Delivering the Republican response to President Obama’s final State of the Union address on Tuesday, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley not only criticized Obama’s track record, but also warned her fellow Republicans against divisive rhetoric, taking some implicit but obvious shots at 2016 primary frontrunner Donald Trump. “Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That is just not true,” Haley said. “Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume. When the sound is quieter, you can actually hear what someone else is saying. And that can make a world of difference.”
As the first Indian-American woman to be elected governor of state in the Deep South, Haley discussed her own family’s history and used it to caution against demonizing immigrants, in what many understood as an implicit jab at Donald Trump (and other candidates who have ramped up the anti-immigrant rhetoric). “During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices,” the 43-year old governor, who has been mentioned as a possible Republican choice for vice-president, said. “We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.”
While it is not the first time Haley has lashed out at Donald Trump — she had previously called his proposed Muslim ban “unconstitutional” and an “embarrassment” to the GOP — many political commentators on the right were not happy with her using the rebuttal to criticize her own party and its candidates. CNN political commentator Amanda Carpenter described it as “GOP self-loathing,” while Michelle Malkin, senior editor at the Conservative Review tweeted her anger at the fact that Haley told “Americans tired of being ignored” to turn down the volume.
Everything wrong with GOP #SOTU response in 4 words: Nikki Haley tells Americans tired of being ignored to "turn down the volume."
— Michelle Malkin (@michellemalkin) January 13, 2016
Still, as Haley cast blame for Washington’s ills on both parties, she also extensively criticized President Obama in her speech, accusing him of falling “far short of his soaring words,” and faulting him among other things for nagging wage stagnation, a massive national debt, a health care program “that has made insurance less affordable,” and “chaotic unrest in many of our cities.”
Haley concluded her rebuttal by saying that the nation had some “big decisions” to make, but that she was confident its people would rise to the challenge. “Our forefathers paved the way for us.” she said. “Let’s take their values, and their strengths, and rededicate ourselves to doing whatever it takes to keep America the greatest country in the history of man.”
In an interview with Matt Lauer on Wednesday on NBC’s Today show, Haley’s criticism of Trump was explicit. “Mr. Trump has definitely contributed to what I think is just irresponsible talk,” she said, adding that he’s been one of the “angriest voices” of the 2016 political season.
Asked if her response has had an impact on her chances being asked to be a vice presidential running mate, Haley said she hadn’t given it much thought.
“I was given an opportunity to say what I think,” she said of her role. But Haley said if she’s approached by one of the candidates, “I absolutely would sit down and talk with anyone that wanted to talk.”