Conservative Republicans ripped the GOP establishment on Wednesday for South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s criticism of Donald TrumpDonald TrumpJimmy Carter: Trump 'tapped a waiting reservoir there of inherent racism' Roger Stone looking into creating pro-Trump nonprofit: report Wesley Clark: 'No one knows' what Trump stands for MORE.
A day after President Obama’s State of the Union address, more people were talking about Haley’s GOP response — and her warning that Republicans not “follow the siren call of the angriest voices” — than anything the president said.
“I think the establishment needs to quit bashing Donald Trump as much and listen to what he’s saying,” said Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus who hasn't endorsed anyone in the presidential primary. “Because some of the things he’s saying is resonating with the American people, or he wouldn’t be at the percentages of the polls that he is.”
Haley was invited by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to deliver the address, though Ryan’s office said it had little input in its content.
In her speech, Haley said Republicans were partly to blame for Washington’s dysfunction.
“We as Republicans need to own that truth. We need to recognize our contributions to the erosion of the public trust in America’s leadership. We need to accept that we’ve played a role in how and why our government is broken,” Haley said. “And then we need to fix it.”
She also highlighted her personal history as the child of Indian immigrants.
“We must fix our broken immigration system. That means stopping illegal immigration. And it means welcoming properly vetted legal immigrants, regardless of their race or religion. Just like we have for centuries,” she said.
Haley, seen by many as a potential vice presidential pick for the GOP, acknowledged her comments were aimed partly at Trump.
In an interview with local reporters, she said the Republican presidential front-runner’s call for a temporary ban on Muslim immigrants compelled her to speak out.
“You know, the one thing that got me I think was when he started saying ban all Muslims,” said Haley. “We’ve never in the history of this country passed any laws or done anything based on race or religion. Let’s not start that now.”
At the same time, Haley said her comments weren’t directed just at Trump and that she had differences with other GOP presidential candidates as well.
“You know, Jeb Bush passed Common Core, and Marco Rubio believes in amnesty, which I don’t. There’s lots of things,” Haley said.
Conservatives have criticized Bush, Florida’s former governor, for backing the controversial education standards, and Rubio, a senator from Florida, has taken heat for supporting a comprehensive immigration bill in 2013.
Those criticizing Haley’s comments included Trump, GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina and conservative pundit Ann Coulter, who said Trump should deport Haley. White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, on the other hand, praised her.
She drew support from other Republicans, too, including Ryan.
“Gov. Haley did a great job with her speech, had the pen and didn’t need much input from us,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said. Haley “didn’t ask for, nor did we require, the Speaker’s approval.”
The selection of Haley was largely Ryan’s call because House and Senate Republican leaders typically alternate picking someone to deliver the official GOP response. McConnell was influential in selecting freshman Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) last year.
Aides to Ryan said the Speaker and governor are friends who’ve worked together in the past; she spoke at Ryan’s poverty summit just last weekend in Columbia, S.C.
Ryan and McConnell called Haley together last month to ask her to deliver the address. She got back to them a couple of days later and accepted.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus — who oversaw an election autopsy report that blamed the party’s 2012 losses partly on a failure to attract minority voters — didn’t sign off on or even see Haley’s speech before it was delivered, an RNC official said. The response is handled similar to the GOP weekly address, the official said, which is overseen by House and Senate leaders.
On Capitol Hill, several conservatives criticized Haley’s comments, which they viewed as another example of GOP leadership marginalizing their views.
“I’m trying to think of a time when the party has moved somebody forward to give the response who was a conservative,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who has backed Ted Cruz’s White House bid. He said he disagreed with Haley’s remarks on immigration, saying that they suggested she wasn’t a “principled conservative.”
Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), who was elected to Congress after a Tea Party revolt against former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), said Haley sounded as if she was making the same points in her response as Obama.
“The Republican speech and President Obama’s speech both had the same thesis, which is an attack on one person,” said Brat, who hasn’t endorsed in the GOP race.
Republicans who aren’t fans of Trump praised Haley for taking a stand.
“This isn’t a fight for the soul of the party. This is a fight for the dignity of the party. And I admire what she did,” said Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.), who has endorsed Bush for president and has called on Trump to drop out of the race. Jolly is running for Rubio’s Senate seat.