Earlier today I watched Dana Bash of CNN interview GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley at a New Hampshire diner. I’ll let David Goldiner of the New York Daily News describe what I saw:
Nikki Haley feigned ignorance about former President Donald Trump’s sex abuse and defamation case and claimed he’s “innocent” even though a jury has already found him liable for sexually abusing E. Jean Carroll.
As the only woman running against Trump ramps up her GOP primary fight, Haley sought to dodge questions about the trial that started in a Manhattan courtroom, with decidedly mixed results.
“I haven’t paid attention to his cases and I’m not a lawyer,” Haley said in an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash. “All I know is that he’s innocent till proven guilty. … You’ve got investigations into Trump and Biden.”
Asked what she thinks about Trump’s claims that he is the victim of a partisan “witch hunt,” Haley agreed that the man she is running against has been unfairly targeted by prosecutors.
“Some of the cases have been political. This one, I haven’t looked at,” Haley asserted.
The former UN ambassador continued by falsely suggesting that Trump has not yet been found to have sexually assaulted and defamed Carroll.
Why won’t Haley hit Trump, and hit him hard? The guy is indicted on 91 felony charges! Why won’t Haley make case that he is a criminal and unfit for the presidency? Please come back Chris Christie!
Ross Douthat of The New York Times tries to explain the unexplainable. Here is a taste of his piece “How Trump’s Opponents Made Iowa Easy for Him“:
In one sense, it’s entirely understandable that there’s no unified opposition candidate. Like the divided field of eight years ago, Haley and DeSantis represent different constituencies with different visions of what the G.O.P. should become, and the viciousness with which they ended up scrapping over second place in Iowa reflects the potential depth of those divisions.
But in another sense it’s absurd that it’s come to this again. If you paid attention to the wrangling on the debate stage last week, you could discern a few key areas of real policy disagreement — most notably over our Ukraine strategy. But just as notable was the extent to which their official positions were quite similar. DeSantis would accuse Haley of being insufficiently conservative or populist on some key issue, and instead of really defending a moderate or establishment position, she would insist that, no, she was just as conservative as him. Meanwhile, despite his populist affect, DeSantis wasn’t offering anything like the free-spending, almost-liberal promises that Trump made back in 2016; his squabble with Haley over the Social Security retirement age was not exactly a grand ideological battle.
So if the two anti-Trump candidates could converge that much on the issues despite their different constituencies, even in a debate they spent hammering at each other, it doesn’t seem that hard to imagine a single candidate running a unifying not-Trump-again campaign. It would be a little more populist than Haley’s candidacy has been, a little less ideological and Cruz-ish than DeSantis’s approach to date — but not so radically different from the race that we’ve watched both of them run.
If you wanted such a unifying not-Trump-again candidacy, you should blame DeSantis, first, for botching a chance to clear the field early and for failing to adapt thereafter. He lost his chance to be an actual front-runner when Trump began to be indicted. But a stronger start, a more effective operation and a sales pitch that emphasized his competence as much as his conservatism could have conceivably kept Haley in Tim Scott territory in the polling and brought many of her voters around to him in the end. Instead, as the conservative writer Peter Spiliakos argues, DeSantis’s persistent weakness encouraged the party’s moderates to treat their votes as expressive rather than strategic — backing Haley because it felt good, even though her path to victory was obscure.
But then you should also blame Team Haley — not her voters so much as the big donors who sustained her and right-of-center media figures who have spent the past few months boosting her — for going all in on a candidate who clearly, clearly has less of a chance of winning a head-to-head battle with Trump than even the disappointing version of DeSantis.
I understand the establishment and moderate and Never Trump desire not to reward DeSantis for his imitations of Trumpism. But the anti-populist conceit that there was no real difference between the two men was never rooted in reality. The idea that a President DeSantis could somehow be a more dangerously illiberal figure than Trump seems risible after watching both of them campaign. And the notion that you can pull the G.O.P. away from Trump without something like the DeSantis record and approach is a pleasant fantasy, not a strategy worth anybody’s time and resources.
Read the entire piece here.