Jamiesfeast – As Nikki Haley made her way into the South Carolina state house last January, she discovered a growing rebellion taking place within its corridors.
During her presidential campaign preparations, Haley made a visit to the South Carolina capitol to meet with the newly elected freshman class of GOP state lawmakers.
Nikki Haley’s ascent from a backbencher to a two-term governor was marked by her strategic selection of battles against the established members of the state Republican Party. It was these calculated confrontations that played a significant role in propelling her to become a rising star within the GOP before the Trump era.
But upon Haley’s return to Columbia, it became apparent that things had changed in her home state of South Carolina. Five years had passed since her governorship, and the rise of Donald Trump had brought about a new force in the form of the South Carolina Freedom Caucus. Haley now faced a different power center, one that she had not encountered before.
The South Carolina Freedom Caucus has been thriving since Haley left power, making it the first state lawmakers to adopt the House Freedom Caucus’ hardline ideology and uncompromising tactics.
The state’s House GOP leadership responded to the group’s readiness to initiate primary challenges against fellow Republican lawmakers, whom they considered insufficiently conservative. They introduced a loyalty pledge as a means to curb the right-wing insurgency, which would prevent Republicans from criticizing or campaigning against their own party members.
Nikki Haley, the primary candidate and former South Carolina governor, addressed her supporters at Doc’s Barbeque in Columbia, South Carolina, on February 1, 2024.
The Freedom Caucus criticized the pledge, comparing it to a “Soviet-style” commitment.
During their meeting, the group of hardliners that had recently formed expressed their desire for Haley to publicly oppose the pledge. As a former governor with Tea Party roots similar to many members of the Freedom Caucus, this request may have appeared to be an easy one for Haley.
During the early years of her time in the state house, Haley actively opposed the practice of voice voting that prevented an accurate record of members’ votes. She found the loyalty pledge, which prohibited Republican lawmakers from capturing photos of roll call votes on the chamber’s board, to be particularly concerning as it could potentially be used as a means of weaponizing information in the future.
According to sources familiar with the meeting, Haley voiced her concerns about the pledge, articulating why she believed it was a detrimental idea. However, despite her initial opposition, the Freedom Caucus did not receive any communication from her regarding whether she would actively oppose the pledge. She did not even post a tweet on the matter, leaving the caucus in the dark.
According to an insider from the South Carolina Republican party, Haley’s silence only served to validate their suspicion that she would say whatever people wanted to hear in their presence, only to say something different to a separate audience.
The Freedom Caucus had the potential to be a valuable ally for Haley in her battle against Trump for the South Carolina presidential primary election on Feb. 24. Haley, as the only viable contender left against Trump, is counting on a strong showing in her home state to give her momentum heading into Super Tuesday on March 5, when 15 states will hold primary elections.
South Carolina governor Henry McMaster and former President Donald Trump made a special appearance on the field during halftime at a South Carolina Gamecocks game held at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 25, 2023, in Columbia, South Carolina.
The faction, instead, has overwhelmingly sided with Trump. Out of the 17 existing members of the South Carolina Freedom Caucus, all but five have thrown their support behind the former president. None of them have publicly expressed their endorsement for Haley. On the other hand, recent public opinion polls on the South Carolina primary indicate that Trump holds a substantial lead.
The hardliners share a striking resemblance to their establishment adversaries, as they too have aligned themselves with Trump.
Haley’s transformation from an outsider to an establishment candidate in South Carolina mirrors her national journey, where she has earned the reputation of being a “establishment” contender in the 2024 primary.
Haley’s political rise has been marred by a consistent pattern of mismanaged relationships and self-inflicted wounds. These issues have not only affected her standing among the group and its influential network but have also turned South Carolina from favorable turf into a potential obstacle that could ultimately derail her campaign.
Haley’s growing distance from the conservative faction in her home state is a clear indication of the major challenge she faces in her presidential campaign: her difficulty in establishing a genuine connection with the Republican Party’s base, which has undergone a transformation under Trump’s influence.
According to a prominent South Carolina Republican, there is a significant divide within the state’s Republican Party. He explains that individuals from more modest backgrounds, commonly referred to as “rednecks,” who align with the Tea Party movement, ultimately became supporters of Donald Trump. In their eyes, Trump represents an anti-establishment figure, and they view him as a preferable alternative to the state’s former governor, Nikki Haley.
Haley had a number of shared adversaries with the South Carolina Freedom Caucus in 2022. Specifically, she found herself at odds with the state’s chamber of commerce Republicans and lawmakers from the old guard who were in favor of maintaining earmarks in the state budget.
Republicans who are familiar with Haley’s time in South Carolina have observed a decline in her image after she embraced major corporate employers and convinced them to relocate to the state. However, her approach of offering incentives such as tax breaks worth millions of dollars did not align with the priorities of the Tea Party turned Freedom Caucus, which focus on cutting spending and dismantling the social safety net.
According to an analysis by The State newspaper in 2013, it was estimated that Haley used $800 million in lost tax revenue to attract four companies. These companies, namely BMW, Boeing, Bridgestone, and Michelin, did bring jobs to the state. However, the tax breaks given to them amounted to approximately $100,000 for each of the 8,000 jobs created.
At an event held at the South Carolina State House on January 28, 2023, Senator Lindsey Graham expressed his thoughts on former President Donald Trump in Columbia, South Carolina.
Members of the Freedom Caucus learn to pay attention to the actions of their fellow Republicans, rather than their words. And based on what they observed, they were not impressed with Haley during her last few years in office.
“She made it seem like she had walked all over them,” said the veteran South Carolina Republican, reflecting on the time when Haley was governor. He believed that Haley started to lose their support when she began prioritizing corporate interests over those of the legislators.
Trump has successfully consolidated his power in South Carolina, with a strong lineup of endorsements. One notable supporter is South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, who publicly endorsed Trump during his tenure as lieutenant governor in 2016.
In addition to having the support of U.S. senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, President Trump has also garnered the support of other prominent South Carolina politicians. This includes the lieutenant governor, the secretary of state, the attorney general, the state treasurer, five members of Congress, three state senators, and an impressive 42 out of the 88 Republicans currently serving in the South Carolina House. It is worth noting that Haley appointed Scott to his Senate seat, further emphasizing the widespread support for Trump in the state.
Haley has garnered support from five state senators, along with four state representatives. Notably, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) stands as Haley’s sole advocate within the House GOP conference.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Norman expressed her frustration by saying, “Why am I the only one?” She believes that she stands out because she challenged the established norms and went against the grain.
According to Norman, the Haley campaign believes that the lack of support from the state Freedom Caucus and Trump’s endorsements do not pose a threat to her on her home turf.
According to a campaign official, the dynamics were different during Haley’s time as governor. She was seen as a Tea Party candidate, pitted against the chamber of commerce and similar entities. The official stated that the Freedom Caucus, in their view, is not relevant to their current goals. Just like the individuals Haley fought against, she was regarded as a troublemaker.
South Carolina Republicans, who have insight into Haley’s connection with the South Carolina GOP conference and the group that eventually formed the Freedom Caucus, assert that her influence demanded much more than just a mere “rabble rouser.”
On February 2, 2024, a fervent supporter of former President Donald Trump cruises past the Indian Land High School in Lancaster, South Carolina. The purpose? Attending a campaign event featuring presidential candidate Nikki Haley.
According to a seasoned South Carolina Republican who is well-versed in the situation, it ultimately comes down to how one invests their political capital. Another political operative in the state expressed that Haley didn’t have to rely on any significant favors to cultivate loyalty within the Freedom Caucus. All she had to do was express, whether through a tweet or in an interview, that Republicans can show respect to one another without requiring a loyalty pledge.
Haley’s visit to Columbia left the members of the Freedom Caucus perplexed. They couldn’t understand why she wasn’t willing to take a risk and support them, especially since she had established her reputation by challenging the “old boys’ club.”
Norman, on the other hand, referred to the loyalty pledge as “foolish.”
He expressed that this would be the ideal gift for the Freedom Caucus, as the establishment GOP’s action of “kicking people out” is only aiding the hardliners.
Fellow South Carolina Republicans didn’t always reciprocate the support Haley offered them as she climbed the ranks.
In the 2024 primary, Haley’s appointment of Scott to the Senate did not yield any benefits. They had a small opportunity to unite the party against Trump, but it did not materialize. Despite Haley reaching out to Scott for his endorsement after he dropped out, Scott did not inform Haley beforehand about his decision to endorse Trump, according to Norman.
Norman expressed his fondness for Scott as a person and emphasized their friendship. However, he criticized the decision to keep Haley uninformed, deeming it a mistake.
Norman said that he would have to explain why he did what he did. He expressed that it pained him to not even give her a call because he acknowledged that he wouldn’t have achieved his current position without Nikki’s support.
According to Nate Brand, a spokesperson for Scott, The Daily Beast was given a heads up, although it was not through a phone call.
Brand revealed that the senator had sent a text message to Nikki, informing her that he would be making a decision soon regarding the endorsement.
Despite spending numerous years as a prominent figure in the South Carolina State House, Haley’s campaign against Trump lacks solid relationships to support her.
Both Haley and others are well aware that both the building and the institution have their own ways of keeping score. The capitol’s blue granite exterior is adorned with six bronze stars, which serve as a commemoration of the areas that were struck by Union General William T. Sherman’s artillery during the Civil War.
According to the South Carolina operative, one of her major shortcomings was her inability to cultivate a group of loyal supporters in the legislature.
Haley, in return, passed on the Freedom Caucus to Trump.
According to the first South Carolina Republican, the fundamental factor at play is trust. He explains that although she initially presented herself as trustworthy, she ultimately failed to follow through on her promises and abandoned the people of South Carolina. Despite talking a good game, her lack of action on the ground in the state eroded the trust that had been placed in her.