Rave reviews for Gov. Nikki Haley’s State of the Union response poured from leading political figures Wednesday, though a target of her criticism in the address — GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump — fired back at the S.C. Republican.
Haley won praise from many for saying Tuesday that Republicans should accept part of the blame for dysfunction in Washington and warning GOP voters to avoid following “the siren call of the angriest voices,” a reference to Trump.
Republicans leaders issued statements of support for Haley, and she also got a thumbs up from a Democratic White House leader. “I have a lot of admiration for the governor,” Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, told The New York Times. “By no means am I trying to endorse everything that she’s doing, but I do think that a lot of this, including parts of the speech last night, were admirable.”
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Furman University political scientist Danielle Vinson said Haley offered something that has been missing from GOP presidential candidates. “She did more talking about her party’s positive agenda than any single (one) of them has done all year,” she said.
Much of the talk the morning after Haley’s address centered on her vice presidential ambitions in the 2016 race. The nation’s youngest sitting governor gave the same answer that she has offering for months, telling morning-TV show hosts that she is willing to speak with presidential candidates who want to consider her for the No. 2 spot.
Later Wednesday, Trump hit back.
The New York billionaire told Fox News and MSNBC that he is leading in S.C. polls “by a lot.” He leads U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas 33 percent to 22 percent, according to an average of polls by Real Clear Politics, though no new S.C. polls have been released in nearly a month.
Trump said Haley is weak on illegal immigration, but he did not offer details. The governor said twice in her address Tuesday that more work is needed to stop undocumented immigrants.
Trump told MSNBC that Haley is a very nice woman, though they have not spoken in a while. Trump donated $7,000 to Haley’s two gubernatorial campaigns and $5,000 to a political group with ties to the governor.
“She comes up to my office when she wants campaign contributions, and I’ve given her tremendous contribution over the years,” Trump said. “But, I guess, now that I’m running, she doesn’t like me as much. She likes me more when I’m a giver of contributions than when I’m not.”
Trump told Fox News that Haley, who turns 44 next week, was not off to a good start if she wants to be his running mate.
Haley said Wednesday tone and language matters in the election, especially with Trump, whom she called a friend. “The one that got me is when he said, ‘Ban all Muslims,’ ” she said. “When you’ve got immigrants coming here legally, we’ve never in the history of this country passed any law or passed anything based on race or religion. Let’s not start that now. I have been through those fights. That’s not worth it. We want to move America forward.”
Haley said she does not agree with other candidates on all issues, including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who once backed amnesty for undocumented immigrants, a position he now has backed away from. “ ‘What I would say to Mr. Trump is, ‘Don’t take it personally,’ ” she said. “ ‘This is just something that we just learned in South Carolina that I’m passing along. Take it if you want. Don’t take it if you don’t. But I think our country would be better if you take it.’ ”
Some other conservatives were not impressed that South Carolina’s first female and minority governor criticized her own party.
Former chief executive Carly Fiorina, who is running for the GOP presidential nomination, told a radio show Wednesday that Haley “doesn’t speak for me.”
Radio show host Laura Ingraham tweeted Haley’s address was the type of establishment message that might not win the GOP nomination with Trump and Cruz, a social conservative, leading in polls: “We'll see how popular these views are as primaries begin.”
Commentator and author Ann Coulter was more blunt, tweeting, “Trump should deport Nikki Haley.”
That will be tough to do. The governor, the daughter of Indian immigrants, was born in Bamberg.
Staff writer Jamie Self contributed.