Haley’s recent rise seems to have Trump feeling a little nervous

When Donald Trump comes up with a dishonest nickname for you and starts lying about you in general, that’s when you know you’ve arrived. Indeed, it appears that Trump has at last torn his focus from the flailing DeSantis campaign to cast his baleful gaze on former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who’s been surging in New Hampshire primary polls. 

Of course, Trump, who’s been accused of numerous sexual assaults and described by a judge as a rapist, no doubt hates the idea of running against a woman (again)—particularly one who’s demonstrably smarter than he is. Trump initially settled on the relatively anodyne and mildly misogynistic nickname “birdbrain” to smear Haley—who dares to think she’d make a better president than the guy who wanted to nuke hurricanes. But his team has since shifted gears, in an apparent admission that “birdbrain” wasn’t cutting it.

And as The Daily Beast points out, this latest line of attack is based entirely on an easily disprovable lie. Because of course it is. 

RELATED STORY: ‘Started on third base and stole second’: How DeSantis spent $160M to become less popular

The Daily Beast:

As Nikki Haley rises in the polls, some of the former president’s allies have shifted from calling his former ambassador to the United Nations “birdbrain” to attacking her as “high tax Haley.” That’s the theme of a new pro-Trump super PAC attack ad, marking the MAGA operation’s first anti-Haley spending in the GOP presidential primary.

Even though Haley has shown little appetite to take on her old boss directly, her campaign is gearing up for things to get ugly. That the opening salvo happened to be an ad about a non-existent South Carolina gas tax hike is inconsequential, according to those close to the Haley campaign and other plugged-in Republicans looking to support her as the Trump alternative.

The ad in question:

x

Transcript!

Voiceover: Nikki Haley promised …

Haley: I will not, not now, not ever, support raising the gas tax.

Voiceover: Really? Not now? Not ever? Twenty-four months later, High-Tax Haley flipped.

Haley: Let’s increase the gas tax by 10 cents.

Voiceover: That’s right. High-Tax Haley broke her promise.

Haley: Let’s increase the gas tax.

Voiceover: Repeatedly backing higher taxes hurts families. New Hampshire can’t afford Nikki “High-Tax” Haley.

Wow, that sounds bad. Almost as bad as a leading presidential candidate saying he hadn’t sexually assaulted anyone when he actually had. But there’s a lot of missing context here, as the Associated Press points out in a fact check:

The MAGA Inc. spot leaves out a significant part of the gas tax proposal Haley floated as governor, in 2015. In the speech cited, Haley went on to say that, “in order to get my signature on any gas tax increase,” South Carolina would also “need to cut our state income tax by 2%.”

That plan, her campaign reiterated this week, died in the state Legislature. South Carolina lawmakers ultimately raised the gas tax under her successor, overriding a veto by Gov. Henry McMaster, Trump’s top backer in the state.

Haley wasn’t proposing higher taxes in general; she was bargaining with lawmakers in order to keep taxes low in her state, as PolitiFact pointed out when the DeSantis campaign attacked her on the same issue. 

Of course, Trump lies as often as he breathes, and in this case, he’s projecting. Again. The attacks against Haley on this issue began when she proposed a repeal of the 18-cent federal gas tax, and as the Haley campaign has been quick to point out, Trump himself proposed a 25-cent increase in the federal gas tax in 2018 as part of his failed infrastructure initiative. 

So what’s happening here? Well, this new line of attack might be some indication that Trump, who remains a strong favorite for the GOP nomination, is a little unsure of his standing going into the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary—two contests that have long been important to setting media horse-race narratives. Iowa caucusgoers have frequently upended seemingly well-established election narratives. 

So should Haley do better in Iowa than expected, and then finish strong in New Hampshire, which recent polling hints is possible or even likely, disaffected Republicans looking to rally behind a Trump alternative could turn this into a real race going forward.

In fact, the Haley campaign’s response to the Trump camp’s patent dishonesty is to attempt to leverage the idea that Trump is threatened by Haley’s polling gains. 

“Donald Trump’s false attack ad sends a loud and clear message: Nikki Haley is surging and Trump is scared,” Haley spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas told the Associated Press.

That said, Trump remains far ahead in primary polls, including in Haley’s home state of South Carolina, where he leads her by nearly 30 points. But even Trump must understand his vulnerabilities—which are legion, whether Haley is inclined to mention them or not. 

As Stuart Stevens, a Never Trumper who worked on Mitt Romney’s 2021 presidential campaign, told The Daily Beast, most of Trump’s opponents have run away from his glaring deficiencies so as not to ruffle MAGA’s chicken feathers. And Haley has been in the vanguard of the Milquetoast Militia.

“It’s all an extension of standing on stage in a race against someone who has 91 counts of indictment against them, and you don’t talk about that,” Stevens said. “I mean, it’s absurd.”

Meanwhile, Haley has her own vulnerabilities, which were put on lurid display last week when she punted a question about the Civil War and slavery in a knowing wink to the racist Republican base, which increasingly views history as an affront to white Americans.  

RELATED STORY: Yes, slavery caused the Civil War, but Nikki Haley needs the voters who won’t admit that

But if Haley hopes to close the gap with MAGA voters, she’ll have to pretend to be a lot more racist than she currently appears to be, so it’s kind of hard to believe her recent gaffe will sink her in the primaries. That said, freeing Republicans of their eight-year Trump addiction still seems a tall order, even if Trump World is now showing signs that it may actually see Haley as a threat.

The Daily Beast:

For one, Trump’s original attack didn’t appear to be resonating, at least not in the way that he had hoped. For another, Trump has long had problems with female Republicans. The “birdbrain” attack seemed to be yet another misogynist critique that suggested Haley was an airhead simply because she’s a woman. That proved to be a real problem for Trump, as the same December survey that put Haley within striking distance also revealed she had the support of 35 percent of female GOP primary voters in New Hampshire, compared to Trump’s 26 percent.

While Haley may now be the only candidate with a reasonable chance of derailing Trump prior to the general election, she would also presumably be a tougher opponent for President Joe Biden. That might—and should—give Democrats pause when it comes to rooting for her short-term success. And that’s a legitimate response. But remember that Haley has been vocal in support of a six-week abortion ban, has said she’d support Trump in the general election even if he’s a convicted felon, and somehow can’t bring herself to mention slavery as a cause of the Civil War unless she’s facing widespread outrage. So while “High-Tax Haley” is clearly calumny, maybe “birdbrain” wasn’t that far off after all.

RELATED STORY: Haleymentum is real—and that could be good news for Biden

And maybe the fears of her beating Biden should pale in comparison to the real and present danger of returning an authoritarian and alleged criminal and conman to the White House.

Check out Aldous J. Pennyfarthing’s four-volume Trump-trashing compendium, including the finale, Goodbye, Asshat: 101 Farewell Letters to Donald Trump, at this link. Or, if you prefer a test drive, you can download the epilogue to Goodbye, Asshat for the low, low price of FREE.  

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