No Peace

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign event at the Amway Grand Plaza on February 26, 2024, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Kari Lake has regrets.

Regret is an unusual emotion to encounter in a fire-breathing populist. Populists celebrate anger and “strength”; contrition reveals vulnerability, so they disdain it as weakness.

The tone for that was set at the dawn of the MAGA movement in 2015, during one of Donald Trump’s first major campaign appearances as a candidate. When he was asked—at a Christian forum, no less—whether he’d ever sought God’s forgiveness, he thought for a moment and said, “I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so.”

That was the same event at which he responded to John McCain being called a “war hero” by sneering, “He’s not a war hero. He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Which brings us back to Lake. In 2022, she fell just short of becoming governor of Arizona after tens of thousands of Republican voters crossed the aisle to vote for her Democratic opponent. Afterward, detractors reminded her of an infamous comment she’d made at an event during the campaign: “We don’t have any McCain Republicans in here, do we? Alright, get the hell out!”

Many McCain Republicans took her up on that offer on Election Day, it seems.

Lake is running for office again this year and now understands that there are enough McCain admirers left in Arizona to spoil her bid for Senate, so she’s trying to make amends. In an interview last week, she claimed that her “get the hell out” remark was said “in jest,” insisted that John McCain himself would have chuckled at it, and invited Republicans of all ideological stripes to support her this time.

The invitation was not accepted.

“No peace, b—-,” Meghan McCain, John’s daughter, retorted on social media. “We see you for who you are—and are repulsed by it.” Lake responded with a long, uncharacteristically friendly offer to meet McCain for coffee and chat about how to make America better, one “Mama Bear” to another.

The reply came quickly: “NO PEACE, B—-!”

Let’s talk about South Carolina.

On Saturday morning, a few hours before the polls closed in the latest Republican primary, I had the jarring experience of stumbling across my name in the New York Times.

It appeared in Katherine Miller’s column on Nikki Haley’s quixotic bid to deny Trump the Republican nomination.

A few days ago, Nick Catoggio speculated in The Dispatch that perhaps Ms. Haley had concluded “she’s obliged as a matter of principle to go on trying to rally conservatives as best she can, to show the new populist GOP establishment that the Reaganite bloc is stronger than they think.” When I put that to her, she said, “Well, I think there’s something to that; that look, there’s a group of Republicans that are begging to get everyone’s attention that Donald Trump, you know, is chaos on so many levels.”

By Saturday evening, when the votes were in, she was able to put a number on the size of that group: 40 percent.

To be clear, it is not the case that 40 percent of Republicans want a nominee other than Trump. Haley’s strong-ish showings in New Hampshire and South Carolina are due to her landslide margins among independents who voted in the GOP primary, winning that cohort by around 20 points in both states. Among actual self-identified Republicans, she’s been crushed to the tune of 75-25 or so.

But if these first few primaries and caucuses are representative, it may be close, or closer, to the truth to say that 40 percent of all right-leaning voters prefer a nominee other than Trump. After all, many independents who showed up for Haley were former Republicans who’d left the party at some point over the last eight years, presumably unhappy with its direction. Her candidacy has given them a rare opportunity to make their voices heard within the GOP again and they’ve taken full advantage.

Increasingly, Haley seems to recognize what’s happening. The most interesting thing about the aftermath of South Carolina is how she’s begun to conceptualize her bloc as a discrete dissident faction of the right, referring to them repeatedly in a campaign appearance in Michigan on Sunday as “the 40 percent.”

All weekend, pundits wondered why she insists on remaining in the race when she keeps losing badly in state after state and hasn’t a prayer of catching Trump for the nomination. The standard theory is that she’s hanging around in case his health, or the law, catches up with him, but I don’t think that’s it. Trump has already taken to branding her as “essentially a Democrat,” and the Republican Party isn’t going to nominate someone who’s “essentially a Democrat” if he can’t run.

The truth is simpler. To my surprise, and possibly to her own, Nikki Haley has become the “no peace” candidate. Her voters are using her campaign to show that the American right isn’t united behind Trump after all, and Haley evidently feels an obligation to continue to provide them with that outlet.

That would explain the weirdly persistent upbeat atmosphere of her events even as her remote chances of winning wink out into oblivion.

It also explains why donations have continued to roll in long past the point that her campaign became a lost cause. No one is under the illusion that she might prevail; her candidacy has become a protest vehicle in a party that typically brooks no protest against Trump’s leadership. Every vote for Haley at this point is a show of righteous rebellion against him and an affront to his stultifying cult of personality. Why wouldn’t her supporters feel exuberant about participating in a cause like that?

Casting a vote for her against Trump is an act of civic hygiene. And everyone feels good when they’re clean.

The great irony of Nikki Haley becoming the “no peace” candidate is that it’s not clear that “no peace” represents her own position toward Trump. When NPR asked her recently who she preferred between him and Joe Biden, she called Biden the “more dangerous” of the two and, according to NPR, “hinted” that she would back Trump. Haley did not launch this campaign, I’m sure, because she had some Liz-Cheney-esque wish to stick it to Trump and hoped to give the right’s MAGA discontents a place to park votes. She’s famously ambitious; no doubt she ran because she thought she might win.

But she’s ended up as the “no peace” candidate anyway because many right-leaning voters do have that wish, and she’s an unproblematic vessel through which they can express it. If you dislike the party that’s been remade in Trump’s fightin’ populist image, having Ron DeSantis as the last challenger standing might not have appealed to you: “More Trump than Trump” isn’t the obvious rallying cry for a cohort that believes the GOP has grown too Trumpy.

But nice, normal, likable Reaganite Nikki Haley? Sure, that’s a vote you can cast with a clear conscience.

Insofar as there’s any suspense left to her protest candidacy, it’s how much the “no peace” ethic of her base toward Trump might begin to infect her own criticisms of him. Haley has been careful throughout the campaign to avoid harsh moral indictments of his character, as Republican voters have come to believe that only Democrats (or Cheneys) would care about such things. But I paid attention this weekend when she was asked about Trump musing that his criminal indictments might help him with black voters because, after all, they know what it’s like to be in trouble with the law.

“It’s disgusting, but that’s what happens when he goes off the teleprompter,” Haley said to reporters after voting on Kiawah Island. “That’s the chaos that comes with Donald Trump. That’s the offensiveness that’s going to happen every day between now and the general election, which is why I continue to say Donald Trump cannot win a general election. He won’t.”

“Disgusting” is a moral indictment. Haley softened the blow by turning it into a critique of electability, hedging in a way that Liz Cheney would not have, but it’s unusual in 2024 to see any Republican politician evince contempt for Trump as visceral as that word suggests. 

There’s a hint of anger in it, another underrated component of her “no peace” appeal. The candidate herself remains cool and unflappable as ever, but her voters keep turning out in unexpectedly large numbers, leading one to wonder what’s motivating them to put in the effort for a lost cause. Meghan McCain’s crude but pointed reply to Kari Lake captures it, I think: After eight years of being demagogued remorselessly by angry lowbrow populists, traditional conservatives at last have a chance to flash a little anger of their own.

It turns out that MAGA Republicans aren’t the only ones capable of holding grudges—or, perhaps, taking hostages. No peace.


On the most recent episode of The Dispatch Podcast, Jonah argued that American politics would profit from greater factionalism within the parties. Imagine how much more productive Congress might be if centrists from both sides cooperated reliably, or hawks from both sides, or members from both sides who represent the same regions of the country, and so on.

Better yet, imagine how much less radical the Republican Party would be if a meaningful Reaganite faction coalesced and resolved to check the worst impulses of the Trumpist majority, especially on foreign policy. That’s why Haley should stay in the race, Jonah continued: If there’s any such faction in the offing, this campaign could be its genesis.

It’s an encouraging possibility. If you dislike the two major parties (and who doesn’t?), the obvious workaround is to have them splinter into mini-parties—i.e., factions—that can form heterodox alliances with each other instead of unhappily supporting whatever their party demands of them.

In the case of the GOP, Jonah’s idea is a solution to the Republican hostage crisis about which I’ve written for ages. The only way for traditional conservatives to end populist dominance of the GOP and regain some leverage over the direction of the party is to threaten and impose meaningful consequences electorally if the populists in charge cross some uncrossable red line. We can debate where that line might lie on policy, but there should be no debate that a party that insists on renominating a coup plotter is already way, way beyond it

It would be nice to think that Nikki Haley’s “no peace” bloc is on its way to imposing those meaningful electoral consequences and becoming a bona fide Republican faction capable of exerting influence over the Trumpy leadership in the future. I’m just … not sure how that would happen.

A faction needs leadership. Once Haley is out of the race, which is likely to be in a few weeks, who would its leader be? Which Republicans in Congress are willing to risk Trump’s wrath by joining a bloc whose entire purpose is to defy him on policy as necessary? The second highest-ranking GOP Trump holdout in the Senate, John Thune, just endorsed the former president on Sunday. The highest-ranking GOP Trump holdout in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, is reportedly in talks to do the same.

You can have strong factions in a party that operates as a party—that is, one in which leadership is decentralized to some degree and doesn’t take it personally when members occasionally prioritize their own local or ideological interests. Factionalism thrives in parties that take policy seriously, as horse trading requires participants to form minor temporary alliances to advance common goals.

None of that is true in Trump’s GOP, though. His pathological desire for “loyalty” means that every member of Congress is potentially one failed litmus test away from a primary challenge, if not something much worse. And Republican voters care sufficiently little about policy that Sen. James Lankford’s carefully negotiated immigration compromise in the Senate became radioactive the instant Trump opposed it despite three years of the right demanding that something be done about the border.

For factionalism to work, all factions under a party’s umbrella need to agree that being governed by the other party is the worst possible outcome. Only in that spirit can the factions compromise with each other toward an agenda that’s satisfactory to all of them. The whole point of the Republican hostage crisis, however, is that diehard populists do not agree that being governed by Democrats is worse than being governed by traditional conservatives. That’s what all the muttering about “the uniparty” on the New Right is about, and why Republican leaders are forever anxious about devout Trumpers boycotting the general election if their man isn’t the nominee.

Blinded by decades of partisanship, conservatives continue to foolishly believe that the worst Republican is preferable to the best Democrat. Populists do not, and that’s why they now rule the party.

If Nikki Haley’s “no peace” brigade wants to change that and try to turn the GOP into a truly factional party, then Trump must lose in November at their hands.

They might have the numbers to make it happen. As noted earlier, Haley is consistently winning 25 percent of self-identified Republicans against Trump and a much larger share of independents, many of whom are presumably right-leaning. According to exit polls of South Carolina, 59 percent of Haley voters—and more than one in five GOP primary voters overall—said they won’t vote for Trump in November. No less than 78 percent of Haley’s supporters said they’d feel “dissatisfied” if he won the nomination.

That’s a lot of potential Joe Biden voters on the table. If they crossed over en masse and dealt Trump a decisive defeat this fall, it’s conceivable that the GOP’s populist majority would conclude that traditional conservatives need more of a voice in the direction of the party going forward in the name of rebuilding a winning Republican coalition.

Conceivable—but, for various reasons, not likely.

The first step in learning from any failure, political or otherwise, is to accept that you have failed. A populist party led by Trump will never accept that it’s lost a free and fair national election because it’ll never part with its conviction that it represents The People. If he loses again, populists will run the same playbook as 2020. The “no peace” bloc can’t chasten them by costing them the election because, you see, the election wasn’t lost.

And needless to say, to the extent that some populists are willing to concede defeat, they won’t turn around and embrace Nikki Haley’s “no peace” voters as a bloc that needs to be courted in the name of building a majority. They’ll do what populists always do: point fingers instead of reflecting on what they might have done wrong:

As I said, regret is an unusual emotion for these people. They’re not going to start experimenting with it the day after a Trump defeat. The attitude, to quote Kari Lake, will be that McCain Republicans who handed another term to Biden should “get the hell out” of the party.

Even if all of that could be overcome, the nature of right-wing media would make it difficult to build a Reaganite faction of the Trump GOP that might prove tolerable to populists. Traditional conservatives worry chiefly about the size of government and preserving the Pax Americana, unsexy topics for a political infotainment industry that thrives on culture war. And the spirit of right-wing media is one of incessant revolt against “the establishment,” no matter how establishment they’ve become themselves. They’re not in the business of building governing coalitions; they’re in the business of finding ideological heretics on whom to blame their audience’s grievances. That will always include Reaganite Republicans as much as Democrats.

So, no, there probably won’t be a durable conservative faction born of Haley’s bloc. Not one that’s invited to the table as a partner to help steer the GOP, at least.

But that’s okay. Defeating Trump in November is its own civic reward. And if populists respond as I’ve predicted, demonizing traditional Republicans instead of reconciling with them, then the “no peace” voters shouldn’t want to remain part of the GOP anyway. “Nikki Haley makes her case to a Republican Party that no longer exists,” Reuters reported on Friday, starkly yet accurately. Let those who lament its extinction act accordingly. No peace.

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