After a year of Boehner quitting and Scott Walker fading and Trump rising to the top of the party, the GOP finally enjoys a moment of predictability.
Haley will become the first South Carolinian to offer the response, which comes after she was thrust into the national spotlight following the Charleston shooting in June that left nine black churchgoers dead and led to a subsequent national debate over the Confederate Flag.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made the announcement Tuesday.
“Nikki Haley has led an economic turnaround and set a bold agenda for her state, getting things done and becoming one of the most popular governors in America,” Ryan said in a statement. “In a year when the country is crying out for a positive vision and alternative to the status quo, Governor Haley is the exact right choice to deliver the Republican Address to the Nation.”
Who else could it have been, realistically? After tapping four men (Bob McDonnell, Bobby Jindal, Mitch Daniels, and Marco Rubio) for the rebuttal after Obama’s first four SOTUs, the GOP started showing off some of its women stars — Cathy McMorris Rodgers in 2014, Joni Ernst last year, and now Haley, living proof in a presidential election year that influential Republicans are not, as the media might have you believe, all old white men. Susana Martinez was in the mix too, I’m sure, but New Mexico has been a mostly reliable blue state in recent presidential elections whereas Haley’s home state of South Carolina is a reliably red one. (Martinez has a few years left in her term. If Hillary wins in November, she’ll inevitably give the SOTU rebuttal in 2017 or 2018.) Haley also has a higher national profile than Martinez in the wake of the Charleston shooting and the bill she signed removing the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds. She’s exactly the face the GOP leadership wants out there — not only to counter Team Clinton as they rev up ye olde “sexist/racist” messaging machine against Republicans but to try to soften the party’s image a little to the wider electorate after a summer (and fall, and winter) of Trump.
What makes this extra interesting, though, is the politics of the South Carolina primary. She’s being given this assignment by Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan knowing that the national exposure will only increase her influence. Her endorsement would have meant something in SC even without this opportunity but now it may mean more. It’s hard to believe McConnell and Ryan would take the risk of boosting her if they thought there was a chance she might endorse establishment nemesis Ted Cruz, as her support in a close race might make the difference. The fact that she’s giving this speech means, I assume, that they’re reasonably confident she’ll endorse the top center-right finisher in New Hampshire — probably Marco Rubio, possibly Chris Christie, doubtfully but theoretically maybe Jeb Bush. And whichever of the three she endorses, she’s a sure thing to be shortlisted for VP. Either way, it’s difficult to imagine that Haley would turn around after this and surprise the leadership by backing Cruz, just in case you’re one of those people who tweet me sometimes — or, er, comment to Politico — that “Cruz/Haley!” is a possible ticket.