Nikki Haley and the politics of faux-moderation
Her anti-choice views are politically toxic, so she's using the word "consensus" a lot to fool the media.
By Lisa Needham
For Republicans, overturning Roe v. Wade has been a bit like the dog who caught the car — now what do they do? It hasn’t worked out nearly the way they planned.
It turns out that millions of people did not like having their reproductive rights taken away. Kansas voters said no last summer to a ballot proposal that would have amended the state constitution to say there was no right to an abortion. Kentucky citizens did the same thing last November. Support for abortion is broadly popular, polling over 60 percent nationally.
So what do you do if you’re trying to position yourself as a “moderate” GOP presidential candidate? Your hardcore base will abandon you if you take any position except a total ban — they believe abortion is murder, after all — but the rest of the electorate will not embrace that. Well, if you’re Nikki Haley, you say some mealy-mouthed things about “consensus” and hope no one nails you down on what that means.
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Haley’s anti-abortion bona fides are well-established. She declared herself “strongly pro-life, very pro-life” when she campaigned for governor in 2010. That same year, as a state house representative, she voted for a bill that would have removed abortion coverage for victims of rape and incest in the state employee health care plan. When she was governor of South Carolina, she signed a 20-week ban in 2016. The ban made no exceptions for rape or incest, and doctors could be imprisoned if they performed an abortion past 20 weeks. When she gave the keynote speech at Susan B. Anthony List’s 2019 Campaign for Life Gala, she said that a baby’s right to live is “the most basic right there is” and that “you can’t truly stand for America if you don’t stand for ALL Americans, including the babies who don’t yet have a voice.”
Last week, Haley returned to the SBA List’s headquarters to give what she called a “major policy speech on abortion.” The location of this event arguably speaks louder than Haley’s actual speech. SBA List is one of the leading anti-choice organizations in America. They put up $52 million in 2020 to re-elect Trump and anti-abortion senators. After Roe was overturned, the head of the group, Marjorie Dannenfelser, immediately said she would try to ban abortion "in every state and in every legislature, including the Congress.” When asked if she would like to see abortion be illegal nationwide, Dannensfelser replied, “of course I would.”
At a minimum, the group says it won’t support any presidential candidate who doesn’t back a nationwide 15-week ban along with allowing states to enact even greater restrictions individually. Doing your “major policy speech” there signals that you align with their views, which isn’t just that you are as anti-choice as they are but also that you see it as the most critical issue.
RELATED FROM PN: Nikki Haley, like DeSantis, is afraid to confront Trump
Haley’s big abortion speech was a masterclass in obfuscation
During the speech (you can watch clips from it below), Haley was extremely cagey about nationwide bans, saying she does believe “there is a federal role on abortion” but also that “no Republican president will have the ability to ban abortion nationwide.”
She’s right on the latter part, as there’s no way we’d see 60 votes in the Senate for a federal ban. However, that’s not Haley saying she doesn’t support such a ban — it’s just her saying she thinks it unlikely one would pass.
Here’s the problem for Haley and other GOP hopefuls: if you’ve made a career out of saying things like you’re not American if you won’t stand up for “the babies who don’t have a voice,” you just can’t turn around and say that you will respect the choices of people in other states who preserve robust abortion rights. Those people, in this worldview, are killing the voiceless babies. That’s why Haley had to do this complicated dance with the SBA List speech. She talked of a “constructive conversation” and a “national consensus” rather than any specific policy goals.
In the end, Haley’s speech was so effective at muddying the waters that her spokesperson needed to clarify that no, Haley was not calling for a 15-week ban, while at the same time, SBA List released a statement saying she’d pledged to do just that. From Politico:
Afterward, a spokesperson for Haley clarified that she has not called for a 15-week national restriction, even as SBA released a statement applauding Haley’s pledge to do so. An SBA spokesperson told POLITICO that Haley “has assured us that she will commit to 15 weeks.”
What people should be focusing on is Haley’s statement that there is a federal role on abortion. A lot of damage to reproductive health rights can be done via the executive branch and various government agencies. Indeed, that’s exactly what Trump did. His administration issued a rule that banned taxpayer dollars from going to any family planning clinic that provided abortion referrals. He stuffed government agencies with anti-choicers. His Department of Justice filed an anti-choice brief in a major United States Supreme Court case. A President Haley could drastically limit the availability of abortion without ever passing a law.
Nobody should be fooled by Haley’s attempt to have it both ways
Regrettably, the media is falling for Haley’s insincere moderation. Over at the Washington Post, opinion columnist Henry Olson gushed that Haley gave a “nuanced yet principled approach to this political and moral conundrum.” When she made a stop in Iowa in early April, the Des Moines Register uncritically reported her vague remarks, such as that abortion “is a personal issue” that “needs to be treated with the respect it should.” If it really were a personal issue, anti-choicers wouldn’t work so hard to ensure other people can’t obtain one. The Wall Street Journal called her stance “political realism.” Reuters wrote that she was courting moderates and quoted this bit of fluff: “I believe in conversation. I believe in empathy. I believe in compassion, not anger.”
These substance-free statements sound fine, but they’re meaningless. The anti-choice movement has long fallen back on these sorts of soundbites to justify objectively inhumane outcomes. Take, for example, Catholic bioethicist Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk explaining that a 10-year-old rape victim shouldn’t be allowed to get an abortion because “what she really needs is the love, hope and compassion that buoys up anyone facing uncertainty about her own future.” When the executive director of Pro-Life Wisconsin, Matt Sande, was calling for the state to remove even the narrowest of abortion exceptions, that of for the life of the mother, he said the exception should be replaced with “language requiring equal care for mother and child." The March for Life, which Trump attended in 2020 while running for reelection, describes what it does as being “able to walk with women while they grappled with life-changing choices.” (Of course, one of Trump’s biggest gaffes during the 2016 cycle was when he let the mask slip about what anti-choicers really think about what should happened to women who get abortions.)
What all this talk of compassion and empathy and consensus disguises is that the entire anti-choice movement is characterized by the desire to remove a reproductive health choice — abortion — entirely. Everyone understands this. Nikki Haley understands this. But as long as abortion remains something the majority of Americans view as a necessary health service, we’re going to see Republican candidates walk this tightrope. That doesn’t mean that the media, or anyone else, has to help them.
Aaron’s Clip Room is back!
By Aaron Rupar
Elon Musk’s kneecapping of Substack caused it go to on a brief hiatus, but I’m excited to announce that Aaron’s Clip Room is back. Twitter still doesn’t allow for embedded tweets here, so I’m now going to use Vimeo to share videos that I think are worthy of highlighting and discussion. (I could obviously use YouTube for this purpose too, but for reasons I won’t bore you with I’m devoting my YouTube page exclusively to original content — though as you’ll see later I can embed clips from other YT channels.)
If you’re new to the newsletter, Aaron’s Clip Room is a regular, paid subscriber-only feature here in Public Notice where I share videos that have blown up on social media and explain their broader significance. I’m immersed day in and day out in cable news, social media, and streaming political events, so I’m well positioned to share viral clips with readers that are interesting in their own right while also contextualizing them so people know what they’re watching. It’s always fun to put together, and I hope you enjoy it as well.
Without further ado, let’s get to it.
Reefer Madness is alive and well in Minnesota
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