COLUMBIA — In South Carolina, the governor’s mansion is on the grounds of a former arsenal that was burned down by the Union army during the Civil War.
These days, that attack in the 1860s seems a metaphor for the besieged tenure of Republican Gov. Nikki Haley. Elected last year as a symbol of the conservative tea party’s rise in U.S. politics, Haley has had a rocky transition from government critic to government executive – and potential player in the 2012 presidential campaign.
Democrats and Republicans alike accuse her of being petty and distant. Some of the tea party conservatives who lifted her to a victory now say she has lost focus on their priorities: reducing government and regulations.
Against that backdrop, the unapologetic Haley has endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination for president. With that she has further infuriated some in the state who say Romney, a favorite in the Iowa caucuses today, isn’t conservative enough.
The endorsement has drawn threats that Haley could be challenged from within her own party when she is up for re-election in 2014. Even so, she has positioned herself to influence the 2012 campaign.
At the very least, endorsing the man widely viewed as the favorite to win the right to face Democratic President Obama in November will give her a prominent platform in the Republican Party.
Haley gives a well-practiced explanation of why Romney earned her support: his success in leading the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002; his distance from Washington dysfunction; his standing as the Republican who appears to most concern Obama’s re-election campaign.
Then she offers a conclusion that makes it seem as if a lack of enthusiasm for the alternatives to Romney was as much of a factor as anything: “What I did was make a conscious decision that will allow me to sleep at night.”
Columbia tea party Chairman Allen Olson, who supports the governor, said that “there is huge disagreement among tea partiers about how she is doing. People are getting divided. It’s getting ugly.”