A Blue-Collar, Anti-War GOP?

A Blue-Collar, Anti-War GOP?

We’ll start today with a caveat: we like Nikki Haley.  We really do.  We think her story is impressive.  We think she is a talented politician.  We think she did very well at one of the least enviable jobs in the political world, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.  She appointed one of our favorite politicians in the country, Tim Scott, to the Senate to fill the remainder of Jim DeMint’s term.  And most of all, when she ran for re-election in 2014, she ran alongside one of our other favorite politicians, Henry McMaster, who was elected lieutenant governor, replaced Haley as governor when she resigned to take the U.N. job, and has since been elected governor twice on his own accord.

All of that notwithstanding, Nikki Haley is not going to be president.  She’s just not.  There’s too much bad blood between her and the populists in the party.  She has a well-earned reputation as a flip-flopper who has no strong political convictions.  Theoretically, she had her moment, but that’s passed.  Her presidential campaign – which she unofficially announced yesterday – is dead before it even officially begins.

We suspect that Ambassador Haley is angling for a spot as the vice-presidential candidate on a potential Ron DeSantis ticket.  Or maybe she wants to keep her fellow South Carolinian, the aforementioned Tim Scott, out of the race for some reason.  Or maybe…well…we’ll be damned if we know.

Whatever her intentions, and however much we admire her, Nikki Haley faces one HUGE disadvantage in her renewed quest for elected office: she, apparently, can’t read a room to save her life.

On June 1, 2020, for example, Haley insisted that America’s leaders needed to “step up” and bring unity to the country, “in the name of George Floyd.”

Later that same month, Haley demanded that “We should all stand with @BubbaWallace today against the cowards who secretly put the noose in his garage stall.”  As you may recall, the “cowards” in question were the manufacturers of the garage doors, who put rope handles on them to make them easier to pull down.

Most notably, Haley has been a strong and vociferous advocate of escalation in Ukraine, noting last March that “Biden must give Ukraine what they’re asking for: planes.”  As you may know, just yesterday, the Biden Administration – likely the most pro-Ukraine administration in American history – denied this very request from President Zelensky.  What this means, in turn, is that Nikki Haley is significantly more hawkish on the Ukraine war than even Biden.  And that’s not easy to do.

We’ll interrupt here with a couple more caveats: we know that Putin is the bad guy (and that Zelensky, by default, is the good guy).  We know that what the Russians are doing in Ukraine is evil and, therefore, thoroughly unjustified.  We would like Russian ambitions to re-establish the Soviet empire to be thwarted once and for all.

At the same time, however, we also know that these sentiments are mostly irrelevant at this point.  What matters now are the answers to questions like: what is the ideal outcome for the United States in this war?  What is the worst possible outcome for which the United States will nevertheless settle?  What will it take to achieve either of those outcomes those ends?  How much will the American people tolerate?

It is important to remember – as almost everyone in and around Washington seems to have forgotten – that much of the great political realignment of the last decade-plus was created by the Establishment Consensus Party’s affinity for endless war.  As we wrote repeatedly six, seven, eight years ago, Donald Trump’s rise was deeply and profoundly connected to his opposition to Bush-Obama-Biden American adventurism.  He was the only one with the guts to stand up to the ECP, and blue-collar voters rewarded him for it.  Perhaps the best example of how this worked comes from an op-ed published by USA Today on February 16, 2016:

I remember the exact moment I realized a reality TV star might become president. It was Sept. 16, the twilight of the Summer of Trump. Until then, I saw Donald Trump as little more than the fling of the white working class. And just as Republicans grew out of their Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann phases in 2011, so too would they come to their senses in 2015.

The presidential debate that evening pitted Trump against nearly a dozen would-be nominees, with donor favorite Jeb Bush taking a prominent position on stage. Though I hadn’t chosen a candidate, I liked Bush: a conservative problem solver, a good governor and a man of first-class intellect. I had even briefly considered working for the former Florida governor. But during an exchange about former president George W. Bush, Jeb said something that made me want to scream: “As it relates to my brother, there’s one thing I know for sure: He kept us safe.”

My anger sprang, not from a difference over policy, but from somewhere more primal. I wanted, as Walt Whitman might say, to sound my “barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” Whatever I thought about Jeb’s education plan or record as governor, he had touched a raw cultural nerve. His defense of his brother ignored and insulted the experiences of people like me, and he was proud of it.

In an instant, I became Trump’s biggest fan. I wanted him to go for the jugular. I wanted him to inquire whom, precisely, George W. Bush had kept safe. Was it the veterans lingering in a bureaucratic quagmire at the Department of Veterans Affairs or the victims of 9/11? Was it the enlistees from my block back home, who signed their lives on the dotted line while Jeb’s brother told the country to “go shopping” — something kids like me couldn’t afford to do?

Though Trump held his fire in the debate, he lit into George W. Bush on social media and in interviews afterwards. Other candidates defended the former president. They, too, failed to understand Trump’s appeal, how something so offensive to their political palate could be cathartic for millions of their own voters.

As some of you may have guessed, the author of that op-ed, the battle-tested Marine from flyover country, the author who wrote a best-selling book about how “people like” him were forgotten by America’s Establishment Consensus Party was J.D. Vance, who is now the newly sworn-in Senator from Ohio.

And as luck would have it, Vance wrote another op-ed – just yesterday, for The Wall Street Journal – in which he reiterated those same themes:

My entire adult lifetime has been shaped by presidents who threw America into unwise wars and failed to win them. I had just started high school when George W. Bush was elected president, and his presidency is the first I remember with any detail. Mr. Bush allowed a just war in Afghanistan to turn into a nation-building quagmire and then started an unjust war in Iraq. His successor, Barack Obama, doubled down on nation building in Afghanistan and launched a new war of his own in Libya, with the enthusiastic support of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton….

A common critique of Mr. Trump, even from his ideological allies, is that he lacks “statesmanship.” Even people who like his policies wish he exercised more verbal restraint. Fair enough. But there’s an implicit critique of America’s leaders hidden below the surface of that accusation. Why is it that the people the U.S. trains for leadership are so careful with their words yet so reckless with their actions? Why does America devote billions of dollars to recruiting and training its best young minds for leadership, only to have those minds orchestrate one foreign-policy disaster after another?…

Now, it’s possible that Senator Vance’s positions on Russia, Ukraine, and war in general do not reflect the beliefs of a majority of Republican voters.  Still, they come a helluva lot closer than Nikki Haley’s positions do.

Today’s GOP may not be a completely “working-class party.”  And it may not be a true “anti-war party.”  But it is a “blue-collar-anti-long-protracted-stupid-unwinnable-war party.”  How that will play out in policy practice is anybody’s guess.  How it plays out in electoral practice, however, has already been demonstrated.  Donald Trump won the 2016 nomination because he was the only one who could tell the Establishment Consensus Party to put its “democracy-building” wars where the sun don’t shine.  And while he may not win the nomination again, it’s almost certain that somebody more hawkish than the ECP won’t either.

Sorry Ambassador Haley.  Them’s the facts.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.