Nikki Haley, the Republican presidential candidate and former South Carolina governor who for years has wrestled with how to address issues of race, slavery and the Confederacy, found herself confronted with those issues again at a town hall event Wednesday in New Hampshire , hundreds of people from miles north of the Mason-Dixon line.
His answer to a simple but loaded question from an audience member in the city of Berlin: “What was the cause of the American Civil War?” – showed how much he still struggles with these issues.
“I mean, I think it always comes down to the role of government and what people's rights are,” he said finally, arguing that the government shouldn't tell people how to live their lives or “what can and can't be done.” can do”. do.”
“I will always maintain the fact that I believe the goal of the government was to guarantee the rights and freedoms of the people,” he said. “It was never intended to be all things to all people.”
What was most missing from his answer was slavery, which most historians agree was the root of America's bloodiest conflict, specifically the economic and political control behind slavery. Democrats were quick to accept his response, and President Biden's re-election campaign team and others released a video of the exchange on social media.
After a quick exchange with the questioner, she said, “What do you want me to say about slavery? Next question.”
“I'm disgusted, but not surprised: This is what black South Carolinians expect from Nikki Haley, and now the rest of the country is starting to see her for what she is,” Jaime Harrison, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said in a statement.
How much, if at all, it matters in the Republican primaries remains to be seen. Former President Donald J. Trump, the front-runner in the race, has been turning up the temperature on his own divisive rhetoric, rather than lowering it. Ms. Haley is looking to tap into some of her following. But heading into the nation's first primary election in New Hampshire on Jan. 23, she's counting on moderate Republicans and independents (who can vote in the race) to give her a good showing.
Her latest comments were in line with how she and most of her Republican rivals have stood firm on race and racism in the 2024 presidential campaign, downplaying the nation's sordid racial history and portraying racism. structural and prejudices as challenges of the past. Her comments are also in line with her campaign message, which has included promises to reduce the size of the federal government and leave it up to states to decide how to handle important issues like abortion.
A spokeswoman for Haley did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday evening.
Haley, who governed a state in the heart of the Confederacy, has a particularly rocky record on racial issues.
He won national praise when he signed legislation to remove the Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina State House after a white supremacist shot and killed nine black worshipers in Charleston in 2015, including a state senator. Along the way, she recalls the experience to great effect, presenting herself as a new generational leader in the Republican Party capable of bridging differences.
But when he ran for election in 2010 and then for re-election in 2014, he rejected talk of retiring the flag. In a 2010 interview with leaders of Confederate heritage groups, a major political force in his state, he argued that the Confederate flag “wasn't a racist thing,” but rather had to do with tradition and heritage. She said she could leverage her identity as a minority woman to defend herself against calls to boycott the flag. “For those groups that come and say they have issues with the Confederate flag, I will work to talk to them about it,” she said.
After the 2015 attack rocked South Carolina, Haley took advantage of state lawmakers' efforts to remove the flag.
In response to Wednesday's audience member, Ms. Haley argued that the United States needed to have capitalism and economic freedom and guarantee “freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to do or be whatever they want without the government intervene.” the way.”
The audience member said it was “surprising” that Ms. Haley had answered his question without saying the word slavery.
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