Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina gives the response to the State of the Union.

The base turns On Nikki Haley: They don't want code words, they want to hear blunt racism

They've pretended to be reasonable to convey hard-right ideas for decades, but the base is sick of this strategy


Amanda Marcotte
January 15, 2016 12:32AM (UTC)

Hardline conservatives should be celebrating the Republican response speech to the State of the Union, offered by Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina. The speech was a testament to how far the party is willing to go to cater to the putrid racism of the conservative base, as Haley, using her own background as the child of Indian immigrants, demonized immigrants and refugees fleeing war, and, in a particularly odious display, used the murder of nine people at the hands of a racist to scold Black Lives Matter protesters for speaking out.

But the right just ain't having it, it turns out. That's because, even though Haley was willing to sign off on most of the agenda items of the bigoted base, she insisted on doing so using the coded language that conservatives have used for decades now to convey racist ideas while pretending to be not racist. These days, the base wants to communicate racist ideas with bullhorns, not nudges. And Haley's old school style, of declaring that conservatives aren't racist while winking at the audience, just isn't going to fly.

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The backlash against Haley started immediately on Twitter, with prominent figures on the right such as Laura Ingraham, Michelle Malkin, John Nolte, and, of course, Ann Coulter, flipping out and attacking Haley.

This burst of outrage at Haley for using coded instead of blunt attacks on immigrants and anti-racist activists got juice, of course, from Donald Trump, who responded by saying she's "very weak on illegal immigration."

When asked what he meant by that, his answer emphasized aesthetics and ignored actual policy. "I feel very strongly about illegal immigration. She doesn't."

Of course, if you actually watch her speech, you'll find there is no difference between her and Trump on this issue. She focused heavily on the issue of "stopping illegal immigration" and pandered heavily to absurd right-wing fears that undocumented immigration is somehow harming our country. Haley's commitment to stirring up racial paranoia isn't just about rhetoric, either. Haley signed a vicious "papers please" law in South Carolina that would allow police to harass anyone that they think looks foreign for proof of citizenship status.

But to Trump and the base that loves him, code words and racist policies are not enough anymore. They want overt bigotry, dammit. And so the backlash against Haley is on.

Rush Limbaugh spent much of Wednesday's show railing against Haley, claiming that her speech proved the "Republican Party's trying to drive conservatives out of the party" and "the Republican Party is still anti-conservative."

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This, of course, is asinine. Haley herself is a rigid conservative and her speech was a direct appeal to the conservative base. Her implicit argument was that if the base could just tone down the alienating rhetoric a bit and return to conveying ugly ideas in more coded forms, the party would do them a solid and give them the racist policies they want. (Though she did draw a line in the sand regarding openly banning immigration on the basis of religion, but other than that, it was a giveaway to the hard right.)

Steve King also attacked Haley, saying she's not a "principled conservative." To drive the knife in, he pulled that stunt that men pull when they're trying to put a woman in her place: Use a phony compliment about your looks to remind you that he thinks you have no value beyond that. "I think she’s beautiful so I’d be happy if she’s the face of the party," he said.

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Breitbart is also joining in on the fun, bashing Haley every chance they get.

But it's not just the Trump enthusiasts who are mainly motivated by racial paranoia that are joining in. The God botherers are also pissed by what they see as Haley's capitulation on the gay marriage issue. Ben Johnson at the anti-choice website Life Site denounced Haley and the Republican Party generally for the "decision to accept redefined marriage as the new normal."

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association also flipped out, arguing that "the Republican Party has officially embraced sodomy-based marriage."

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This is, of course, asinine. As with the race-based issues, Haley's speech was about playing nice for the cameras but signaling support for the hard right base on their pet issues. She did this by saying the party has "respect differences in modern families, but we would also insist on respect for religious liberty." As anyone who has been following the use of the term "religious liberty " in conservative circles knows, it's a coded term for using discrimination, harassment and bureaucratic shenanigans in order to make getting married a huge hassle for gay people. Conservatives can't undo the Supreme Court decision on this, but they can try to make getting married needlessly miserable for gay people — and her gentle language was about signaling the party's support for those tactics.

The strategy of pretending to be reasonable for general audiences while using coded language to convey hard right ideas to the base has worked for Republicans for decades now. So why is the base having an open rebellion against this strategy, clearly demanding blunter rhetoric from their leaders?

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Well, Republicans only have themselves to blame. For decades now, conservative pundits and politicians have been ginning up support by telling the base that they are under assault from the forces of "political correctness," that a bunch of censorious liberals are constraining their free speech and right to "tell it like it is".

But, in many ways, it's Republicans themselves who are the keenest on policing the urge to just run around screaming about how Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers are coming in from out of town to knock up all the white women. Liberals love it when conservatives speak frankly, as it removes any doubt about what kind of assholes they are. No, it's Republicans who have crafted this strategy of being two-faced, of having beliefs that can only be spoken of frankly behind closed doors and of learning to use code words and arguments about "small government" and "law and order" to cover for systems of racial injustice.

But being two-faced is exhausting, and clearly, the base is sick of it. They don't want to be "politically correct," i.e. polite, in public anymore. They want to say what they mean. And they're beginning to figure out that it's not liberals who are telling them not to, but Republicans who exerting the most pressure to hold certain cards closer to the chest. And so it shouldn't be a surprise that it's Republicans who are getting the brunt of their wrath these days.

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Trump Fires Back at Nikki Haley


Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. Her new book, "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself," is out now. She's on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte

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Aol_on Nikki Haley Political Correctness Racism State Of The Union Response

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