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MAGA’s Newest Punching Bag
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MAGA’s Newest Punching Bag

At Turning Point USA’s AmericaFest this week, Nikki Haley was Public Enemy No. 1.

Happy Wednesday! Scrambling for a last-minute present? Cut it too close to get something shipped to you in time? We’ve got you covered.

Up to Speed

  • The Colorado Supreme Court issued a ruling Tuesday declaring former President Donald Trump ineligible to run for president again and ordering his name removed from the state’s primary ballot. That court stayed its 4-3 decision until January 4 or until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the question. But it’s at least a temporary success for those who have argued that Trump is disqualified from serving again thanks to Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which states that those who previously swore an oath of office and “have engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the country cannot serve again. The “insurrection,” according to the petitioners in Colorado, refers to Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. (Be sure to read our colleagues at The Collision, who recently wrote about these arguments, as well as this transcript from the Advisory Opinions conversation in October with legal scholar William Baude.) Last month, the Minnesota Supreme Court dismissed a similar suit to remove Trump from that state’s ballot.
  • Trump himself has been reposting on his Truth Social page criticisms of the Colorado decision, calling it “ELECTION INTERFERENCE.” Meanwhile rivals for the Republican nomination have dismissed the ruling as incorrect. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Trump’s removal from the ballot is on “spurious legal grounds,” while Nikki Haley said that voters, not judges, should decide who is qualified. Even Chris Christie, who has been the most directly critical of Trump, said he disagreed with the court’s decision. Vivek Ramaswamy, meanwhile, has said he will withdraw from the Colorado Republican primary in protest of the decision and has called on the other candidates to do the same.
  • Now back in the day-to-day nomination fight: Haley says it’s clear Trump is “getting nervous” about her apparent rise in New Hampshire, a response to new attack ads running against her there from the pro-Trump super PAC Make America Great Again Inc. And a pro-Haley super PAC, SFA Fund, has its own new ad highlighting her new status as a target for Trump allies. “Want an 80-year-old name from the past?” the voiceover says, while showing side-by-side photos of Trump and President Joe Biden. “Or a new generation of conservative leadership?” The spot is airing in New Hampshire.
  • In Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds is pushing back against Trump for running a television advertisement suggesting she supports the former president for the 2024 nomination, rather than DeSantis, whom she endorsed and is campaigning with ahead of the January 15 caucuses. Trump “thought he was entitled to my endorsement … Nobody is entitled to anything. You have to step up, you have to earn it, you have to make your case,” Reynolds said, according to the Des Moines Register. Polls show Reynolds’ endorsement has done little to boost DeSantis, who still trails Trump significantly in Iowa.
  • In Senate news, Trump announced a big endorsement in the Ohio Republican primary: Bernie Moreno, a wealthy former car dealer, has won the former president’s backing. Moreno first sought the Senate in 2022, but he dropped out ahead of the primary after failing to gain traction in the crowded contest. Now-Sen. J.D. Vance ultimately won the nomination on the strength of Trump’s endorsement. Moreno, competing in a similarly crowded field for the chance to take on incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, is no doubt hoping history repeats itself.

MAGAWorld Gets Its 2024 Villain

Tucker Carlson speaks at the Turning Point Action USA conference in West Palm Beach, Florida, on July 15, 2023. (Photo by GIORGIO VIERA / AFP) (Photo by GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images)
Tucker Carlson speaks at the Turning Point Action USA conference in West Palm Beach, Florida, on July 15, 2023. (Photo by GIORGIO VIERA / AFP) (Photo by GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images)

PHOENIX—In recent years, GOP base confabs like Turning Point USA’s AmericaFest have largely concentrated their ire on the same stockpile of alleged RINOs: Mitt Romney, Liz Cheney, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell. But here at the Phoenix Convention Center this week, all those villains took a backseat to a new Dr. Evil: presidential candidate Nikki Haley.

TPUSA founder Charlie Kirk went after Haley’s (unspecified) “awful ideas” in his conference-opening monologue. Her sole presidential rival to speak at the conference, Vivek Ramaswamy, pledged that “the likes of Nikki Haley or any other neocon” would not serve in his presidential administration. Sunday and Monday night’s keynote speakers, Steve Bannon and Tucker Carlson, luxuriated in long anti-Haley segments, which both played for laughs.

“Should you put air quotes around ‘Nikki Haley’?” Carlson asked just minutes after taking the stage. “Because otherwise you’re just assuming this is a real person, and not just a hologram put out there by Ken Griffin and the billionaire class to torment you.” He went on to speculate at length about how much Iranian oil money it would take for Haley—known for years as an Iran hawk—to instead become a cheerleader for the mullahs: “Like, there is a number, right?”

Meanwhile, out on the floor of the sponsor hall, Turning Point Action was conducting a veepstakes straw poll. The listed possibilities: “Kari,” “Tucker,” “Noem,” “DeSantis,” and “Nimrata Nikki Randhawa Haley”—a nod to the dog-whistle jokes about her full name that have regularly resurfaced in MAGAworld this year. (Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, was born Nimrata Nikki Randhawa and took her husband’s last name when they married in 1996.)

This outpouring of vitriol comes as Haley has strengthened her case as the GOP primary’s strongest second-place contender—albeit a very, very distant one to Donald Trump, whose national lead over the field has only continued to grow. Haley got her best poll of the cycle in New Hampshire this weekend, with CBS News finding her within 15 points of Trump in the state.

Haley’s boomlet hasn’t done much to change anyone’s expectations of a Trump victory—she’d need about a dozen dominoes to fall her way over the next two months even to make that a conversation. But it has rejuvenated questions about whether Trump should consider her as his vice presidential pick. After all, her star has risen with the part of the party over which his grasp is weakest, and she has so far conducted her campaign without making the sort of scorched-earth attacks against the frontrunner that would burn that bridge. (Surrogates for Ron DeSantis, Haley’s neck-and-neck competitor for the silver-medal spot, have increasingly been insisting that Haley-for-Veep is in fact Trump’s plan.)

It’s exactly that possibility that the MAGA infotainment-industrial complex seems to be mobilizing to try to prevent. To them, Haley represents the most contemptible, most infuriating faction in politics: the Republican Party as it existed until just a few years ago. And after a year in which the Republican primary seemed likely to shape up as a contest between Trump and DeSantis—two candidates who, whatever their differences, are broadly aligned in their vision for the GOP—the MAGA faithful seem to relish the chance to finally let loose against a more deplorable foe.

 “You don’t love Nikki? Neocon Nikki? Neoliberal neocon Nikki? You don’t love her?” Bannon said during his TPUSA speech, pausing to drink in the boos. “She’s ambitious as Lucifer.”

“We’re gonna have to stop that viper over there—that’d be worse than Judas Pence in the West Wing, wouldn’t it?” he went on. “You’re not fans of Nikki? You’re not fans of Nikki as VP?”

Members of the crowd were not fans. “Tucker! Tucker!” a chant broke out. And then, rhyming it: “F— her! F— her!”

“Oh my Lord, this is not PG-rated,” Bannon smirked. “Lord have mercy.”

Notable and Quotable 

“The objective of, I would say, the entire administration and its enablers in the Republican Party—which is most elected officials there—is to destroy the United States.”

—Tucker Carlson in a keynote speech to Turning Point USA’s AmericaFest, December 18, 2023

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

Michael Warren is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was an on-air reporter at CNN and a senior writer at the Weekly Standard. When Mike is not reporting, writing, editing, and podcasting, he is probably spending time with his wife and three sons.