Nikki Haley’s State of the Union Response Rubs Salt in Republican Wounds

January 13, 2016, 4:34 PM UTC
Republican Candidates Attend Heritage Action Candidate Foru
GREENVILLE, SC - SEPTEMBER 18: South Carolina Governor and moderator of the Heritage Action Presidential Candidate Forum Nikki Haley speaks to the crowd September 18, 2015 in Greenville, South Carolina. Eleven republican candidates each had twenty five minutes to talk to voters Friday at the Bons Secours Wellness arena in the upstate of South Carolina. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
Photograph by Sean Rayford—Getty Images

On Tuesday night, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley gave the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address. The response typically only gets attention is if there is some kind of gaffe — Marco Rubio drinking from his water bottle, or Bobby Jindal’s striking similarity to Kenneth the Page from “30 Rock.” But this year was different.

Haley got the attention of the American public for her subtle, but fierce, calling out of Donald Trump, currently the leader in GOP primary polls.

“Today, we live in a time of threats like few others in recent memory. During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation,” she said. “No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.”

That was clearly in response to Trump’s calls to halt Muslim entry to the U.S., and to his many comments seen as degrading to Hispanic immigrants.

Haley’s address received fairly positive reactions from moderate Republicans and Democrats. From the far right, though, the reaction was anything but genial:

This is yet another sign that a fracture is deepening within the Republican party.

Many supporters of Donald Trump and, to a lesser extent, Ted Cruz, are not fans of the Republican establishment. They want a far-right, reactionary party not beholden to business interests, one that’s more devoted to ideological purity. They’ve found their candidate; the problem is that the party structure might not let them have him, even if he gets enough votes.

Bill Kristol, a prominent neoconservative thinker, has talked about the idea of forming a third party if Trump wins the GOP nomination. There have been whispers of a brokered convention to deny Trump the nomination. If that happens, the repercussions will be vast and may very well spur a permanent split between the conservative wing and the establishment GOP.

Haley was a Tea Party darling and is now a favorite to get the vice presidential nomination. House Speaker Paul Ryan likely picked her as an attempt to appeal to the right wing while still pushing back against Trump. That didn’t work, and it remains to be seen if anything can heal this wound.

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