‘She needs those racist votes:’ Nikki Haley’s gaffe exposes Republican Party’s race problem

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley’s now-viral comments on racism in America not only damage her standing as a presidential candidate but potentially expose a glaring Achilles heel for the Republican Party.

During a Fox News interview, the former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador was asked if the Republican Party was racist. In response, Haley, who is Indian-American, said America has “never been a racist country” but explained she had experienced racism growing up.

Black advocates and Democrats quickly fired back at Haley, pointing out that not only did she contradict herself, but her comments were ahistorical.

“There is no denying that we have in our history as a nation racism and that racism has played a role in the history of our nation,” said Vice President Kamala Harris during an interview on “The View.”

“We will not grow as a country to push that kind of approach and doctrine and misinformation,” she continued. 

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during the Broadband Event at the White House on June 26, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mostafa Bassim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Harris also, without naming, called out Haley’s previous failure to say that slavery was the cause of the U.S. Civil War and Republican presidential candidate and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whose administration has banned books by Black authors and approved a middle school curriculum suggesting that enslaved Black people benefited from slavery.

Political strategists and advocates argue that Haley’s recent gaffes on race reflect not only her as a leader and presidential hopeful but also the state of the GOP. 

Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist, told theGrio, “[She] will say anything to cater to a right-wing election-denying, insurrection-supporting…extreme group of people who make up the majority of the Republican Party.”

“Those who feel like America is not a racist country obviously don’t smell the aroma of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and oppression that still lingers heavily today,” said Seawright. “They are not paying attention to the white supremacy, bigotry, hate, and Christian white nationalism that continues to organize, function, flow, and in some cases grow.”

Angela Angel, a senior adviser for Black Lives Matter PAC, noted that Haley “refused” to answer the actual question about the party being racist.

“The answer is yes – and she needs those racist votes,” Angel told theGrio. 

Republican presidential candidate and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign event at Country Lane Lodge on Jan. 14, 2024, in Adel, Iowa. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“Her claiming America isn’t racist, but also claiming she ‘faced racism growing up’ and that ‘things are better now’ shows her lack of confrontation of the truth – and that’s a dangerous position for someone who wants to be the president,” Angel continued. “Racism didn’t disappear – she just transitioned her socio-economic circles and circumstances that protect her from that racism.”

Markus Batchelor, national political director at People For the American Way, noted the irony of Haley’s remarks, given she once governed over South Carolina, a state that was at the “heart of the Transatlantic Slave Trade…the first to secede the Union to preserve the practice” and “whose ‘lost cause’ rhetoric killed nine people in a Black church while she served.”

“Her willful ignorance of both the history and living legacy of racism in our country is disingenuous and dangerous,” said Batchelor.

But while Haley is presently grabbing headlines for her controversial statements, her opponent, former President Donald Trump, who has his own troubled record on race, continues to dominate the Republican presidential primary field. 

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at the Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside Hotel on Jan. 17, 2024, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“The sad part about it is that the more she bojangles around with misinformation or disinformation — in South Carolina, we call it lies — the more the former president continues to climb and swell in the polls as well as at the ballot box,” said Seawright, referring to Trump’s overwhelming win in the Republican Iowa caucuses.

He said Haley’s comments “further [Trump’s] agenda and his cause because it gives people like him and supporters of his even fair license to say whatever to whomever.” 

“If she is really authentically against Trump … then you got to not embrace Trumpism,” Seawright argued. “They want honesty, they want truth, and they want you to pick a side.”

He added, “If you can’t be honest about America’s history, how can you work to improve the future of America so we don’t repeat history?”

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley’s recent comments on racism in America have caused controversy and damage to her standing. During a Fox News interview, Haley stated that America has “never been a racist country” but admitted to experiencing racism growing up. This led to backlash from Black advocates and Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris calling out the historical inaccuracy of Haley’s comments. Political strategists and advocates argue that Haley’s remarks reflect not only her leadership but also the state of the Republican Party as a whole. Critics accuse Haley of catering to a right-wing extremist group and avoiding the truth about racism in America in order to gain support. Additionally, her opponent, former President Donald Trump, continues to dominate the Republican presidential primary field. Despite the controversy, Haley’s comments further Trump’s agenda and give him and his supporters more license to spread misinformation. Critics argue that if Haley cannot be honest about America’s history, she cannot work to improve the future. Overall, Haley’s comments have raised concerns about her authenticity and leadership capabilities as a presidential candidate.

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