South Carolina governor Nikki Haley delivered the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union last night, and used her platform as an opportunity to try and distance herself and her party from the brand of destructive politics that has marked its primary campaign.
While Haley didn’t mention Donald Trump by name, it was pretty clear who she was talking to, saying that, “During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. 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.”
This morning, she confirmed on the Today Show that, yes, she thinks Trump is a problem, saying “Mr. Trump has definitely contributed to what I think is just irresponsible talk…I think that a lot of what we’re trying to do is say those angriest voices are not helpful.”
As ABC’s Rick Klein pointed out yesterday, tapping Haley to deliver the Republican response to Obama’s speech — presumably with the knowledge that she would turn some of her fire inward and criticize members of her own party for their increasingly ugly politics — is part of a larger effort to prove to the American people that the Republican Party isn’t the party of racist, sexist white men that Democrats claim it to be. Paul Ryan, among others, is tired of the small number of female elected officials in their ranks, and the even smaller number of people of color, being dismissed as tokens, as Debbie Wasserman Schultz did earlier in the week when she said that the only reason Nikki Haley was given the nod is “because the Republican Party has a diversity problem.” Until that charge is addressed and dismissed, the party has little hope of widening its tent.
Unfortunately for Ryan, the racist, sexist white men in his party have no interest in widening the tent.
Reacting to Haley’s address and subsequent dig at Donald Trump, Republican congressschmuck Steve King took whatever sliver of good will Haley gained for the GOP with women and people of color, threw it in the garbage and lit it on fire:
Steve King suggests Haley is not a "principled conservative" but: "I think she’s beautiful so I’d be happy if she’s the face of the party."
— Erica Werner (@ericawerner) January 13, 2016
King’s overtly sexist dismissal of Haley did more than undercut her credibility as a spokesperson for the party and prospective vice presidential nominee. It took the legs out from under her (and, by extension, Ryan’s) claim that “principled” conservatism can be culturally and demographically inclusive. According to King, the degree to which you are conservative is very much defined by your willingness to reject racial and gender diversity. This is disgusting, but given the state of the Republican primary, he hasn’t exactly been proven wrong.
King’s charge is especially disgusting because Haley checks almost every box King would require under his definition of “principled,” by which King means “bigoted,” conservatism. She supports the same policies designed to target people on the basis of race King does — cruel and uncompromising crackdowns on undocumented immigrants, voter ID requirements, and so on. She just does it with a smile on her face. After all, she took down the Confederate Flag, so she can’t be a true hardliner, right?
Wrong. Here’s what she had to say about King’s criticism earlier today:
That is nouveau-conservative and fresh face of the GOP Nikki Haley all-but-endorsing Ted Cruz in the Republican primary, claiming that the candidate who coined the term “atheist Taliban” has never said anything problematic about religion. All while arguing that establishment favorites Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are suspect for supporting “amnesty” and Common Core, respectively.
That’s quite the coincidence, because know who else has already endorsed Cruz? Steve King. The two politicians share the same politics and the same slate of policy preferences; King just thinks Haley’s a compromising moderate because she’s nicer, darker and more attractive than he is.
If that’s how the right wing wants to define what it means to be a “principled conservative,” go ahead. Good luck in November.
Update: Literally the first tweet I saw after hitting publish on this post:
Nikki Haley just now: "We've never, in the history of this country, passed any laws or done anything based on race or religion." Um….
— Jeremy Slevin (@jeremyslevin) January 13, 2016