Nikki Haley Could Save the GOP From Itself

The South Carolina candidate's critics are falling back on outrageous religious questions

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By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

I suppose the Republican Party can survive its love affair with the dingbat Right. But it's getting harder to see how. Today's election in South Carolina offers a case in point.

If I were a South Carolina voter, Nikki Haley would not be my first choice for governor. But, for a Republican, she's not a bad selection. As a first generation Indian-American, she cuts against the portrait of the GOP as a shrinking bastion of white male privilege. If the Republicans are going to survive in an increasingly browner America, they are going to have to open up their candidate recruitment process. The Republican presidential debates in 2008 looked like a gathering of Nebraska funeral directors.

Haley almost triumphed without a runoff, despite allegations that she slept around. Since sex didn't work as an avenue of attack, her foes have fallen back on the breakfast of demagogues: religion. Her conversion to Methodism is being challenged by those who accuse her of clinging to her Sikh upbringing.

"Have you ever asked her if she believes in Jesus Christ as her lord and savior and that he died on the cross for her sins?" said state Sen. "Jakie" Knotts, in a television interview. "Jakie" was already somewhat infamous for having called Haley a "raghead."

The question is outrageous. It would exclude all free-thinkers, agnostics, Jews, Muslims, and other non-Christian politicians from political office. And while, literally, it encompasses almost anyone who attends a Christian church--help me out here, Unitarians and comparative religion majors--it is posed in a code favored by the more fundamental Protestant sects.

With similar insensitivity, Republicans have alienated Hispanics, whose family- and religious-oriented culture would seem receptive to the party's conservative creeds. Even if Haley wins, how many Indian-Americans and other voters of Asian descent--other growing, hard-working ethnic groups--will feel welcome, and at ease, in the party?

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