Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Nikki Haley’s response to claims of infidelity has not been her denials, but the gusto with which she is blaming her opponents for orchestrating the allegations.
This instinct was on display at a debate in Charleston last night when Haley directly accused Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer of dirty politics for pushing the (she says) bogus story of a 2008 one-night stand with a Bauer campaign consultant, Larry Marchant.
Haley, the frontunner in the South Carolina GOP gubernatorial primary, has been following this tack since blogger Will Folks 10 days ago alleged an affair and Haley promptly accused her enemies of being behind the claim.
She has repeatedly suggested that her opponents decided to unleash the affair claims (first via Folks and now via Marchant) after a poll showed Haley in the lead in the crowded GOP primary a few weeks ago.
And it should be noted that Haley, like her accusers, has not come up with hard evidence to back up her claims.
On May 25 she told a radio interviewer of the Folks’ claim: “They didn’t care who I was a month ago, and suddenly it turns out I’m 11 points high in the polls, and all of a sudden we’ve got anonymous secret emails going out, and we’ve got this attack today. … They do what they think they need to do to win, which is to bring other people down.”
Three days later, when another interviewer asked, “Who is they?” Haley responded: “I think it will come out in due time as to who ‘they’ are.”
Haley’s counter-narrative was neatly summed up by her campaign manager when the Marchant story broke yesterday: “As Nikki Haley rises in the polls, the good old boys in Columbia see their taxpayer-funded fraternity party coming crumbling down, and they will say or do anything to hold onto their power.”
Last night, in a remarkable exchange with Bauer, Haley charged that “ya’ll were fishing the story last night [Tuesday] and you didn’t fire him [Marchant] yesterday. It was only when no one would take him seriously because he was a paid consultant that you decided to fire him today.”
She continued: “I think this is sick politics. I have a family, I have two children, I have a husband. And to turn around five days before the election to fire a paid consultant and have him come out and sit there and say he’s had an affair, it reeks of everything that’s wrong with the establishment. … It’s my eight and eleven-year old that don’t deserve this.”
An uncomfortable Bauer flatly denied pushing the story, saying, “When I got information I didn’t feel comfortable with where this campaign’s going, I asked for his resignation.”
Marchant, for his part, said he fessed up to Bauer this week after a reporter began asking questions about the rumored affair. He told the AP he did not tell Bauer “until two days after I disclosed it to my wife.”
To believe Haley’s version of events, one has to believe that Marchant is taking an epic fall — intense personal and professional humiliation — in order to pull off a dirty trick for the ages.
So is Haley’s strategy working? It’s not yet clear. The last poll in the race, taken just a day after Folks went public, showed her well in the lead. The primary is June 8.
Here’s the Haley-Bauer exchange in last night’s debate (starting around the 1:55 mark), with partial transcript below:
Haley: I have been absolutely faithful to my husband for 13 years, and the fact is, you just said it, this is the second allegation in two weeks time. And it all happened after I started showing I had double digit leads in the pols. ….
Bauer: I asked for his resignation. When I got information I didn’t feel comfortable with where this campaign’s going, I asked for his resignation.
Haley: But lieutenant governor, you paid him. He was a paid consultant for you.
Bauer: And when I found out that there may be things that I don’t agree with for my campaign — you’re right, I paid him to fundraise, and when I found out information that could be possibly true, could not be true, I didn’t want to associate with that type of behavior so I ended the relationship.
Haley: But ya’ll were fishing the story last night and you didn’t fire him yesterday. It was only when no one would take him seriously because he was a paid consultant that you decided to fire him today.
Moderator: Do you think Ms. Haley that Mr. Bauer’s campaign might be behind this?
Haley: I think this is sick politics. I have a family, I have two children, I have a husband. And to turn around five days before the election to fire a paid consultant and have him come out and sit there and say he’s had an affair, it reeks of everything that’s wrong with the establishment. It reeks of everything that’s wrong of South Carolina politics, and I will fight it every step of the way because South Carolina people are done with this. We are done with the dirty politics that has given the state a bad name.
Moderator: How is your husband handling these allegations, Ms. Haley?
Haley: My husband is fabulous, and he has been strong. And he is the one that has stood by my side and will continue to stand by my side. It’s my eight and eleven-year old that don’t deserve this.
Bauer: I think I need to respond. I was accused that I have something to do with it — the minute I found out that there was something wrong and I started to do a little digging, I said, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t want to be associated with this.’ You can ask everybody on this podium if they have, I have not spent a dime on opposition research on any of the people on this podium. We don’t play that game…