Henry McMaster may be the happiest guy in South Carolina right now.
That’s because Gov. Nikki Haley continues to outclass most of the 2016 GOP presidential contenders, increasing the odds that the lieutenant governor could be up for a promotion next year.
Long considered a longshot for anything beyond an ambassadorship or Cabinet post in a Republican White House, Haley is making a case that she would be a decent vice presidential pick.
She knows it, too — why do you think she raised the possibility earlier this week?
Such an idea would have seemed ridiculous six months ago, but Haley is apparently sticking to her optimistic, compassionate tone and put it to good use Wednesday at the National Press Club in Washington.
The governor spoke about some true racial problems in South Carolina, and even if she offered some overly sunny perspectives, at least she’s talking about it.
And, make no mistake, that is a much clearer path to the national stage than racist, xenophobic ranting.
That might make a good nomination strategy, but it’s no way to get the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Some people consider Haley a chameleon-like politician. The cynical will say she’s still at it.
But it appears she was deeply affected by the events of this year and, honestly, anyone with a soul would have been.
So while all the Republican presidential candidates are tripping over themselves trying to trump Trump — a wall on the Canadian border? Really? — Haley talked to the National Press Club about racial discrimination, the correlation between poverty and race and education inequity.
Pretty serious stuff on that side of the aisle.
While she was talking, former state House member and lieutenant governor nominee Bakari Sellers was tweeting out less optimistic statistics about the state — South Carolina is 48th in per capita income, for instance; and 28 percent of the state is African-American, but its prison population is 65 percent black — that dampened her sunny forecast somewhat.
He’s right, of course, there are more problems than Haley concedes, but the point is she admits there is trouble. And all those people who say different just aren’t taken seriously by most sane people.
Now, Republicans and Democrats are going to differ on the solutions to these problems — starkly — but right now Haley looks better than just about all the top-of-the-ticket candidates simply by admitting there are problems out there that need solutions.
As George Will said, it could be that Haley is just the gender and regional balance a winning Republican ticket needs.
Especially if the party’s front-runner keeps bashing women and minorities who, unfortunately for The Donald, won the right to vote years ago.
Sure, Haley is taking a chance here.
Some conservatives swear they would stay home rather than vote for someone they consider too liberal. That’s the political equivalent of cutting off your nose, however, since the national electorate is not that right-of-center.
At her core, Haley is a Chamber of Commerce Republican, the type of candidate who used to be right in the GOP wheelhouse. The tea party stuff — well, maybe she felt that way, or still does — but she can do it without extolling the overt intolerance of that movement.
Even if that manifests itself in an overly perky “It’s a great day in South Carolina,” that is an infinitely more electable message than “Kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out.”
No doubt Haley has lost some conservative support over the Confederate flag, but she has gained much more.
It’s not hurting that, outside of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Haley is acting more grown up and responsible than most candidates.
So, as she said Wednesday, “If there is a time when a presidential candidate wants to talk, of course I will sit down and talk.”
Of course you will, governor.
To win high office — outside of South Carolina anyway — you have to appeal to a broader base than angry white people eager to blame all their woes on people of color. Anyone who thinks differently, well, they are liable to be disappointed come November 2016.
So if Haley can keep this up, or at least inspire some of the presidential contenders to start sounding, well, presidential, then Henry McMaster might not be the only beneficiary of Haley’s growing respectability.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org