Politics has many shopworn metaphors and sayings to describe politicians — their behavior, their ethics, their hypocrisy and their duplicity.
The Charlie Brown Placekicker analogy is one of them. The ruse was a recurring feature of the classic Peanuts cartoon: Lucy pulling the football away at the last minute as Charlie Brown tried to kick it, instead falling flat on his back. He knows it’s coming and says no every time she tees up the ball, but he falls for every sales pitch she comes up with, no matter how fanciful.
All of us have had a Charlie Brown Placekicker moment now and then. But as we head into the 2024 presidential race, the one group that cannot fall for that trick is the so-called “Never Trumpers,” or as I call them, Republicans.
Let’s clarify that. Anyone who didn’t support the Florida Man, anyone who is a more moderate conservative, often gets tagged as a RINO — Republican in Name Only.
Those naggers have it wrong. The real RINOs are the Trump acolytes and MAGA fanatics, the conspiracy-addled, whack-job extremists addicted to anger, denigration and vacuous performance politics. They’re politicized versions of professional wrestlers with none of the athletic talent. If Ronald Reagan were alive today, his reason for switching parties would be the same: “I didn’t leave the Republican Party; the Republican Party left me.”
The question now is, just how “never” are the Never Trumpers because here is the “Lucy part” of that placekicker analogy: Beware the coming flotilla of candidates looking to fool you with their various guises and sales pitches telling how they’ve distanced themselves from “the Florida Man” or divorced themselves from him entirely. Or even worse, they knew he was a despicable figure and went along with him anyway, but now behave as if they were never part of that venal, poisonous environment.
Nikki Haley is a case in point. In the B.T. era (Before Trump), she came across as a fresh face that might save the Republican Party from its continuing descent into nationally destructive malevolence. She displayed passion without zealotry, exuding warmth and magnetism that can’t be faked or taught.
Other ingredients added to her potential appeal: a daughter of immigrants, and a governor who removed the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state capitol building. Those might be unpopular with the MAGA crowd, but that’s the point. This is where you, as Charlie Brown, buy into the sales pitch claiming that Haley is not a Trump groupie but the promise of a “new generation” of Republicans.
Except she was a groupie. That is before she wasn’t one. And she wasn’t a groupie before she was. Here’s how.
In 2016, while still South Carolina’s governor, she was one of many Republicans who said Donald Trump was unfit for public office. She told supporters at a Marco Rubio rally (back when Rubio was one of many trashing Trump while pursuing the GOP nomination): “I will not stop until we fight a man that chooses not to disavow the KKK. That is not a part of our party. That is not who we are.”
She pushed the same theme at her kick-off rally, also claiming that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris called America racist.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” she boasted.
Yet, barely a day later, conservative pundit Ann Coulter said Haley should “go back to your own country.”
Just great. Haley says the United States isn’t racist, and Coulter responds with, “Go back to your own country.”
In case you didn’t know, Haley was born in South Carolina. But her skin isn’t white. You might expect that of someone born to parents who emigrated from India. That makes her one of them “danged foreigners,” don’tcha know.
But it’s nice to see Ann Coulter trying to stay relevant.
The funny part is, neither Biden nor Harris have said: “America is racist.” What they have said is that the country has a history of racism and that systemic racism still exists in parts of the nation’s institutions. And, yeah, America has its share of racists. Can you say “tiki torch”? Who’s up for some “Chinese Virus”? Or let’s shoot up a church full of worshippers because we don’t like their color.
Racial resentment has been at the core of Trump’s entire political career, from birtherism to his “shithole countries” remark, telling congresswomen of color to go back to where they came from, calling Mexican immigrants “rapists,” and refusing to denounce white supremacists during a presidential debate, the very refusal Haley spoke of at Rubio’s rally. Trump’s political persona has largely been one of trading racist dog whistles for a racist concert sound system.
But just watch. Haley will prove useful in the GOP’s pathetic attempt to hide the party’s long history of racial animus and anxiety. It’s nothing new. Recent Republican primaries have included women and Black men. They all get lip-service approval because Republican voters like to tell pollsters how totally not sexist and totally not racist they are, and then they vote for the neanderthal white candidate. Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Herman Cain, etc. This year it gets to be Nikki Haley, Tim Scott and Kristi Noem, and they’ll all drop out for the obvious reason: “You weren’t our type.”
As for Haley’s promise to “not stop until we fight a man that chooses not to disavow the KKK,” Haley not only went full stop, she went all in, joining Trump’s administration as United Nations ambassador. She said she did this out of a “sense of duty,” you know, that business where you can’t refuse a president’s request to serve the nation?
Not buyin’ it. At the Republican National Convention of 2020, Haley gushed over Trump and his reelection bid.
“Donald Trump has always put America first,” she told attendees. [Try not to laugh at that.] “He has earned four more years as president. He’s a godsend to everyone who wants America to apologize, abstain and abandon our values.”
Then, immediately following the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, she told Politico: “I think he’s lost any sort of political viability he was going to have.”
But several months after the insurrection, she told The Wall Street Journal, “I don’t want us to go back to the days before Trump… We need him in the Republican Party.”
Terrific. The person who says the Republican Party isn’t racist says the party needs a person she’s called a racist. Yet she also told The Journal she considers him “a friend.”
Do you suppose anyone who called John Kerry a flip-flopper back then will come out of hiding now?
Who is this person? Why doesn’t she just change her name to Janus and be done with it?
Here is a person who threw away all of her gifts, all her grit, all her integrity, abandoned any sense of principle, to embrace the Republican Party of Donald Trump. She is the quintessential example of why so many in the current GOP cannot be trusted with power, let alone be trusted at their word. We could never trust Trump at his word. We still can’t. If we can’t trust Haley at her word — and that evidence is clear — why would we entrust her with power? Or to any of the rest so desperate to remain in public life they never hesitated to make a Faustian bargain. Haley is just the first. Virtually every other Republican with name recognition who jumps into the presidential race will have the same anchor around their necks.
Indeed, does anybody have a thorough reckoning of the careers and reputations sacrificed on the altar of Trump?
As Zachary Basu noted for Axios, Trump “won’t go away until a Republican challenger steps into the middle of the ring to dislodge him, and so far, every viable contender is pulling their punches.”
That leaves it up to voters. Trump maintains a hold on the GOP for one reason: Too many Republicans allow it. If Trump was that loathsome a creature — and he was — and if he continues to be so odious — and he does — Never Trumpers, moderate conservatives, and those who voted for Trump and now regret it must stand fast, say no to kicking that football, and make clear they will not vote for anyone who ever toadied-up to Trump during his time in office. Especially if they said he was unfit for office before he won the office in 2016, and have been a political windsock ever since.
In fact, Never Trumpers should send Haley a clear message: You will never get our vote unless you declare that Trump has to go, that the Republican Party doesn’t need him, doesn’t want him, that he’s damaged goods, and that the toxicity he has wrought must be expunged from the party altogether.
Haley said as much in 2016. Anyone who won’t disavow the KKK “is not a part of our party. That is not who we are.”
Well, anyone who won’t repudiate anyone who won’t disavow the KKK, as Haley put it, is “not a part of our party,” either.
Including you, Ms. Haley. How about you repudiate him right now so we can test your theory?
Some argue that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is an exception, someone who was never part of Trump’s political orbit and could displace Trump as the GOP’s leader. But he would just be the next combatant-in-chief, a Trump imitator who adopted his bully tactic of vengeance politics while exploiting popular resentments that continue to rage among right-wing extremists. Only he’ll be more competent, thus potentially more dangerous.
Do voters really want someone who will pick up where Trump left off, pushing policies that censor views he doesn’t like, who demonizes people who aren’t like him, and completing the GOP’s metamorphosis into the party of autocracy? The nation does not need Trump 2.0.
Admittedly, rejecting the cultists and the clones might mean Republicans will lose in 2024. As we have heard before, the party can’t win without the extremists, but it can’t win without the moderates, and the fear is that a MAGA cultist will drive the “Never Trumpers” to vote for a Democrat, or not at all. Such lessons and takeaways poured in after the 2022 midterms: Right-wing extremists, Trump worshippers and MAGA peddlers lost in every major election where voters had a viable alternative, as in sensible and reasonable. But the wackos, like the kind that lost in the 2022 midterms, wouldn’t be the only casualties in future elections. Reasonable, desirable conservatives might have to be sacrificed at the altar.
It would be a small price to pay. Such short-term losses would pay long-term gains, not just for the party, but for the country. So maybe it’s time for another lesson. And another, and another. Republicans — the real ones — must be the ones to teach that lesson. Too many have remained silent for too long. That must end. And if that means losing in 2024, and 2026, and beyond, then let it come.
Republicans often say they want their country back. How about their party? Do they want their party back? Don’t expect to get it back from the likes of Nikki Haley. It’s not that I dislike her. I don’t. I just don’t trust her. No one should.
She’s right: The GOP needs a new generation of leaders. But any Republican who has a history with Trump, any Republican who condemned him and then kissed the ring, who stood opposed and then swallowed their pride and blew with the prevailing winds, they are not the new generation; they are the Trump generation, and they will not bring your party back. Nor will the Trump imitators. Even if they have the talent or the charisma, the silent faction of rational conservatives and legitimate Republicans should reject them outright as undeserving of high office and condemn them to the ash heap of history.
Tell Lucy to take her football and go home.