Why Nikki Haley's Sex Scandal Matters (Updated)

South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley is now implying that blogger Will Focus was paid to claim a sexual relationship with her. Meanwhile, 2012 Republican presidential candidates are clamoring to show their support.

The gulf between he-said and she-said has only grown since Haley denied Folks's claim of a relationship Monday. Now Folks is saying her camp actually asked him how they should deal with the scandal when he went public. He says he advised that "she and her husband sit down on a sofa together and talk about it the way (President) Clinton did." Instead Haley went the John Edwards route: deny, deny, deny. Folks is claiming he has proof of their relationship, but he's now in the strange position of having to save his own ass by providing ammunition against a politician he has supported. Did Folks and Haley really agree on a damage control strategy, only to have Haley go rogue, putting the two camps at odds? Or is something more nefarious at work?

Haley alleges the latter, hinting darkly, "Political consultants in South Carolina take care of those that pay them." She's implying that Folks has now switched allegiances, and is taking money from one of her opponents. Thickening the plot further is the fact that adversary Gresham Barrett's campaign, which Folks claims pressured him to break the scandal, is also in denial mode, claiming they had nothing to do with it. It's still hard to tell who is lying here — is it more likely that Hailey is trying to save her gubernatorial chances, or that Folks is a turncoat who sold her out? Or, even more excitingly, that Folks has been a double agent the entire time, pretending to support her while looking for a way to bring her down? The smart money now looks like it's on Folks: his side of the story is starting to look more legit since he released texts purporting to show communication between himself, an AP reporter, and the Haley campaign in the days leading up to his post. Whatever the outcome, we hope Mike Nichols is taking notes.

Beyond the shock value of a woman in politics being accused of infidelity, the Haley case has other implications outside South Carolina politics. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo explains:

Remember that South Carolina is quickly becoming the pivotal early GOP primary state. And if all goes according to plan and these affair allegations don't do her in, Haley could be the Republican Governor of the state in 2011/2012. And that would make her a critical kingmaker for the Republican presidential hopefuls. So if you want to succeed Barack Obama in 2013, you want to be her friend.

Which is probably why Mitt Romney says, "I stand four square by Nikki Haley." And why Sarah Palin — whose endorsement made a leading contender in the first place — told South Carolinians, "don't let some blogger make any accusation against your Nikki," and "for traditional media to rely on an accusation via some blog entry is almost laughable." Memo to Palin: we know it's a popular sport to dismiss bloggers as gossip-mongers who don't bother to check facts, but this works less well when said bloggers are talking about their own lives. Sure, Folks could be lying, but that would be true whether he was posting his claims on a blog, in one of the mainstream media outlets Palin loves so much, or, say, on Facebook. Whatever the case, both Palin and Romney are clearly gambling that Haley will survive the allegations, and return their favor in 2012. We'll see who's right.

Update: Folks Says Haley Campaign Consulted Him On Breaking Silence About 'Inappropriate Sexual Relationship' [Post and Courier, via TPM]
Sex And Politics, Pt. 2 (Or Get On That Horse And Ride) [TPM]
Scandal Rattles Politics In South Carolina, Again [NYT]
Done In By Texts? [TPM]

Earlier: Palin BFF Shows Women Can Have Sex Scandals Too