February is a political media dead zone, particularly this week. Congress is out of session. And while Biden owned the news cycle with his surprise trip to Kyiv for President’s Day, the news vacuum has otherwise amplified the preexisting anxieties surrounding the looming debt ceiling showdown, new entrants into the 2024 G.O.P. presidential ring, the emerging slugfest between Trump and DeSantis, and of course the timing of Biden’s own presumptive re-election announcement. Herewith, a candid exchange with Peter Hamby about the latest speculative whispers, trial balloons, and inside conversations among America’s permanent political class.
Tara: Nikki Haley, the newest entrant in the Republican 2024 field, needs to overcome a line of low-key sexist interrogation about her ability to win over the G.O.P. base, but I think she made the right political decision by putting herself forward as the first Trump alternative: it shows that she’s tough, and indicates to donors that she’s willing to take on the former president directly, without the cloud cover of a crowded field. And yet, despite the mid-February political news drought, her launch struck me as a little lackluster. Peter, you and Haley have history. What did you make of her big announcement?
Peter: Without analyzing her chances of actually becoming the Republican nominee—or her chances of even winning her home state primary—I actually thought Haley’s launch was pretty good! From a purely logistical perspective, she checked pretty much every box you want to check with a campaign launch. There was a bio-heavy launch video that gestured toward her modest upbringing, her record of economic development in South Carolina, her foreign policy experience as Trump’s U.N. ambassador, and a few forced quips on race and culture designed to appeal to a conservative base that probably doesn’t trust her very much at this point because of her flip-flopping on Trump. Glaringly, Haley didn’t mention one of the defining moments of her governorship, when she removed the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol following the racist mass shooting at the Mother Emanuel church in 2015.