Joe Biden slams Nikki Haley for failing to mention slavery when asked what caused Civil War

Joe Biden slams Nikki Haley for failing to mention slavery when asked what caused Civil War

Nikki Haley avoided mentioning slavery when asked by a voter in New Berlin, New Hampshire what caused the Civil War, prompting swift and widespread criticism, including from President Joe Biden.

“What was the cause of the United States Civil War?” the former South Carolina Governor and UN Ambassador was asked by a man at her town hall event on Wednesday night.

Ms Haley paused for a moment before joking, “Well, don’t come with an easy question”.

“I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was going to run, the freedoms, and what people could and couldn’t do. What do you think the cause of the Civil War was?” she asked.

The man, who subsequently told reporters his name was Patrick, replied he wasn’t the one running for president.

“I mean, I think it always comes down to the role of government,” Ms Haley said. “We need to have capitalism, we need to have economic freedom. We need to make sure that we do all things so that individuals have the liberties so that they can have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to do or be anything they want to be without government getting in the way.”

“In the year 2023, it’s astonishing to me that you can answer that question without mentioning the word ‘slavery’,” the voter said.

“What do you want me to say about slavery? Next question,” Ms Haley said.

The criticism of her reply was swift, with President Joe Biden simply tweeting: “It was about slavery.”

Jaime Harrison, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told CBS in a statement: “This isn’t hard, condemning slavery is the baseline for anyone who wants to be President of the United States, but Nikki Haley and the rest of the MAGA GOP are choking on their words trying to rewrite history.”

Journalist Aaron Rupar wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “This is astounding. Nikki Haley thinks ‘what caused the Civil War?’ is a gotcha because she’s afraid to talk about slavery and alienate her own voters.”

Rep Ro Kanna, a California Democrat, tweeted: “Nikki Haley’s father, like mine, came to the US in the late 1960s because of the civil rights movement and the 1965 Immigration Act. Haley’s refusal to talk honestly about slavery or race in America is a sad betrayal of her own story. To what end?”

Qasim Rashid, a human rights lawyer and Democratic congressional candidate, wrote: “Nikki Haley was Gov of South Carolina. In South Carolina’s Articles of Secession, the VERY FIRST reason they give on why they’re going to war is, ‘[A]n increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery...’ But yeah let’s ban more books.”

Anti-Trump GOP strategist Sarah Longwell added: “Setting the moral implications of Haley’s answer aside (which, big yikes), but even as a political matter it makes no sense. The people who don’t want to acknowledge slavery already have their candidate in comfortable racist Donald Trump. Nikki needs the other people!”

“This was DeSantis’s big strategic mistake. Trump has MAGA’s locked up. So don’t compete for them with dog whistles when Trump is using a bullhorn. Nikki needs to consolidate the part of the party that’s still kinda normal. And normal people know slavery caused the civil war!” Ms Longwell said.

The chair of the Democratic Party in Ms Haley’s home state, Christale Spain, tweeted: “This is vile, but unsurprising from Nikki Haley. The same person who refused to take down the Confederate Flag until the tragedy in Charleston, and tried to justify a Confederate History Month. She’s just as MAGA as Trump.”

Ms Haley’s viral moment comes amid a recent uptick in her polling in New Hampshire, where she was endorsed earlier this month by the state’s governor Chris Sununu.

Ms Haley, the former South Carolina governor, has often mentioned removing the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state house during her time in office. The flag removal took place after a shooting at the Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston where a white supremacist killed nine Black people in 2015.

She often mentions the episode in her stump speech.

“Fifty per cent of South Carolinians saw the Confederate flag as heritage and tradition, the other 50 per cent of South Carolinians saw it as slavery and hate,” Ms Haley said in Spirit Lake, Iowa, earlier this month.

“My job wasn’t to judge either side,” she added. “My job was to get them to see the best of themselves and go forward.”

In comments which could be seen as a criticism of former President Donald Trump, Ms Haley often says, “The tone at the top matters”.

“We were able to bring that Confederate flag down,” she said in Iowa. “We didn’t have riots, we had vigils. We didn’t have protests, we had hugs. And South Carolinians showed the world what strength and grace look like. That’s how you do it.”

Ms Haley was quick to walk back her comments on Thursday morning during an appearance on The Pulse of NH radio programme.

“Of course, the Civil War was about slavery, that’s the easy part. I know it was about slavery. I am from the South,” she said.

“But more than that, what’s the lesson in all this? That freedom matters,” she added. “And individual rights and liberties matter for all people. That’s the blessing of America. That was a stain on America when we had slavery. But what we want is never relive it. Never let anyone take those freedoms away again.”

She went on to claim on the programme that the Democrats “are sending plants” to her events, according to the NH Journal.

“Why are they hitting me? See this for what it is ... They want to run against Trump. In town halls, I answer every question, and they are planting questions there,” she claimed.

“It was definitely a Democrat plant ... He didn’t give reporters his name,” she added about the questioner.