A conversation about COVID-19

Published 4:36 pm Thursday, March 12, 2020

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Would you like to meet Nikki Haley?” came the email from new Senator Kelly Loeffler’s Press Secretary. As flattered as I was to read the post, little did I know that this political science professor would play a role in shifting the day’s discussion from politics to what so many Americans have on their minds: the Coronavirus crisis.

As we gathered in Cobb County on a Monday, the markets tanked so badly that they had to suspend trading. If Trump is looking for a model of competence, Nikki Haley might be the option. Her speech was sharp, not shrill. She’s clearly a Republican, not a Democratic candidate, and sought to highlight the partisan difference without making the dispute personal.

Senator Loeffler, who briefly met with one of our LaGrange College students, Sam Shaw, also thankfully avoided adopting the tone from her ads, making her sound like a cartoon candidate.

Her speech was more about herself, what motivated her, and what she’s voted for. It was a performance that was at least a little more like her predecessor. During the press conference, however, most of the questions seemed to be about politics. Would Haley run in 2014? Why was she backing Loeffler instead of U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who had more legislative experience? These questions were about strategy, partisanship, and position. But that’s not what the average American has on his or her mind.

So I asked my question about coronavirus, asking Haley to call upon her experience as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., as well as what she learned as South Carolina Governor. She did have some harsh words for China, lauded the travel restrictions, and talked about the practical steps everyday people should take, from hygiene to personal contact (though I had no shortage of handshakes from polite Republicans who hadn’t received the memo, obviously).

Georgia Insurance Commission John King echoed the rational response in a 1:1 interview, focusing on industry testing, calm, partnerships and working with smart people. The ex-police chief with a military background also emphasized the health insurance co-payment issue.

With a slick video introducing Haley, her prominent role attached to other key politicians like Sen. Loeffler, I’d rate her chances at being the new VP, or a 2024 nominee as being at least 50%, especially since Pence has been put in charge of an operation that seems doomed to fail, no matter how many good intentions the former Indiana Governor seems to have.

Earlier in the speech, Haley cited former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: “If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.”

I think Trump, fellow Republicans, and the GOP base, will be wondering the same answer for a future pick.