The slayings of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., last week have thrust the state’s Republican governor, Nikki Haley, into the national spotlight.
Haley seized the moment on Monday to call for the removal of the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds in an eleven and a half minute news conference that was carried live on news outlets across the country. The extensive coverage underscores how deeply the nation has been jolted by the racially motivated massacre committed by a white gunman at Charleston’s historic Emanuel AME Church on June 17.
In displaying what many commentators have praised as grace under pressure, Haley has undoubtedly taken a big step toward enhancing her credentials for national political office. Before her news conference was over, there was increased chatter on social media about her being a prime GOP vice presidential candidate in 2016.
Haley would also easily fit the bill for a role as a commentator or host of a talk show or roundtable show should she pursue such a path when her second term as South Carolina governor is up in early 2019.
She’s young (43), telegenic and comes from a multicultural background. She’s the daughter of Indian immigrants (her middle name is Randhawa), born in a South Carolina small town where she grew up keeping the books for her parents’ clothing store. In her address calling on the state legislature to vote to remove the flag, she noted that she is the state’s first “minority female governor.”
Haley has faced criticism that she did not act sooner regarding the removal of the Confederate flag from official South Carolina state offices. But there is no doubt that she is gaining stature on the national stage with her response to the slayings.
Haley has struck a tricky balance between acknowledging the range of feelings on the flag issue among her local constituents with responding to outraged calls from the outside for the state to take a symbolic step toward acknowledging that the Confederate flag represents the brutal institution of slavery. She has seized the moral high ground at a moment when it is impossible to deny that South Carolina and the nation at large are still suffering from the wounds from that legacy of oppression.
“The fact that it causes so much pain is reason enough to remove it,” Haley said plainly of the flag.
Barely an hour after her 4 p.m. news conference was completed, Washington Post correspondent Chris Cilizza, who covers the White House and pens the newspaper’s politics blog “The Fix,” noted how the response to the Charleston slayings has enhanced Haley’s profile with a post headlined: “Haley just showed her tremendous political upside.”
The instant analysis of Haley’s performance on Monday focused on her near-term political prospects. But in the glare of the spotlight, surely media execs were paying attention too.