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Presidential Candidate Nikki Haley Clarifies Comments Over US Civil War

Republican presidential hopeful, Nikki Haley made headlines this week after failing to recognise slavery as the cause of the American Civil War.

During a campaign event in Berlin, New Hampshire on Wednesday evening (December 27) Haley was asked by a voter what she thought was the cause of the civil war.  After a momentary pause, the former governor of South Carolina joked “Well, don’t come with an easy question or anything” before answering that it was down to how the government was run and the individual freedoms of the American people. In an awkward exchange, she then turned the question back to the voter who responded that he was not the one running for President. Haley followed up on her previous answer reiterating her belief that “it always comes down to the role of the government and what the rights of the people are”.

In the now viral exchange, the voter expressed his astonishment that in 2023, the question was answered without any mention of the word ‘slavery’. With a smile, the Republican candidate responded, “What do you want me to say about slavery?” before almost immediately calling for the next question.

The former governor’s failure to address the role of slavery in the US Civil War has left many outraged and seeking an explanation for her seemingly incomplete education on the matter.

In a radio interview the next day (December 28) Haley clarified that “Of course, the civil war was about slavery” describing it as “a stain on America”. Despite the earlier backlash, she reiterated the importance of freedom and the rights and liberties of all people. Since the event in New Hampshire, Haley has described the voter as a “Democrat plant” in the wake of the 2024 General Election.

This is not the first time Haley has caused a stir with her comments. In a resurfaced 2010 interview with the now-defunct political activist group, The Palmetto Patriots, the former governor was asked the same question about the cause of the US Civil War. Describing the conflict as a fight for “tradition versus change”, she argued there were passions on both sides that weren’t out of hate. In the same year whilst running for governor, she was asked about the continued display of the confederate flag at the state capitol. In her response, she rejected the notion that it should be removed and instead called the matter a “desperate political stunt” by her Democratic opponent.

Haley’s attitudes appeared to change following the 2015 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina which claimed the lives of nine Black church members attending Bible study.

In the aftermath of the massacre, images soon surfaced online of the white 21-year-old killer, Dylann Roof, brandishing the Confederate flag. This was particularly horrifying considering that at the time, the same banner flew at the state’s capitol. Although never an official emblem of the Confederacy, the Confederate flag, or ‘Southern Cross’, represented those states during the civil war  who were fighting to achieve a separate country based on the institution of slavery, amongst other Southern ideals. It was and continues to be recognised as a symbol of white supremacy across America.

Haley said the flag, which to many was a symbol of “service, sacrifice and heritage”, had been “hijacked” by the shooter in Charleston. After attending a service for the victims, the then-governor of South Carolina made known her intentions to ensure its removal. In a bipartisan effort, the legislature passed a bill the following month to take down the flag.

Since her controversial campaign event in New Hampshire this week, Haley has received widespread criticism from many including President Joe Biden who shared the video on X, formerly Twitter, with the caption “It was about slavery”. Accusing Haley of attempting “to rewrite history”, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Jaime Harrison told CBS that anyone running for President of the United states should be able to condemn slavery. Expressing similar sentiments, Christale Spain, South Carolina’s first Black woman elected to chair the state Democratic Party, called Haley’s response “vile but unsurprising”.

Fellow GOP presidential candidate and governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis shared the video online with the comment “Yikes!” later adding that Haley “has some problems with some basic American history”.

But what will the campaign fallout look like ahead of 2024? Despite recently trending upwards in New Hampshire and having been endorsed earlier this month by the state’s governor, Chris Sununu, Nikki Haley remains second in the polls to former President Donald Trump amongst the state’s Republican voters.

Edited by: Kaiyah Ellison

Photo credit: Sophie Park/Getty Images

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