Politics & Media
Jan 29, 2024, 06:22AM

Nikki Haley’s Face, Manner Leave Hell Portal Unopened

Behold the non-freak in the GOP field.

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Nikki Haley wouldn’t scare a small child. If that child walked past a TV set, and Nikki Haley was on, the poor kid wouldn’t be thrown face to face with the grotesque. That makes Haley counter-programming to Donald Trump. When the GOP held debates for the party’s presidential hopefuls, Haley didn’t look like a freak. The other candidates did (I except the two blurs, Hutchinson and Burgum). So, her campaign lasted while the others didn’t. Not that it’ll last long. Eleven points behind in New Hampshire, on to defeat in her home state, South Carolina. Within the Republican Party, Haley’s got the non-grotesque vote sewed up. What’s that worth these days? Not nothing, but not much.

Zooming in from that big-picture certainty, I have to admit I never picked Haley as the contender who’d emerge. Presidential nominations aren’t a strong area for me when it comes to handicapping. The closest I’ve come to a good call was 2015, when I never ruled out Trump. But good calls aren’t necessary this year. A majority of the party’s voters want Trump and they’re going to have him. Why? Because TV screens are so big; people figure they provide all the reality anybody needs. People who love Trump don’t care about policy results. They care about seeing him on their screens, doing what he does: blowing up officialdom by opening his big mouth. Poor Haley’s the candidate for Republicans who don’t want a dream avatar for their lashing-out needs. No Fox when she’s done, no Tucker Carlson or Newsmax. She ran like a normal person. The right doesn’t know how to be normal and doesn’t want to remember.

Reading Maureen Dowd’s latest I’m reminded how much space must be filled when anyone sets out to analyze the Trump phenomenon. Everything that counts has been inescapably established on record. Assemble 895 hard-fought words and now you must include quotations from Beowulf. You must throw in a refrain, the portentous clutter “Ah, but the strawberries.” That’s from The Caine Mutiny, since Trump’s small-minded, self-absorbed, and querulous. Beowulf comes up because he’s such a degraded shambling beast. All true, all important, but after Dowd’s finished none of it seems that way.

Yawning at the latest Trump alert may seem like normalizing our homegrown semi-fascist menace. But I think Dowd got there first by giving us a warning that’s so slack. A padded warning that namedrops books to make obvious points—with disaster breathing upon us, this is what she writes. Worse, she was paid serious money to do it. Larger crisis should never distract from immediate grievance. Someplace there’s a climate scientist who’s mad about his parking space. Even as our country’s political order trembles, I’m feeling ticked by Maureen Dowd’s column.


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