CNN: Nikki Haley seizes the political moment amidst Confederate flag debate

Nia-Malika Henderson

South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley stared down hate and history this summer, turning an impassioned debate over the Confederate flag into a political launching pad.

Other state figures had faltered when confronting the legacy of the Confederate flag and pushing for its removal. But Haley’s quick call for it to be taken off the capitol grounds in the wake of the Charleston church shooting — a call that culminated in Friday’s ceremony in which hundreds of locals cheered its relocation to a museum — has allowed her to bask in glowing reviews.

“Now there’s more reason to come to this state,” Haley said in an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon. “I am proud to say that it’s a new day in South Carolina.”

And also a new day for Governor Haley.

“She saw an opportunity and saw a spotlight on South Carolina and saw that there were going to be real significant problems for the state and the Republicans if they couldn’t bring it down,” said Katie Packer Gage, a Republican consultant. “She stepped up and it didn’t take her weeks or months, even though she could have punted. She is a smart politician.”

Haley: Confederate flag ‘should never have been there’

The once-rising star, whose shine had faded after her 2010 gubernatorial victory, has emerged from the flag battle as the face of the “new South.” By leading the efforts to take down a flag embraced by alleged killer Dylann Roof, Haley helped her party and her own profile. Even Democrats offered praise.

“Had it not been for the governor saying she was supportive of this, I don’t think we would have been at the ceremony we were at today,” said Jaime Harrison, who chairs the state’s Democratic Party. “I know people say it was political, but she did what was right and for that I can’t be mad at her. I’m very appreciative of her.”

Harrison was one of the handful of leaders Haley met with in the hours before she announced days after the shooting in June that she wanted the flag to come down. He was expecting yet another compromise, but Haley had made up her mind.

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