South Carolina Tea Party darling Nikki Haley endorses and records robocall for Mitt Romney

To Twitter cries of “RINO” and “sellout,” Tea-Party-elected South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for president today. In an appearance on Fox and Friends, Haley said she prizes Romney’s proven ability to “turn broken companies around.” She also suggested Romney is the most electable of the 2012 GOP presidential candidates:

“Today is the day that I’m throwing all of my support behind Mitt Romney for president,”Haley said on FOX & Friends.  “What I want was someone who is not part of the chaos that is Washington. What I wanted was someone who knew what it was like to turn broken companies around.”

Haley also argued that Romney was the only candidate that could defeat President Barack Obama next fall.

“Governor Romney is the one candidate that President Obama insistently tries to hit and get out of the way,” Haley said from South Carolina. “That lets me know he’s scared of him.”

Haley — widely described with the likes of Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Kelly Ayotte and others as “a rising Republican star” — would likely be on any GOP candidate’s shortlist of potential vice presidential running mates. It’s plausible she endorsed Romney in the hopes of moving up in the party, as some top talkers, including Rush Limbaugh, have suggested. It’s also plausible Romney just called in a favor: He was one of Haley’s earliest backers, campaigning for her in what calls “her historic bid to become the first Indian-American woman governor of the Palmetto State.” His PAC also donated money to her campaign effort.

But a less cynical explanation is plausible, too. Perhaps Haley — upon careful consideration of Newt Gingrich, who, at this point, must be admitted as the most likely candidate to be nominated if Romney is not — decided she wanted to use her considerable weight to do whatever she could to forestall Gingrich’s nomination. If that was the case, she was not necessarily selling out her Tea Party convictions.

A few weeks ago, when I weighed Gingrich against Romney, I tipped the balance in Gingrich’s favor with this sentiment: “Romney’s signature achievement was Romneycare, while Gingrich’s signature achievement was welfare reform.” But, last night, I had a thought that tipped the balance in Romney’s favor. Both Romney and Gingrich have betrayed conservatism. But Romney’s betrayals came in a liberal state surrounded by liberals. As he put it at the debate last night, it’s hard to sneak Republican judicial nominees past a board of Democrats. In contrast, at least a few of Gingrich’s betrayals came in a conservative Congress surrounded by conservatives. It’s possible to make the case that Romney is actually conservative at his core but was circumstantially forced into supporting liberal legislation, while Gingrich is actually more pro-big-government at his core but was circumstantially forced into supporting conservative legislation.

Perhaps that’s far-fetched — and it’s very hard to say for sure what either really believes. (What can I say? They’re both great politicians!) I say this not to endorse Romney myself — clearly, I’m still very undecided about all the candidates (and my views align most closely with the underdogs) — but to try to restore faith in Nikki Haley somewhat. She could actually have made the endorsement based on what she thinks will be best for the conservative movement. At least, that’s what I’d like to believe.

Update: CNN’s Peter Hamby reports Haley has also recorded a robocall to tout Romney.