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Haley declares Trump “unhinged.” How late to the party is too late?

Near the end of a football game, when all seems lost, the trailing team will often attempt a long forward pass in hopes that some intercession from a divine power will make it work. The term took off in 1975 when Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach first used the expression after throwing a game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Drew Pearson. "I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary,” Staubach said, though with the time allowed him to complete the pass, he could hardly have said the entire prayer while searching for Mr. Pearson. Nevertheless, it entered the vernacular and doesn’t seem apt to leave. Further, it has spread beyond football and become part of our everyday vocabulary.

And so, last week, when Nikki Haley, fresh from two inglorious primary defeats, declared her opponent unhinged, most people’s first thought was, “Yeah? and?” Her declaration had all the overpowering force of a candidate standing up, once and for all, in support of gravity. Anybody with a modicum of awareness knows that Trump has been unhinged for as long as he has been a public figure, and that fact matters very little to the people who revere his fighting spirit and willingness to "tell it like it is.” (Of course, if these people lived next door to him or worked in the adjoining cubicle, they’d be moving out of town to a new job.) But as Thomas Cranmer said centuries ago, "What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies."

Everyone seems to know that except Nikki Haley.

I have no doubt that within political circles, Ms. Haley is a decent person. (Sorry, Nikki, for damning you with faint praise.) But there is a pathway open to her by which she could separate herself from her opponent, and given the Harvey Weinstein imbroglio, the E. Jean Carroll trial, and the misogynistic history of her opponent, shouldn’t Ms. Haley be playing the woman’s card? I know she lacks the political savvy, the intellect, and probably the guts of Hillary Clinton, but doesn’t she realize that a good portion of the gender that comprises half our population is angry over the politically motivated termination of Roe v. Wade and the systemic retrenchment of women’s reproductive rights and health care? What if one of Haley’s campaign speeches included a diatribe against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for his pig-headed and barbarous decision to let a pregnant woman face death in order to save a fetus that would probably die within a week of its birth? Paxton is a Trump bootlicker, and the attack, even though oblique, would be effective.

It won’t happen. Last year, when Haley was asked about abortion, she said this. "Roe v. Wade came in and threw out 46 state laws and suddenly said abortion any time, anywhere, for any reason.” This, of course, is not true and never was. The decision did say that states could not bar abortions before fetal viability or when a fetus cannot survive outside the womb. That's a big difference—it’s allowing a woman and her family to make a decision based on what is best for all concerned and not on the wishes of a few zealots who demand that their opinion be the opinion. Nikki Haley is one of them. “This is not a partisan thing,” she said in 2023. "It’s not a man or a woman thing. I appreciate life and I’m forever blessed for those things in my life.” 

Unfortunately, it is a partisan thing when a president promises to install a Supreme Court that will overturn a Constitutional right, and it’s both a man and woman thing. Her opinion, which she has every right to maintain for whatever reason, does not have to be everybody else’s. And that paternalism remains the bugaboo of all the bluenoses and pietists, from the Puritans who feared the Revolution to the Trumpian evangelists who fear the power of the individual. Were Nikki Haley to break out of that stifling circle, she might yet improve her chances at the presidency, yet calling Trump unhinged proves nothing and makes people wonder why she didn’t notice earlier.

Haley is no friend to the LGBTQ+ community, has—without data or proof—linked increased suicide rates among teen girls to transgender girls using locker rooms, and has reduced health care opportunities for older people in South Carolina. Last November, at a rally in Georgia for Herschel Walker, she suggested Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, a citizen and a pastor, should be deported. She would get my vote only on Opposite Day or in Seinfeld’s Bizarro World, but if her continued presence can make Trump squirm a little, maybe she will have served a purpose.

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