Editor’s note: The below article first appeared in David Corn’s newsletter, Our Land. The newsletter comes out twice a week (most of the time) and provides behind-the-scenes stories and articles about politics, media, and culture. Subscribing costs just $5 a month—but you can sign up for a free 30-day trial of Our Land here.
Nikki Haley served six years as governor of South Carolina. Imagine if during her tenure, all the people running the state’s agricultural department were forced to leave their jobs. And the state’s banking commission. And its department of commerce. And the corrections department. And its emergency management agency. And its fiscal accountability office. And its department of health and environmental control. And the highway patrol. And its judicial department. And its national guard. And its port authority. And its public service commission. And its department of revenue. And the state’s law enforcement agency. And the DMV.
Haley would have been slammed by a tsunami of chaos. Her government would have come to a standstill. Replacing all these state officials and workers would have subsumed her administration. And all the agencies would be in turmoil. Even if vacancies were filled, these departments would be at a loss for institutional memory and expertise. The turnover would diminish services for the good citizens of the Palmetto State and perhaps even endanger them. It’s a no-brainer: Government works best when it’s run by dedicated civil servants with experience.
Yet Haley, trying desperately to gain ground on Donald Trump in the 2024 GOP presidential sweepstakes, has decided to match his know-nothing populism by urging a five-year term limit on government “bureaucrats.” Haley recently tweeted that under her proposed “Freedom Plan, we won’t just have term limits for politicians—we will limit bureaucrats too. No bureaucrat should hold the same position for more than five years.”
Under #TheFreedomPlan, we won’t just have term limits for politicians—we will limit bureaucrats too. No bureaucrat should hold the same position for more than five years. https://t.co/zI3H5WqL0B
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) November 22, 2023
Trump has blathered about blasting apart the Deep State, and his allies have cooked up a scheme under which Trump, if he regains the White House, would be able to pink-slip tens of thousands of federal workers not deemed loyal to him or sufficiently enthusiastic about his policies. (Federal workers now can only be fired for cause and must be afforded due process.) The goal is to destroy what Trump compatriots like Steve Bannon call the “administrative state.” This is but one element of the authoritarian blueprint being drafted for Trump 2.0 by a group of right-wing organizations that have formed Project 2025.
Once touted as a reasonable Republican, Haley has decided to compete with Trump on the anti-government front. There are (of course) no firm details to her proposal to toss out “bureaucrats” (a derisive term for often hard-working federal employees), but this would seem to cover TSA officials, federal law enforcement officials, intelligence analysts, food and drug safety officials, National Institues of Health research supervisors, counterterrorism experts, counterintelligence officers, workplace safety regulators, financial regulators, public health officials, border security officials, IRS tax collectors, trade officials, climate change negotiators, and you can fill in the rest.
With this stunt, Haley is exploiting the right-wing war on expertise. (See Tom Nichols’ 2017 book, The Death of Expertise.) She wants to kick all that expertise to the curb. But her proposal is fully in sync with Trump’s narrative that demonizes elites and government.
Her plan would be a boon to the country’s enemies and to corporate interests that often attempt to outfox or outmaneuver government regulations. Such a move would emasculate federal agencies. It would also make it more difficult for the federal government to recruit the best candidates. If the reward for doing a good job at the Federal Trade Commission breaking up monopolies is mandatory dismissal or reassignment after five years of service, the most qualified people—who can earn more in the private sector—will probably take a pass.
Haley herself served longer than five years as governor and as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives. Was each of those stints too long?
With Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis struggling in polls and his campaign in upheaval, Haley has emerged as perhaps the better bet for non-Trump Republicans. In the past week, there has been a rash of stories in the political press about top GOP donors swinging—or considering swinging—behind Haley. The big bucks and the momentum are prompting her to make a concerted effort to pick off Trump voters. How does a Republican candidate do that? Certainly not by being reasonable. As her thirst increases—and her advisers whisper in her ear that she’s the one—it’s no surprise to see her pandering to the worst impulses of the Trump mob. We can wonder what other nonsense will emerge from Haley as the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary approach.
David Corn’s American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy, a New York Times bestseller, has been released in a new and expanded paperback edition.