leader to do such a thing.

Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at cscoppe@thestate.com or follow her on Twitter @CindiScoppe.

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