Nikki Haley appears to have cemented her place Tuesday among leading vice-presidential candidates with her widely praised response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.
“Last night in South Carolina, Nikki Haley became the only logical choice for Vice Presidential nominee of the GOP,” leading conservative commentator Eric Ericsson wrote in The Resurgent.
Longtime Republican pollster Frank Luntz noted Haley’s speech polled much better with his focus group than Obama’s. He noted it was also the most well-received State of the Union response he had ever polled.
Haley did nothing silly as Marco Rubio, who reached for a bottle of water while on air during his reply in 2013, or boring as Bobby Jindal, who delivered the rejoinder in 2009.
The Indian American Republican governor of South Carolina looked confident and dignified. She was critical of Obama, as expected, and Donald Trump, which was a surprise.
Obama, she indicated, had failed to live up to his promise. “Barack Obama’s election as president seven years ago broke historic barriers and inspired millions of Americans,” Haley said. “Unfortunately, the president’s record has often fallen far short of his soaring words.”
“Today, we live in a time of threats like few others in recent memory,” Haley said, “… it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation.”
Haley, whose real name is Nimrata “Nikki” Randhawa Haley, wrapped her pitch for inclusivity in her own life story as a “proud daughter” of immigrants from India.
“Growing up in the rural south, my family didn’t look like our neighbours, and we didn’t have much,” she said, going on to call for “remaining true to America’s noblest legacies”.
The target of her attacks was clearly Trump, who was not named. And it was not missed on some critics who were quick to slam Haley for attacking the party’s front-runner.
“Trump should deport Nikki Haley,” conservative columnist Anna Coulter said in a tweet. “NOT SMART,” said Laura Ingraham, another conservative commentator.
Haley, 43, told CNN Wednesday morning it was indeed Trump she was targeting, and added the party leadership had previewed the remarks and knew well what she had intended to say.
Haley did extremely well notwithstanding the criticism. Jeb Bush called her speech “remarkable”.
One commentator called her the “GOP’s Obama” – referring to the Republican party by its other name, the Grand Old Party – which may not necessarily endear her to the party’s right.
The customary opposition rejoinder to the president’s address is often used by both parties to promote their rising stars — Bill Clinton in 1985, for instance, to then President Ronald Reagan.
Jindal was picked by the party in 2009 to deliver the reply to Obama’s first State of the Union, and bungled it so badly it is still cited as a part of the package of disappointments he has become.
Haley has been a rising star, having won widespread praise for handling of the massacre of nine African Americans in Charlestown by a white supremacist and her managing of the state’s economy ravaged by floods.