In 2008, a little-known state representative who was never supposed to win her race in the first place set her sights on slaying another goliath: the culture of secrecy and cronyism in South Carolina government.
Then-State Rep. Nikki Haley was disgusted when a majority of the State House members voted to give themselves a retirement pay raise—by voice vote. Taxpayers couldn’t look up how their representatives voted. No one could. Because the vast majority of votes in the South Carolina legislature were not recorded.
So Haley introduced a bill to put legislative votes on the record. Her goal was simple: Open up legislative activity to the light of day. Allow taxpayers to see how their money is being spent and hold their representatives accountable. Simple, yes—but not easy.
Her Republican colleagues tried to shut her down, even punishing her boldness by taking away plum committee assignments. Instead of backing down, Haley traveled the state, urging voters to call their representatives and tell them to sponsor her bill. She ran for governor on a transparency platform and won—beating the Republican establishment and the political odds again. The legislation putting votes on the record was one of the first bills she signed—three years after she launched her initial mission.
Fifteen years later, now-presidential candidate Haley is targeting big-spending Washington Republicans again with a fiery promise: “I don’t care if it’s Republicans or Democrats who send me pork-filled, trillion-dollar spending bills… I’ll veto every single one of ‘em.”
In a speech before Club for Growth donors and in a USA Today op-ed, Haley lambasted both parties for contributing to the spending crisis in this country: “Here’s the truth. Lots of Republican politicians love spending and wasting taxpayer money almost as much as Democrats.”
She criticized Washington Republicans for growing the national debt, bringing back earmarks, growing no-strings-attached welfare programs, rubber stamping corporate bailouts and handouts, and starting the country’s record-breaking Covid spending.
She has a point. Republicans got the ball rolling on the trillion-dollar pandemic blowouts, and Democrats took the ball and ran to the endzone. And after a decade of swearing off earmarks, Republicans decided to bring back earmarks. It’s disingenuous for Republicans to rail against Biden’s socialist takeover when their hands are still stuck in the cookie jar.
Haley is also right about another thing. Stopping the spending addiction has to come from the top. One fiscally conservative senator or representative can only do so much. Republicans will need a strong-minded, thick-skinned fiscal conservative in the White House if we have any hope of getting federal spending under control and reversing the Democrats’ march towards socialism.
Even so, that lucky Republican will face headwinds from her (or his) own colleagues. For all of President Trump’s talk about draining the swamp, Washington D.C. is as swampy as ever. There is little short-term incentive to cut spending and many incentives to keep the spigots flowing.
According to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office, the debt-to-GDP ratio is expected to double to 200 percent in 30 years. Net spending on interest will increase substantially, from $475 billion in 2022 to $1.4 trillion in 2033, the CBO projects. America has a national spending and debt crisis, yet official Washington has ignored it for years.
Is Haley up for the job? Her early start in politics is a useful guide. From her time in the South Carolina legislature to the governor’s mansion to the United Nations, Haley seems to relish the David vs. Goliath fights. The normal carrots and sticks of politics— committee assignments and access to power—don’t phase her. In fact, it seems like the best way to get her to do something is to tell her it can’t be done.
Tell her she can’t beat a 30-year incumbent.
Tell her she can’t put votes on the record in South Carolina or pass ethics reform.
Tell her she can’t convince China and Russia to sign onto the biggest set of sanctions on North Korea ever.
Tell her America can’t withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council.
Tell her she can’t win the race for president and reverse Washington’s spending catastrophe.
Tell her she can’t do any of these things, and she works ten times harder to get it done.
Haley likes to remind her naysayers that “she’s never lost a race and she doesn’t plan on starting now.” This race and this challenge will be her biggest one yet. But there’s a reason people warn not to underestimate Nikki Haley.
I, for one, am not counting her out and hope that whichever Republican wins will have the courage to make the GOP the party of fiscal sanity once again.