Nikki Haley: Damn right I was criticizing Trump in my SOTU rebuttal last night

Granted, there’s not much for a Republican to say about Obama’s policies in year eight that hasn’t been said before, but we’re in a weird place when the GOP’s SOTU rebuttal is essentially a rebuttal of the GOP frontrunner. And lest you think that was all Haley, she acknowledged today that her speech, as is customary, was approved by party leaders before she delivered it. It was a group effort.


I, for one, welcome the impending Republican crack-up!

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley defended her response to Tuesday’s State of the Union, confirming to TODAY’s Matt Lauer she was referring to Donald Trump as one of the “angriest voices” she mentioned.

“Mr. Trump has definitely contributed to what I think is just irresponsible talk,” she told Matt in an interview Wednesday…

Haley said that launching a full-scale partisan attack on Obama is not her style: “That’s not me.”

While she blamed the the president for dividing the nation “in ways we’ve never seen before” on issues including the economy, education and national security, Haley said Republicans also need “to look in the mirror” and own up for their role in the nation’s failures.

As usual, I’m with Sean Trende:

Yeah, I don’t see the strategic value of having Haley go after Trump, even if not by name. That’s something you’d want to do if you were worried that he’s tainted the entire party’s image, especially with swing voters and Latinos, and needed a splashy way for the rest of the GOP to say “that’s not us.” But I can’t think of a single poll offhand that demonstrates in a convincing way that voters now equate Trump with the GOP in its entirety. (Which stands to reason. He’s larger than life. When you think Trump, you think “TRUMP!”, not “GOP.”) Ted Cruz, the nearest thing to a Trump populist on the right, has continually refused to side with Trump on mass deportations or barring Muslims from the country despite repeated invitations to do so. Until polls show us otherwise, the solution to the GOP’s “Trump problem” in the general election, to the extent that such a problem even exists, seems to be to simply nominate someone besides Trump. But Republican leaders, for whatever strange reason, decided to be proactive about the “that’s not us” message. Haley’s the perfect messenger for that, not only because of her sex and race but because of her role in bringing down the Confederate battle flag at the statehouse, one of the most ostentatiously anti-anti-PC moves a Republican pol has made in ages. In various ways, from her bio to her governing experience to her friendliness with Republican leaders, Haley is a sort of anti-Trump. Asking her to do the rebuttal without any mention of “angry voices” or whatever would itself have been a symbolic rebuke of Trumpmania. As it is, I don’t know what they think they’re gaining by handing Trump fans a reason to object that the party is meddling in the primary by attacking him on national TV.


And the weirdest part of this is that, by attacking Trump directly, Haley may have hurt her chances to be VP. That was the whole point of GOP leaders giving her this assignment, I thought — introduce her to the country now in the hope/expectation that she’ll end up on a ticket with Rubio. A Rubio/Haley ticket was always going to be a tough sell to the Trump voters that the party is hoping to hold onto for the general election, but the first step in trying is not to ask one of them to attack Trump on a night when they’re supposed to be attacking Obama. Weird. (Then again, maybe Haley is a less likely veep choice than we all think.) Exit question via Joel Pollak: It’s one thing for Obama not to mention the U.S. sailors taken captive in Iran in his speech. He has a political reason not to do so, as awful as it is. What’s the excuse for Haley not mentioning it in hers?

Update: Denis McDonough, Obama’s chief of staff, liked Haley’s speech a lot, which will definitely help heal the rift over it on the right.

Update: Whoops, typo above (now fixed). I wrote “Hillary” when I meant to write “Haley.” Innocent mistake, I swear!

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