Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Opinion | Tim Scott, please drop out, urge others to follow and unite behind Haley

Opinion | Tim Scott, please drop out, urge others to follow and unite behind Haley

Disclosure: The columnist’s wife, Mari Will, an adviser to Republican presidential candidate Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), disagrees with this column.

There is national incredulity, exhaustion, embarrassment, disgust and fatalism about the political parties’ inability to generate palatable presidential choices. Tim Scott could alter this with a trifecta of statesmanlike acts: withdrawing from the competition for the Republican presidential nomination, challenging others to do likewise and exhorting them to join him in supporting Nikki Haley.

This is the South Carolina senator’s choice: He can acknowledge that his energetic campaigning has failed to enkindle sufficient enthusiasm and depart as he campaigned, cheerfully. Or he can try to become someone whom, to his credit, he has no aptitude for being — another peddler of synthetic anger, stoking today’s rage culture.

Of Scott we may say what Sam Rayburn, Democratic House speaker for 17 years, reportedly said of Dwight D. Eisenhower when in 1948 Democrats contemplated giving Ike their presidential nomination: “Good man but wrong business.” Actually, Ike was, like Scott, a good man and, as Scott someday could be, a fine president. Scott is not, however, the man for this season.

By catalyzing a coalescence around Haley, Scott could transform the nation’s political mood. As long as the Republican race pits Donald Trump against a cluster of lagging pursuers, the nominating electorate cannot ponder a binary choice. When, however, it is Trump against one experienced, polished, steely and unintimidated adversary, voters can internalize this exhilarating reality: There is a choice suitable for a great nation.

Scott could mercifully end the candidates’ miserable “debates,” which are caricatures of real ones and diminish everyone involved. (In the Lincoln-Douglas debates, one spoke for an hour, the other for 90 minutes, then the first speaker delivered a 30-minute answer.) More 60-second simplicities about complexities will benefit only the nonparticipating candidate, who has time on his side.

Trump is so deeply shallow that many might still underestimate his potential destructiveness, of which fresh evidence constantly accumulates. Most recently: his reported telling a foreign blatherskite secret details concerning U.S. nuclear submarines, the foundation of deterrence. A reelected Trump, having promised to secure Russia’s success against Ukraine — he vows to end the war “in 24 hours” — would mean the unraveling of collective security, from Europe to the Far East: Serious nations will not tether themselves to a United States that tethers itself to someone who is in equal measures frivolous, petulant and malevolent.

If after Super Tuesday (March 5), a Trump nomination seems highly probable, a serious third-party candidacy will become probable, as will multiplying uncertainties. If, however, Haley deflates the Trump blimp, the Democratic Party also could benefit.

She would be heavily favored against the fast-fading President Biden. So, if her nomination becomes likely, Democratic panic might produce what Democratic prudence evidently will not: a 2024 ticket other than one joining someone no longer fit for the presidency with someone who never will be fit.

Haley has established policy preeminence among her Republican rivals. Regarding foreign policy, she has been the most forthright against the amalgam of nihilism, isolationism and opportunism currently fueling many elected Republicans’ eagerness to appease Russia. In domestic policy, she alone is ready to address, with changes affecting only people far from retirement, the unsustainable trajectory of Social Security and Medicare, and this ticking fiscal time bomb: Soon, the federal government will spend $1 trillion annually on debt service alone.

Haley’s policy preeminence among the Republican aspirants must become political preeminence, quickly. What Gen. Douglas MacArthur said of military disasters is also true of political ones: They are explained by two words — “too late.” Too late to respond proactively. With every passing day, the probability of a national disgrace — a Trump nomination — increases. And with it the probability of another disgrace, a Biden-Trump rematch, which might mean the probability of another Trump presidency.

The Republican contenders are unintentionally enacting a political version of the tragedy of the commons: When everyone has a right to graze cattle on the commons, no one has an incentive for restraint; soon, the commons are barren and all who pursued their self-interest are equally injured.

If four or more of Trump’s Republican rivals slog on, each hoping a strong Iowa showing will propel them to stronger ones in New Hampshire and South Carolina, they are all likely to finish with equally barren prospects. Their replication of the tragedy of the commons will, unless disrupted now, produce a national tragedy. Tim Scott, by acting boldly — one might say presidentially — against a dismally predictable political dynamic, could give a grateful nation hope for the redemption of this shabby era.

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