Haley and DeSantis were asked about racism in America. It got awkward

When Ron DeSantis was asked Tuesday night in a televised town hall in New Hampshire if he agreed with Nikki Haley that “America has never been a racist country”, as she had said earlier in the day, it seemed like an easy opportunity to hit his rival. But DeSantis, the Florida governor, avoided answering the question directly, saying instead that America is not currently a racist country.He also alluded vaguely to “things in our history” that America had overcome.
Wolf Blitzer, the CNN moderator, again asked if DeSantis agreed that America was never a racist country. He again answered indirectly, taking a stance that neither agreed or disagreed with Haley’s claim. “We had challenges with how race was viewed,” he said, pointing – as he often has on the campaign trail – to the Dred Scott decision in 1857, in which the Supreme Court ruled that black people could not be citizens of the US. He added, “That was wrong – that was discriminating on the basis of race.”
The back-and-forth provided another reminder of how carefully the Republican candidates have navigated racial politics on the campaign trail.
Haley, the Indian-origin former governor of South Carolina, made the claim while being interviewed on Fox News on Tuesday. She drew the distinction between “racism” and being “racist”, saying that she had faced racism when she was young but that America was “not a racist country” and had “never been a racist country”. “I know I faced racism when I was growing up, but I can tell you today is a lot better than it was then. Our goal is to lift up everybody, not go and divide people on race or gender or party or anything else,” she said. Haley made the remarks in response to MSNBC Joy Reid’s statement on whether Haley could win the Republican Party nomination. Reid had accused Republicans of being an “anti-immigrant” party and that’s why she “can’t picture” Haley becoming the GOP nominee in 2024, Fox News reported.
Haley, in her Fox News interview, made a distinction that Republican candidates of colour have drawn when speaking on the campaign trail: denying the existence of systemic racism while speaking of their personal experiences with racism. But Haley’s claim on Tuesday went even further than her usual stump speech material, asserting that legalised slavery, the Trail of Tears, the internment of Japanese Americans and racial segregation through Jim Crow laws had never made America a racist country. And it echoed an earlier gaffe she had made when she neglected to mention slavery as a cause of the Civil War. She later apologised, saying, “I should have said slavery right off the bat.”
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